Calatrava, Santiago

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Santiago Calatrava

Architect and engineer

Born July 28, 1951, in Valencia, Spain; married Robertina (an office manager and attorney); children: four. Education: Earned degree from Institute of Architecture, Valencia, Spain, 1974; earned two Ph.D.s from Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, Switzerland, 1981.

Addresses: OfficeSantiago Calatrava S.A., Parkring 11, 8002 Zürich, Switzerland.


Opened architectural firm in Zürich, Switzerland, Calatrava Valls S.A., 1981; expanded to offices in Paris, France, and Valencia, Spain; won first major commission for Zürich's Stadelhofen Railway Station, 1982; designed the Lyons Airport Terminal, France, 1994; Campo Volantin footbridge, Bilbao, Spain, 1998; City of Art and Sciences, Valencia, 2000; Quadracci Pavilion, Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, 2001; roof of Olympic Sports Complex, Athens, Greece, 2004.


Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava gained international attention with a number of high-profile projects, and emerged as one of the world's new leading design visionaries. In 2003, his office was selected to design a new commuter-rail transportation terminal to replace the one that was destroyed during the attack on the World Trade Center, and in the summer of 2004 his soaring arches above a redesigned sports complex in Athens, Greece, became one of the most enduring images of that year's Summer Olympics. Those arches and the new translucent roof over the main Olympic venue featured, like many of Calatrava's earlier projects, a dazzling display of technical bravado.

Both an architect and a structural engineer, Calatrava was already renowned across Europe for his bridges and public buildings, which may be blindingly white, in defiance of physical laws, or just delightfully kinetic. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp had noted back in 1993 that "the appeal of Mr. Calatrava's work rests largely on their resemblance to religious architecture. Immaculately white, accented with tracery of Gothic lightness, these secular projects are imbued with a sacred aura."

Calatrava was born in 1951 in Spain's Mediterranean coastal city of Valencia, and grew up in nearby Benimamet. His mother's family were of Jewish heritage, but had nominally converted during the Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth century. His Calatrava surname was an old aristocratic one from medieval times, and was once associated with an order of knights in Spain. Both sides of his family were involved in the agricultural export business. Members of his father's family suffered during the turmoil of the 1930s, when a bloody civil war resulted in a military dictatorship, and as a young man Calatrava was eager to leave behind the repressive atmosphere that endured.

Artistically inclined from an early age, Calatrava dreamed of becoming a sculptor, and began to take classes in drawing and painting at the local arts school when he was eight. In his teens, he traveled to Paris as an exchange student, and also visited Switzerland before returning to Valencia to finish high school. In 1968, just weeks after student and workers' riots had disrupted Paris and made international headlines, he arrived to enroll at the city's lauded Ecole des Beaux Arts, but found it impossible to move ahead with his studies because of the lingering turmoil.

Returning to Valencia, Calatrava enrolled at its Institute of Architecture, a course of study he decided upon after having seen a building by modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that impressed him tremendously. He also studied urban planning at the school. After graduating in 1974, he was still determined to leave Spain, which would remain under Generalissimo Francisco Franco's dictatorial rule for another two years. He traveled to Zürich, Switzerland, to enroll at the city's Federal Institute of Technology, where Albert Einstein had once studied. He earned two Ph.Ds. from the school, the first in structural engineering and the second in technical science. The structural-engineering training was a somewhat unusual choice of study for an architect, for few in either field are trained in both. But Calatrava was fascinated by the construction of large, load-bearing buildings, and the technical expertise he gained would later make his name as an architect.

At the Zürich institute, Calatrava and his fellow students tried to solve unusual gravity and design challenges. They once built a donut-shaped swimming pool in the rotunda of the school, suspended by cables from the ceiling and made of a transparent sheeting material that allowed viewers to watch swimmers from below. His 1981 Ph.D. dissertation was titled "On the Foldability of Space Frames," and after marrying a Zürich law student he decided to remain in the city. In its first year, his small architectural office was hired to do "roofs for a school or entrances to buildings," Calatrava told Smithsonian's Doug Stewart. "Small things."

