The World Just Doesn't Get Trophy Architect Santiago Calatrava, but Dallas Does

Categories: Schutze

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Santiago Calatrava. Did it ever occur to you to take him home to meet your mom? He's not supposed to be your wife. Be fair about this.

This is a unique call to action for Dallas. We are in a position to defend the famous Spanish architect from terribly unfair and hypocritical global attack. The New York Times has a piece this morning cataloging two- and threefold cost overruns and structural snafus all over the world so absurd they seem like Kurt Vonnegut jokes, all blamed on Calatrava just because he designed them.

But here in Dallas, a city that has embraced Calatrava with abandon over the last decade, we know better than to blame him just because his roofs leak, his bridges break hips and he forgot to add a building for people in one of his airport designs. We get Calatrava. We can see the world's hypocrisy.

It's like, "Sure, you were so hot-looking on my arm at the bar last night that two of my most jealous friends went out to the parking lot and shot themselves, and you were so kinky in bed that now I need a refresher course in biology, and you were so hot again this morning that I had to fake an asthma attack. But where the hell is my breakfast, slut?"

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Dallas Observer
It was always about the look, anyway.
In Bilbao, Spain, they call one of his structures "The Bridge of Broken Legs," because he designed it with slippery glass bricks in a place with lots of rain and snow. In Oviedo, Spain, one of his cocktail napkin designs was so structurally impractical that the building collapsed while they were putting it up. A smooth-skinned Spanish opera house started wrinkling up like a gnarly gourd within six years of completion.

Again in Bilbao, he forgot to add space for passengers in his design for an airport terminal: Everything else -- security, customs, the gates -- was housed very smartly in a building designed to look like a dove taking flight. But, yeah, after you got through customs you had to go stand outside. Later, officials added some kind of tacked-on shelter for human beings.

Oh, the humans! It's always something, isn't it?

Buried pretty far down in the Times piece is a reference to our own city, which Calatrava himself apparently has cited in the past as proof that somebody loves him:

In a brief interview in Architectural Record magazine last year, he noted that clients were satisfied enough to come back for more. Among them are the cities of Dublin and Dallas. In that article, Mr. Calatrava called the uproar over his work in Valencia "a political maneuver by the Communists."

Communists! Oh, I have to stand outside! Oh, I might get snow on my nose! Oh, I demand that Uncle Government come and build a roof for me! So typical of people who attack Calatrava.

We know better. Here in Dallas we are paying hundreds of millions of dollars -- possibly a billion by the time it's said and done -- for make-believe suspension bridges over a wide ditch on a flat plain. One of them alone, a Hollywood false-front to mask a plain-Jane concrete highway bridge, has already jumped in cost from $74 million to $102 million before a single fake brick has been laid.

And that's fine with us. In maybe the most memorable quote of her tenure, former Mayor Laura Miller, who signed off on three decorative Calatrava suspension bridges to span the Trinity River in downtown Dallas, called them "eye candy." And, hey, fact of life here? Everybody knows eye candy costs more than fidelity.

You don't ring up Santiago Calatrava, ask him to meet you at the show-off bar, remind him to wear something revealing and then start asking him stuff like, "Are you sure you were born with that?"

Who gives a damn what he was born with? Who cares if you can actually walk on his floors or stand under his roofs? No, it's not a real suspension bridge, Sherlock. If you want to hook up with a real suspension bridge, go to your high school reunion.

Calatrava's stuff is supposed to be hot-looking, not real. That's what you pay the big bucks for. Oh, the roof is leaking on me. Oh, I fell down on the glass floor and broke my hip. Honestly? It makes you wonder what's happening to people's values.

They should all come here and look at our next fake suspension bridge when we get it up, the false-front one. Looking at that big fake sucker sticking straight up in the sky might actually help other people understand the true value of Calatrava's work. And, fine, if it stays up for more than four hours we'll call a doctor.

