Santiago Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava portrat.

Photo © Jonathan Becker  

By Kirsten Kiser

Santiago Calatrava was born in 1951 near Valencia, Spain. He studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Valencia and after graduating in 1974, structural engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. In 1981 he established his own architecture and engineering firm in Zürich. Later he opened offices in Paris, Valencia, and New York.

Calatrava’s designs suggest stylized natural objects – waves, wings, or sun-bleached skeletons. Buildings open like the wings of birds and apartment towers twists like the human torso. He uses steel and concrete and the latest computer technology to create what appears to be both natural and structurally impossible.

His Bac de Roda Bridge in Barcelona, completed in 1987, was the beginning of a series of bridge projects that established his international reputation.

Calatrava’s largest project, the City of Arts and Sciences, set in the old dried-up river bed in Valencia, covers an area of 350,000 square meters. Built between 1998 and 2005 the architectural ensemble, surrounded by shallow pools, is comprised of L’Hemisfèric, the Science Museum Principe Felipe, L’Umbracle, and the Palacio de las Artes. Calatrava used pure white concrete and Gaudiesque fragments of shattered tiles, an important Valencian industry, to tie all the structures together.

Since then Calatrava has completed dozens of buildings and bridges around the world, and many more are in the works. His designs are immediately recognizable, and often look like they are about to take flight. Like the Sondica Airport in Bilbao, nicknamed La Paloma (the dove), the Quadracci Pavilion in Milwaukee, and the soon to open World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City.

Calatrava’s immense structures begin with small gestures in a sketchbook. He considers his drawings and sculptures to be inextricably linked, bridging the gap between art and architecture.

Calatrava BIO - Turning Torso.jpgStudy for Turning Torso 1999 – 2004. Photo sketch  © Santiago Calatrava

I venerate the human body, which I keep drawing and drawing and drawing. I think it is much easier to read the purity of form in drawing and in sculpture than to read it in the buildings themselves.”

Santiago Calatrava,  Architectural Record interview by Robert Ivy