That changed in 1982, when Calatrava won a competition asking architects to submit a redesign for the Zürich train station, Stadelhofen. His sketches showed curving avenues leading to the various modes of transportation—for the trains, cars, buses, pedestrians—with steel pergolas supporting a skeletal framework above. The entire building, when finished, seemed to resemble a ribcage. These curving spines, usually of poured concrete but still delicate-looking, would become a hallmark of Calatrava's style. They were inspired quite directly by an actual skeleton: while in school in Zürich, he had once helped a veterinary student complete some drawings for a project, and as thanks the student gave him the skeleton of a dog. Calatrava hung it in his office, and his young son named it Fifi.

Calatrava began winning more design competitions: for a factory in Coesfeld, Germany, in 1985, for a concert hall in Suhr, Switzerland three years later. As a structural engineer, he was particularly fascinated by bridges, and began taking on these projects, too, though local authorities did not usually hire architects to design them. Over the next dozen years, he would complete almost 50 spans around the world, but most of them in Europe. Usually suspension bridges, Calatrava's works were often made from white concrete, which reflected the water's light, and steel cables. They often defied the reassuring standard of symmetry in bridge design, and featured a quirk that resembled something organic, such as a bird's wing in flight. "I love being an architect of bridges," Calatrava confessed to Alan Riding of the New York Times. "[E]very bridge has to be different. It is made for different people, above all for different surroundings. It can be in a horrible urban spot, but it can rescue its environs."

In 1991, Calatrava was chosen to design an immense cultural complex in Valencia that would house a science museum, opera house, and other venues under its 95,000 square feet. A Montjuic telecommunications tower finished in time for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, became a noted symbol of that city, and both works earned international attention and advanced his reputation as an architect to watch. In 1993, Calatrava's profile in North America was boosted by a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Calatrava went on to complete a number of other impressive projects during the 1990s. These included a train station for Liege, Belgium, an airport-train station in Lyons, France, and the Oriente Station train terminal in Lisbon, Portugal. "Calatrava," noted Time International journalist Rod Usher, "has a peculiarly animal way with concrete and steel, his buildings evoking huge eyes, venus flytraps, giant birds about to take flight, delicate arrangements of human bones. Many have foldable parts; all rely on the eye of an artist and the calculation of an engineer."

Those moveable parts were sometimes derided by Calatrava's detractors among the architectural community, who claimed they were gimmicks that had little to do with the building's function. But Calatrava explained his philosophy to Stewart in the Smithsonian interview, noting that "movement gives an added dimension to form. It makes form a living thing. Instead of thinking of a building as something mineral, like a rock, we can start to compare a building to the sea, which has waves that move, or to a flower whose petals open in the morning. This is a new, more poetic understanding of architecture."

Calatrava's first commission for a major American work was very movable, and equally as controversial: Milwaukee visionaries hired him to expand the city's Art Museum. The original structure dated back to the late 1950s and had been designed by renowned Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. For the new Quadracci Pavilion, Calatrava designed a futuristic, two-pronged shade that could open and close according to the atrium's lighting needs. The two fins, called Burke Brise Soleil—brise soleil means "movable shade" in French—did not move altogether smoothly from drawing board to completion, however: no company could come up with a working prototype, so Calatrava became a licensed structural engineer in Wisconsin and took over that part of the job himself. He had the pieces made in Spain and shipped over, all 100 tons in total, with the help of a Soviet transport plane.

When the new museum addition formally opened in October of 2001, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carried a front-page description by Whitney Gould that called the moment "a sight to take your breath away—an exquisite fusion of the natural and built environments and a reminder of architecture's transforming power, its capacity to make life whole." Gould praised other, more prosaic elements of Calatrava's addition, from its parking garage to its lake views. Referring to the architect of New York City's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (inarguably the twentieth century's most famous museum design), Gould asserted that Calatrava's "mastery of scale—especially the tension between restraint and grandeur—would do Frank Lloyd Wright proud."

Calatrava went on to complete a number of other breathtaking works, such as an opera house for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the largest city on Spain's Canary Islands. In homage to the Canaries' link to the Atlantic Ocean that surrounds it, Calatrava came up with a roof with a massive arc that swooped up and over almost like a tidal wave. In 2003, he was selected to design a New York City terminal site for the PATH commuter line, used by commuters to and from New Jersey. The original terminus had been leveled on September 11, 2001, when the towers of the World Trade Center above it fell. Calatrava was also commissioned to rebuild the Roman Catholic cathedral for the diocese of Oakland, California, which had been heavily damaged in an earthquake some years before.