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49 comments
commoncents
commoncents

why build something extravagant and not let runners on it?  Did they just know that the rich werent going to drive over there?  they thought it might be overrun with the hois polois? sp?

dptaffet
dptaffet

But Jim. You miss so many wonderful things about the Angela Hunt Hill Bridge. The Trinity is the smallest body of water in the world spanned by a cable stayed bridge. Dallas is the only city that has ever thought to put a traffic light in the middle of a bridge (possibly because bridges elsewhere are crossing actual bodies of water). And unlike Calatrava's work elsewhere, it hasn't fallen down. Yet.

scumfuc
scumfuc

why did the hipster burn his mouth?  because he ate the pizza before it was cool

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

It is clear these people have never worked with high end architects. These stories abound all the way back before the beginning of modern industrial construction. 

Guest
Guest

Jim, I really don't understand why you keep calling it a "fake suspension bridge". The bridge may be unnecessary, but I assure you it's a real cable stayed bridge. Did you happen to notice that the central span had to be supported by temporary columns before the cables were connected? The cables are actually supporting the road. There's nothing fake about it.

Cliffhanger
Cliffhanger

All I know is that stupid bridge has added 10 minutes to my commute.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

I'm still trying to figure what was wrong with the Houston St. viaduct, I was on that silly bridge for the ribbon cutting, it was ridiculous then and it is ridiculous now.

brad.mason.dallas
brad.mason.dallas

Come on Jim, they are not "suspension" bridges, they are cable stayed bridges and the reason for a cable stayed is the central span will last longer than a bridge with many piers in the flood plain.  I for one find more simplistic beauty in the new Inwood/Hampton bridge and soon to be Sylvan Avenue bridge than the MHH and feel safer driving over it.  The sections of the MHH on the central span do not match up and the white is now turning a dingy toast color and to have a bridge of that magnitude end at a red light at Beckley...poor planning all around.  You could have a bridge like the Inwood/Hamption bridge that is way cheaper (approximately 8 million) and solidly constructed.  Add some embellishments like  decorative pylon towers at each entrance and decorative, non-load bearing cables and you could have all the replacement bridges over the flood plain decorative, under budget and quickly built with the same sexy elements.  MHH (182 million) did absolutely nothing for traffic and in fact worsened it.  I take it back into Oak Cliff around the 5P-530P hour if not using INW/HAM and it is an absolute parking lot.  182 million verses 8, heads should have been and should be rolling.

Catbird
Catbird

One thing in favor of the signature eye candy bridge projects is that if the rich people weren't paying their voluntary Calatrava Tax they might be tempted to actually help people.

And I gotta tell ya, the one thing Dallas sure doesn't need is more well intended moneybags screwing up people's lives with their Park Cities ideas of philanthropy.

Good lord, did I just say that!?  

WylieH
WylieH

Read the comments posted to the New York Times article (already exceeding 240 in number)--- the commenters provide a detailed cataloging of widespread fiascoes associated with Calatrava's extravagance and basic malpractice.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

wasnt his 2nd fake suspension bridge, the one over 30 supposed to have 3 arches but due to cost overruns its down to one?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

" ... But where the hell is my breakfast, slut?"

Jim, I think that The Walk of Shame is more appropriate.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

Everyone can laugh, but Calatrava is perfect for Dallas, and vice versa. His work is perfect for a town that also adores McMansions, Lexuses, anything from Neiman Marcus, executive MBA degrees from SMU, and Jessica Simpson. "So what if it's incompetent, inefficient, anachronistic, or just plain wasteful? Didn't you see how much we just PAID for it?"

observist
observist topcommenter

So...what you're saying is Architects design things that engineers would not?  I suppose next you're going to tell me that Picasso's paintings were not accurate portraits!, Frank Lloyd Wright's cantilevered roofs are wider than necessary!  - and, unbelievably, his dining chairs are not comfortable!   Many expensive items of clothing at Neimann Marcus are not machine washable!   And, in a wider conspiracy, it has been discovered than many buildings built around the world over the past 2000 years are adorned with non-functional decoration!  

duanewmurphy
duanewmurphy

Although it has been a few years since the trinity has been FULL, I await the day, optimistically. I don't think I will be in west Dallas when that day arrives or anywhere near the levies.

pchbanapple
pchbanapple

Criticism of Calatrava by the NYT proves Calatrava is a genius & Dallas' embrace of him was brilliant. That's the proper Texas response to any & all criticism in the NYT, isn't it?

Daniel
Daniel

Even Dallas' structures are $30,000 millionaires. 

observist
observist topcommenter

@WylieH Like Ferrari drivers complaining about the lack of cupholders, the rough ride on city streets, and waaaaaah, the clutch is just so hard to press!!!

