Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava used to be a big hit for his sculpture-like structures around the world. But cost overruns for his work reaching three times original budgets have given him a new reputation: bleeding a city dry.
The overruns go to fixing his disregard for function, like designing an opera house with obstructed views for 150 seats and an airport terminal without shelter for passengers in inclement weather.
Calatrava's main focus, you see, is the same as that of a sculptor - visually eventful form. The difference, of course, is that buildings need to function as well as look good.
Of course, he’s not the only master builder oblivious to his client’s needs. I’m thinking of Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly of his design of Falling Water, the weekend getaway in Bear Run, PA., that the American Institute of Architects voted the best building of the 20th century. Never mind that the famed four concrete floors jutting over the waterfall were in danger of collapsing from the day they went up in 1936. Never mind that this waterfront home that no one could swim from or launch a boat from or even look at the waterfall from needed an $8.1 million restoration less than 30 years.
Flaws at Falling Water have been attributed to Wright's disregard for advice from the engineering firm that supplied the slabs. Load-tests have shown stress in the slabs past margins of safety. Wright wasn’t big on building codes. In a recorded talk to aspiring architects in 1953, he said, “A code is a series of rules and regulations made to be foolproof but succeeds only in being rules and regulations for fools.”
Unlike Wright, Calatrava is a structural engineer as well as architect. But for picturesque work that disregard of client’s needs, he’s a kind of Spanish Wright.
One wonders if Calatrava would be better off (and so would his clients) if he stuck to his other stock-in-trade - painting and sculpture - and get another show like the one the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York gave him in 2003.