Calatrava still likes to design bridges. His first on American soil was a $23.5 million footbridge of glass and steel over the Sacramento River in a remote part of northern California. The bridge's main pylon, from which cables were connected to the span, was actually a working sundial. His new roof for the Olympic stadium in Athens resembled a bridge of sorts, too, from afar, with its massive arches. On closer view, its curving white beams, connected by transparent tiles, resembled once again a ribcage, and it was a spectacular showpiece building for the 2004 Summer Games.

Bridge projects for the cities of Venice, Jerusalem, and Dallas were next on Calatrava's agenda, and he had also won a commission for a new hall that would be the permanent home of the Atlanta Symphony. His first residential project in the United States was a new high-rise called the 80th South Street Tower in Lower Manhattan, scheduled to open in 2006. The ingenious four-story, cantilevered cubes will rise 835 feet in height, allow residents a four-way view of the city and environs, and are destined to become a skyline landmark.

Calatrava and his family, which includes four children, live in a Park Avenue townhouse in Manhattan. His wife, Tina, the former law student, serves as his business manager, and oversees the details of offices in Zürich, Valencia, and Paris. He continues to be inspired by Fifi, the dog that became a veterinary-school cadaver after a long life as someone's pet. "We see her now without life," Calatrava reflected in the interview with Stewart in the Smithsonian, "but once this structure was able to move and run and jump. That to me is almost unbelievable."



Architectural Review, February 2001, p. 24.

Art in America, March 2001, p. 41.

House Beautiful, May 2001, p. 46.

Independent (London, England), March 21, 1998, p. 26.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 15, 2001, p. 1.

New Statesman and Society, March 18, 1994, p. 49.

New York Times, April 9, 1993, p. C26; December 31, 2000, p. 36; October 26, 2003, p. AR1; February 19, 2004, p. F1.

People, November 10, 2003, p. 170.

Smithsonian, November 1996, p. 76.

Time International, January 1, 2001, p. 84.


"The Poet of Glass and Steel," Time, (April 29, 2004).

"Biography," Santiago Calatrava, (August 25, 2004).

—Carol Brennan

Calatrava, Santiago

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Santiago Calatrava

Spanish-born architect Sanitago Calatrava (born 1951) has gained international celebrity for structures that suggest the shapes and the motion of organic entities, even as they rely in their construction on the modernist triad of concrete, glass, and steel.

Calatrava's projects are big; he tends to attract commissions for major civic structures that soon become established as community landmarks. His work is immediately recognizable, and it transcends the common architectural distinction between spare modernist forms and playful postmodernist ones. Their clean, geometrical lines are mellowed as Calatrava shapes them into pleasing forms that for the architect's many ordinary admirers suggest flight or spiritual uplift. As his chief influences Calatrava has named two architects of sharply opposing styles: the Catalonian Spanish maverick Antonio Gaudi (1852–1926), whose irregular buildings evoked organic growth, and the Finnish-American modernist Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), designer of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and other abstract structures that communicated a peaceful sense of order and of integration with their surroundings. In a way, Calatrava's work combines the best of these diverse predecessors.

Began Art Classes at Eight

Born in Valencia, Spain, on July 28, 1951, Calatrava grew up in an established family involved in the primary industry of that coastal metropolis: agricultural exports. The family's hillside home was imposing, with large rooms that Calatrava later named as an inspiration for his attraction to major projects and big spaces. Though Calatrava's father was oriented toward commercial activities at work, he loved art and took his son to see Spain's greatest museum, the Prado in Madrid. Calatrava started to show an interest in sculpture and drawing, and by the time he was eight he had enrolled in art classes in Valencia.

Calatrava's family had suffered during the political upheavals of the 1930s in Spain, and they saw an international future as their son's best chance. When he was 13, they took advantage of a liberalization of travel restrictions imposed by dictator Francisco Franco in order to send him to Paris under a student exchange program. He later took classes in Switzerland and learned German on his way to eventual fluency in seven languages.

At this point Calatrava still hoped to become an artist. He made plans to attend art school in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), but he arrived in mid-1968, with the student protests of that year at their height, and found that his classes had been cancelled. Back in Valencia, he decided to attend the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura (Technical University of Architecture). He challenged himself with extra work: he and a group of friends wrote two books on the architecture of Valencia and the island of Ibiza while he was enrolled. After he graduated he returned to Switzerland and entered a civil engineering program at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) or Federal Technology University in Zurich.