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ScottsMerkinScott -- All sorts of criticisms can be made of Calatrava and his bridges; "fake suspension bridge" is not one of them. That its form suggests a suspension bridge does not make it a fake anything. The Seagrams Building in New York, one of the classics of modern architecture, has "fake" external columns that mimic the work of the real columns, which are internal and mostly out of sight. The great Greek temples tourists love to photograph are full of false beams and piers and panels, reproductions in stone of actual load-bearing structures on the ancient wooden temples that their architects sought to imitate. In fact it's hard to find a piece of architecture anywhere that doesn't incorporate such allusions. It is the fate of structural necessities to become ornamentation as building technology advances. The old modernist claim, that form follows function, is no longer true, if it ever was. The computer has made almost any form possible. Even a "fake" suspension ridge. 

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@observist The article seems to focus a lot on cost overruns in the construction phase. I'm not entirely willing to blame the designer for all of that. People presumably hire him because they want something that pushes the limits of modern engineering. If they wanted something less, why ask him for a design in the first place? On the other hand, if you ask someone to design you an opera house nowadays and 150 seats end up with obstructed views, or you design a building without fire escapes, the designer should eat the cost of remediation.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@observist  Pyramids built with slave labor, Paris Opera not handicapped accessible, Parthenon financed with embezzled funds, Fallingwater falling apart...

Ultimately the only questions are: 1) will it stand up and stay standing? and 2) does it look good now and how will it look to our descendents?  I'm willing to wait.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@observist 

Nah, how just please don't design a building that's going to break my leg or fall down on me, and especially please don;'t forget when you're designing a building to design a building, you know, like indoors outdoors? Is that too square for you?

Catbird
Catbird

@bmarvel @ScottsMerkin

It is what it is and it does what "they" wanted it to do (postcard photograph) and there was a substantial sum of private funding (as I recall, Hunt Family et al) to supplement the government budget for the base bridge so really, I don't see much to complain about except that for some strange reason I just don't like the thing.

Eero Saarinen's Gateway Arch would have been more to my taste but I suppose it's the difference between the Finnish and Spanish aesthetic.

Ole!

Daniel
Daniel

@bmarvel @ScottsMerkinI recently bought a ladies' watch with a logo that suggests a Rolex. I'm going to give it to this gal I met in club down in old Soho (drinking champagne the taste of which suggested cherry cola) whose form suggests a woman. All the other gals in town just seem so fake, y'know?

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@bmarvel @ScottsMerkin its a spare bridge with an arch that cost what, 10x what most bridges of this kind should cost bc it is a Calatrava.  

observist
observist topcommenter

@Tipster1908 @observist  Yes, I agree completely.  I see it as the clients' poor specifications and/or contract if they get stuck paying for corrections to obstructed seating or an airport's lack of, um, interior.   "We want the most amazing opera house in the world (and it should have 500 unobstructed seats)"  "We want an airport that looks like a bird in flight!" (and it needs a place for people to sit while they wait for their plane).  Presumably there are design reviews before construction begins, right?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @bmarvel @observist The Romans seemed to figure the whole "bridge" thing about about 2500 years ago.  If you want to see what it looks like, take a look at the Houston St. Viaduct.

observist
observist topcommenter

@JimSX @observist  The NYT article doesn't mention why people keep hiring him, why their contracts were such that they paid him to correct his own mistakes, why they didn't realize the airport didn't have an arrivals hall until after it was built, why everyone was on board with a glass sidewalk in a rainy climate.   

People seek out radical, shockingly new designs, and are then shocked, SHOCKED! that their radical new designs have radical 'new' problems that were as foreseeable by the clients as by the architect.  Utilitarian sheds have been been perfected over the centuries.  Want something cheap, warm, dry with good traction on the floor?  Get a utilitarian shed.  Want a dramatic one-of-kind work of art?  You're going to have the type of problems associated with first drafts. Wright's buildings have similar problems with leaky roofs, sagging cantilevers, etc.

