January 18, 2022

Santiago Calatrava Could Be the World’s Most Hated Architect However He Created One Hell of a Library

6 min read

Bleeds you dry.” “Exuberantly shallow… kitsch.” “Such conceitedness.” “An epic boondoggle.” “A one-trick pony.”

That’s only a pattern of the invective directed at one of many world’s most well-known architects—Santiago Calatrava. Whereas beloved by many for his edgy, gravity-defying, and photogenic works, he’s also probably the world’s most hated architect. So lots of his tasks blow by way of multiples of their funds, don’t operate (two slippery pedestrian bridges, an airport with out an arrivals corridor, and the opera home with seats with no view), or are in fixed want of staggering restore and upkeep.

The truth is, it’s exhausting to think about any single particular person over the past 30 years who’s accountable for costing governments worldwide extra money for one thing aside from struggle.

However this isn’t one other rant about Calatrava. As an alternative, for those who’ve been disillusioned by his buildings or for those who’ve simply learn one of many many epic take-downs of this simply caricatured artist, I’d counsel you e book a flight to Zurich and stroll up the hill on the western facet of the town till you end up exterior a moderately atypical grey stone college constructing. For inside this unassuming historic constructing is one in all Calatrava’s greatest works, the truth is, among the best items of contemporary structure I’ve seen these days, and this month’s choice for our sequence The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries.

There may be nothing mistaken with the constructing that homes the Legislation Library on the College of Zurich. Its Artwork Nouveau façade suits in properly with this a part of Zurich that arose within the a long time after the outdated metropolis partitions got here down in 1834. It was designed by Herman Fierz and accomplished in 1909 as an L-shaped counterpart to the prevailing mid-Nineteenth century preparatory highschool such that the 2 buildings connect with kind an oblong construction with a big courtyard.

Over time the college’s regulation college enrollment grew and grew till it was scattered everywhere in the college. In want of a central regulation library, the college within the Nineteen Eighties proposed a wholly new constructing. However that was shot down. So in 1989, it turned to the town’s nascent star architect, Calatrava, whose spouse had attended the varsity, to remodel the Fierz advanced. Whereas the varsity could have simply been searching for an addition that gave it more room, what Calatrava ended up proposing was one thing much more formidable, transformative, and but additionally modest. He would flip the open-air courtyard of the constructing right into a modern library of galleries of heat wooden lit from above by a longitudinal glass dome.

Calatrava could have been born in Valencia and his beginning metropolis would be the web site of his largest venture (the Metropolis of Arts and Sciences, which seems cool at first however verges on ridiculous the longer you take a look at it), nevertheless it was in Zurich that he acquired his doctorate in 1981, opened his workplace, and had his first main venture—the Stadelhofen railway station, which featured all of his signature tantric swooping constructions. He shortly adopted it with the 2 bridges that made him well-known: the Bac de Roda Bridge in Barcelona and the actually spectacular Puente del Alamillo in Sevilla (which wasn’t accomplished till the early Nineteen Nineties). His defenders would possibly level to his works within the ’90s and their spectacular envelope-pushing as Calatrava operating so later architects might merely stroll.

It was on this interval of his lightning-fast rise that he was awarded the library venture, though it took a decade to get authorised and was not accomplished till 2004. However to stroll into it in the present day is to marvel at how he designed one thing that after practically three a long time nonetheless seems futuristic and sharp.

If the Artwork Nouveau façade is unremarkable however nonetheless beautiful, its bottom, which is surprisingly the library’s entrance, is simply unremarkable. You enter a nondescript white low-ceiling foyer after which cross by way of a vestibule—step one within the traditional compression and enlargement trick beloved by many architects—earlier than strolling into the library corridor. Your eyes are instantly, and willingly, led upward from the white stone flooring as you visually climb the six tales of maple ribs to the dome above. It’s an eerie area, half ark and half sci-fi Valhalla the place a disembodied voice would possibly announce your destiny.

I say disembodied as a result of you may’t see something besides the construction itself. When one thinks about stunning libraries, outdated and new, a lot of the wonder comes from seeing row upon row of books. For contemporary libraries particularly, which development chilly of their shade scheme and design, the colour typically comes from the spines of books ranked on the cabinets. Calatrava, nonetheless, exhibiting how intelligent he could be, took a take a look at that lengthy historical past of library design and mentioned, Nah. However what he did as a substitute works fantastically. Standing on the backside of the corridor you can’t see a single e book or a single pupil. As an alternative, essentially the most you get is the occasional throat clearing or the tapping of an particularly intense typer (some areas needed to be made laptop-free due to how a lot that sound fills the room).

On both finish of the area, one finds one other improbable aspect—glass elevators that appear like large pneumatic tubes. Peeking round them, you see the restored facades of the historic courtyard as Calatrava has basically hung his eye-shaped library inside it, giving the area what he known as a “levitorial character… the library floats within the courtyard as if it have been an enormous piece of furnishings.

It isn’t a flamboyant work that has to attract consideration to itself.

Santiago Calatrava

As you journey up and down the six tales within the elevator, you lastly see the books and the scholars—a view equally as stunning as that on the bottom flooring however completely completely different. Whereas the view from the bottom up feels alien, wanting down on stacks of books and college students one sees, fairly merely, a phenomenal library.

The principle corridor of the Bibliothek des Rechtswissenschaftlichen Instituts (regulation library) of the College of Zurich, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and built-in into an present constructing in 2004. Image taken with a fisheye lens, Sept. 12, 2018

Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

“It isn’t a flamboyant work that has to attract consideration to itself,” the architect mentioned in an interview shortly after it opened. “It was essential to me to depart one thing stunning and useful for the scholars.”

The library isn’t simply an aesthetic marvel, nonetheless, it’s additionally fascinating from an engineering perspective. The dome has what known as an “anti-dazzle system” that not solely prevents blinding when the sunshine hits the glass at an angle nevertheless it additionally works to maintain the warmth up within the dome and soak up among the sound.

Zurich, inside shot of the regulation library of the College of Zurich.


The phrase I stored coming again to as I (quietly) explored the area was intelligent, which can be some of the underrated qualities in fashionable starchitecture, which tends towards huge, showy components that do properly in pictures. However right here on this corridor, the temptation towards grandiosity eliminated maybe by the very fact it may well’t be seen from the road, Calatrava’s library is an excellent testomony to what structure could be when genius will not be tripped up by the ego.

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