Receiving dual Ph.D. degrees in structural engineering and technical science from that institution in 1979 and 1981, he became one of the few architects fully trained as an engineer. In Zurich, Calatrava met and married his wife, Robertina, a law student and later lawyer who has played an important role in managing his far-flung business enterprises. A glimpse of his growing architectural imagination appeared when he and some other graduate students designed and built a swimming pool in the rotunda of the school's main building—transparent, donut-shaped, and suspended above the floor, it allowed passersby to watch swimmers from below.

Eye-Catching Bridges Gained Attention

Calatrava opened his own architecture firm in Zurich after finishing his degree in 1981. It did not take him long to graduate from small projects to major civic commissions; after he won a contest, his design for Zurich's new train station was built in the early 1980s. The station was situated on a small strip of land that left no room for the spacious interior of a traditional train station. Calatrava responded with a unique design: a series of individual concrete corridors that resembled the ribcage of an animal and in fact was inspired by a dog skeleton a veterinary student in Zurich had given him and which he later mounted on the wall of his office, marveling to interviewers about its mechanical perfection.

In the late 1980s and the 1990s, Calatrava made his reputation as an architect by designing more than 50 bridges, most of them in Europe. Bridges allowed Calatrava to combine his architectural with his engineering expertise. Often made of white concrete and steel, his bridge designs had distinctive profiles. Many were asymmetrical. The Pont de l'Europe (Bridge of Europe) over the Loire River in Orléans, France, featured a seemingly tense arch, leaping out of the water and through the roadway, that some likened to a bowstring. Calatrava's Alamillo Bridge in Seville, Spain, was supported by a single leaning pylon that looked ready to topple over. "Being an engineer frees him to make his architecture daring," noted Doug Stewart in Smithsonian magazine. Calatrava's bridges attracted attention in the United States, and a show covering his work was mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993. Commissions for bridge projects in the United States began to come to fruition in the early 2000s. A so-called Sundial Bridge (Turtle Bay Bridge) in a park in Redding, California, had a single spire that served as a sundial, and Calatrava's firm made designs for a series of five massive bridges planned for the Dallas, Texas, area.

Calatrava's first completed U.S. building, however, was an addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum originally designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957. The central feature of his design was a massive two-part sunshade resembling a pair of wings that could open and close in order to change the lighting inside the building. The design was ambitious and difficult; Calatrava at one point was forced to come to Milwaukee and earn state engineering certification in Wisconsin in order to keep the project on track. Parts of the shade were eventually made in Spain and shipped to Milwaukee by plane, and its trademark opening and closing capability was not ready for the structure's unveiling in 2001.

Despite these problems, Calatrava's structure proved a terrific crowd-pleaser. Architecture magazine critic Joseph Giovannini, even as he questioned certain aspects of the design, noted that "it is hard to argue with the sheer joy this exuberant museum has stirred in Milwaukee." Attendance at the museum soared, and other cities began to make inquiries about the hot new European architect. The organic forms of Calatrava's buildings appealed to ordinary users put off by the severity of other modern structures, and the ascending, reach-for-the-sky feel of his works often had a spiritual quality that was a perfect fit for American optimism.

Designed Rail Terminal on WTC Site

That spiritual quality helped win Calatrava a major commission in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City. The terminal of the PATH rail system, serving commuters in New York's western suburbs, had been destroyed in the attacks, and in 2003 Calatrava's design was chosen for its replacement. It too was birdlike, with the interior of the building divided into a pair of wings, and the white building seemed to suggest a phoenix rising from the ashes. Slated to open in 2009, the station was delayed several times as Calatrava's design was altered due to security concerns.

Calatrava remained busy in Europe as well, designing an opera house in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, that evoked a giant ocean wave. His commissions in Europe in the early 2000s included the first modern bridge allowed to be built over the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy's historic city center, and an opera house in his hometown of Valencia, one of a whole complex of museum buildings that he designed there. But Calatrava's most visible European design of the 2000s was the roof of the Olympic Sports Complex in Athens, Greece, viewed by hundreds of millions of people on international television broadcasts. Resembling a double arch shape in distance shots, it proved on closer inspection to consist of a series of curved white spines that suggested the ribcage of an animal.