Calatrava is not some conqueror imposing his buildings on hapless victims, he is a vain, daring, extravagant attention-seeker who was hired by vain, daring, extravagant attention-seeking clients who, when problems arise, turn out not to be so daring or extravagant, just attention-seeking and angry.  This has been going on for hundreds of years - read about Beauvais Cathedral falling down, or the crazy scissor arches needed to keep the tower from collapsing the walls of Wells Cathedral.

You ask Lady Gaga out on a date, you have to expect her to take a long time to get ready, and for her outfit not to fit in your car.


bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Catbird @bmarvel @ScottsMerkin  i was with you, Catbird, until you wrote "the difference between the Finnish and Spanish aesthetic," the moat ignorant thing I've seen yet on this subject -- and that's some pretty tough competition!

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Daniel @bmarvel @ScottsMerkin By the way, Daniel, the Kinks notwithstanding, beware saying something is true (or false) "by definition." It almost always isn't.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Daniel @bmarvel @ScottsMerkin There's so much wrong in your comment, Daniel, I don't know where to begin. I guess your very sloppy use of "deception."

 All art, architecture included, is based on deception. Painted apples are not real apples. Beethoven's Sixth does not really take placed in a storm. Hamlet does not die, but lives on to "die" again in next night's performance. Brick walls do not necessarily hold up nor arches span. The proper word for this is mimesis. A good look at almost any buildiing will disclose forms that are there, not to do any work, but to mimic other forms. 

Your argument reminds me of the famous scene in Black Adder in which, during a stage play, the Prince of Wales leaps to his feet in alarm because one of the actors has seemingly stabbed the other. The Prince of Wales is, of course, a dunce.

There are so many intelligent arguments you could be making against the bridge, Daniel. Why do you keep falling back on one that's so stupid?     

Daniel
Daniel

@bmarvel @Daniel @ScottsMerkin Kinks reference -- very well-known song about a hapless feller who unwittingly picks up a transvestite. I was calling the Calatrava bridge a fake Rolex (specious, I know, since the one thing it actually has is the authentic brand name) and a transvestite (not PC, I know, but a more apt analogy) while demonstrating that deceptive appearances represent, by definition, a deception.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Daniel @bmarvel @ScottsMerkin Ordinarily, Daniel, I follow your arguments. This one sailed right over my head. Are you saying a fake Rolex is a tool of seduction? Or cherry-cola? Or that somebody might seriously mistake the Calatrava for a real suspension bridge? Is it some kind of allegory?

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @bmarvel @ScottsMerkinHow much came out of your pocket, Scott? To the nearest penny.

How much do you think you should be allowed to steal from Scott "for his own good"?  To the nearest penny.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@bmarvel Ok, its not a fake suspension bridge but it was a total waste of money, and now the thing is already looking like shit.  Drove it yesterday and everything at eye level is turning a dookie brown color.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@ScottsMerkin @bmarvel the short answer, Scott, is "no." 

The long answer is to go back and read my comment. Carefully. I said one can criticise the Calatrava for many things--excessive expense, shoddy engineering (we'll see). One can even say one dosn't like it.

The one thing one cannot criticise it for is being a "fake" suspension bridge. Such a criticism can only be based on an ignorance pf architecture history. And I'm fairly certain you're not ignorant, Scott, though you do tend to misread.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@bmarvel so you endorse the city spending money on extravagant bridges when regular bridges will do.  and then you support cost overruns that amount to 3x the original cost, While the rest of the city needs, like basic street repair and maintenance get ignored.  Good on you Bill.  Im sure they will name some building after you some day.  

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@observist @Tipster1908 

For all its problems and cost overruns during its construction, the Quadracci Pavillion and Reiman Bridge that he designed for the Milwaukee Art Museum are breathtaking pieces of architecture.

observist
observist topcommenter

@Tipster1908 @observist Given competing explanations of malice and incompetence, I always assume incompetence.  Clients of architecture of this scale should have their own consulting engineers to review the work.

Tipster1908
Tipster1908

@observist @Tipster1908 I'd hope so but sometimes I wonder. I just hired an architect to redesign a house and if there's so much as an electrical socket out of place on the plans relative to what I want, I make them correct it. But that's my own money. I'm really not one to jump instantly to the "it's the government and they're unaccountable because it's not their money". But this really feels like a case of carelessness because the people double-checking the work don't have a financial stake in the outcome or are simply unqualified to be reviewing the work before it goes to construction.

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