Little known in the United States even in the late 1990s, Calatrava was something of an architectural star there by the mid-2000s. In 2005 he won the prestigious Gold Medal award from the American Institute of Architects. Cities vied for his services, and he began to attract commissions for top-dollar office and residential projects—somewhat underrep-resented in Calatrava's portfolio up to that point even though such projects were central to the work of most architects. With the 80 South Street Tower in New York City, Calatrava continued reshaping the skyline of Lower Manhattan. The structure consisted of a stack of ten cubes, offset from one another and held up by a giant scaffold. Each cube comprised one condominium, with prices starting at $29 million. Calatrava also seemed ready to move into another area with a commission for the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, California, a replacement for a cathedral leveled in the 1989 earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay area. Calatrava's design featured moving vertical planes meant to evoke a pair of praying hands.

The Oakland design, however, was never built. In 2003 Calatrava and the Diocese of Oakland parted ways, with the scope of Calatrava's project reported as one of a group of causes for the break. Calatrava's massive bridges in Dallas also ran into trouble with city government officials in 2006 after the first span, with a cost initially estimated at $57 million, attracted a low bid of a staggering $113 million from the first round of contractors solicited for the job. With massive projects that seemed designed to outdo his previous creations, Calatrava was in danger of pricing himself out of some markets.

Cost issues were of paramount importance as plans for Calatrava's most ambitious project of all took shape in Chicago. In 2005, developer Christopher Carley announced plans for a Calatrava-designed hotel and condominium tower, the Fordham Spire, that would rise 115 stories above a lot near Chicago's lakefront. Each floor of Calatrava's building would make a two-degree turn from the one below, reaching a 270-degree rotation with the narrowest top floor and giving the building a slim, graceful corkscrew shape. If completed, the building would be the tallest in the United States and perhaps in the world.

The building immediately stirred up public interest in Chicago, already home to two of the world's tallest skyscrapers. It also drew criticism from, among others, rival developer Donald Trump, who questioned its feasibility in an era where terrorism fears had hobbled the construction of tall skyscrapers (although construction was underway on his own 92-story Chicago tower). As of 2006 Calatrava's project had acquired a new developer, Ireland's Garrett Kelleher, and a new name, 400 North Lake Shore Drive. Its financing was reported to be on track, despite a ballooning of its estimated cost from $600 million to $1.2 billion. What was certain was that Santiago Calatrava had already reshaped the look of cities around the world with his landmark projects.


Newsmakers, Issue 1, Thomson Gale, 2005.


Architectural Review, February 2001.

Architecture, February 2002; January 2005.

Art in America, March 2001; October 2003.

Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2005.

Smithsonian, November 1996; April 2005.

Time, March 8, 2004; April 18, 2005.


"Bio," Santiago Calatrava Official Website, (September 30, 2006).

"400 North Lake Shore Drive Project Continues to Move Forward," New City Skyline, (October 1, 2006).

Calatrava Valls, Santiago

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Calatrava Valls, Santiago (1951– ). Spanish-born architect, engineer, and urbanist, who established an architectural and engineering practice in Zürich (1981) and Paris (1989). His firm has designed numerous distinguished and innovative bridges (Barcelona, Bilbao, Córdoba, Lérida, Mérida, Ripoll, Seville, Valencia, Zürich, and other sites). He has also been responsible for canopies, railway-stations (his Lyons TGV Station (1989–94) and Stadelhofen Station, Zürich (1988–90), are particularly interesting), museums, concert-halls, towers, and works of sculpture, and has been the recipient of many awards. In combining architecture, engineering, and sculpture, he has succeeded in reversing a trend to separate these disciplines that has been one of the legacies of Modernism. Among his recent designs are the Sondica Airport, with its huge wing-like roofs, and the Campo Volantin Bridge, both in Bilbao, Spain (and both 1995), the Milwaukee Art Museum, WI (1994–2001), and the Auditorium, Santa Cruz, Tenerife (2000–3), both examples of an architecture owing something, perhaps, to Biomorphism, with their vast overhanging wing-like structures.


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Kalman (1994);
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Lefaivre (ed.) (2001);
Levin (2003);
McQuaid (1993);
Meyhöfer (1995);
Polano (ed.) (1996);
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Jane Turner (1996);
Tischhauser & von Moos (eds.) (1998);
Tzonis (2000);
Tzonis (ed.) (2001);
Tzonis & and Lefaivre (1995).

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