The grace of Santiago Calatrava

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Sun, 2006-09-03 18:59

The man's a genius. An artistic and engineering genius.

I've only had the the pleasure of being in one of Santiago Calatrava's magnificent buildings -- many of which bring to architecture the novel concept of seeing buildings as mechanisms, or as organisms that change as a living thing would during the course of the day -- so the film on Calatrava and his work I've just seen at the JASMAX Architectural Film Festival was a delight. A real delight. (That's him above, by the way, with another of my heroes, architect Felix Candela.)

A building that changes and grows as an organism does is a difficult thing to convey in a photograph, particularly when they change with the grace of a Calatrava building (often reminiscent of the scillia of an anenome, or the windswept movement of of a field of corn), so film offers the rare opportunity of capturing this delight.

The photographs here of Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum for instance give you an idea of the elegance of the construction when it's embrature is both open (above), when it seems to soar like a great bird, and closed (below), but not of the grace of its movement or the sheer 'organic' ingenuity of its mechanism. To see it presented on film in all it's balletic grace as it was in 'Calatrava's Travels' was a delight. [You can see a somewhat lesser but still beautiful presentation of the closing and re-opening here at You Tube.]

And just as a contrast, to help you see how lucky are the people of Milwaukee to have a Calatrava creation for their Art Museum, I've selected a few other recent Art Museums produced by architects fashionable only for being fashionable, all of which have been -- not to put too fine a point on this -- expensive failures. I give you, Frank Gehry's monumentally ugly (and inordinately expensive) Columbus Art Center, resembling nothing so much as an expensive pile of used tin cans surrounding a gallery that is no more than an artless box:

Zaha Hadid's disastrous Cincinatti Art Museum (below), erected at huge expense to help revitalise Cincinatti and the arts in that city, only to see unexcited patrons staying away in droves:

And Peter Eisenman's recently expensively rebuilt Wexner Art Center (below); at the time of rebuilding "director Sherri Geldin took the opportunity to list, to the obvious chagrin of an increasingly crimson Peter, exactly why the building sucks [and needed reconstruction]: lost patrons, damaging sunlight, useless spaces, etc. 'It would have been easier to start from scratch,' she said, and not in a nice way. Eisenman fled mid-speech." [Reported here at Not PC.] Her comments could just as easily have been reflected by the curators of the other museums above.
In fact, it would have been "easier" and infinitely more delightful if all those Art Museums had hired real architectects like Calatrava, instead of the posturing poseurs they did.

Go and see the film: 'Santiago Calatrava's Travels' if you do get the opportunity. If you've read this far in this post, you'll love it.

LINKS: Santiago Calatrava resources - Frederick Clifford Gibson
Milwaukee Art Museum,Quadracci Pavilion - description and story at the 'Galinsky' site.
Posturing poseur alert - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

JASMAX Film Festival '06: Celebrating Architecture - JASMAX

RELATED: Architecture, Films, Heroes


( categories: )

Saarinen and Milwaukee

Peter Cresswell's picture

Ah, you've just earned several points, Adam, almost rehabilitating yourself. Smiling Saarinen was very good; as you say, Calatrava is even better!

On my first visit to NY I insisted on flying out of JFK just to see Saarinen's TWA Terminal, much to the protestations of my Jersey cousins who were driving me there. And I loved the story that the TWA Terminal scored highest in a survey of travellers for being the most frustrating airport terminal to use, the reason being that it gave to the traveller a tremendous feeling of being "up, up and away," but they were stuck there doing anything but.

And I believe too that Calatrava's Milwaukee Art Museum is an addition to the Saarinen museum (with which I'm unfamiliar, I'm afraid) and Calatrava wanted to separate the two buildings so as not to 'overshadow' the Saarinen original, and to take the newer building closer to the lake.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Peter

AdamReed's picture

Peter - you write, "I'd been wondering if anyone else here was as enthusiastic as I."

I am. I've been a Saarinen enthusiast from the 1950s on, and Calatrava is even better.

Katherine

Peter Cresswell's picture

You're very welcome Katherine. I'd been wondering if anyone else here was as enthusiastic as I. Smiling

BTW, you can see on You Tube a couple of short films of the Milwaukee Art Museum opening and closing its wings.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Thanks for the heads-up!

Kat's picture

I am also a Calatrava fan; he is my favorite modern architect! I will be sure to check out this film if possible.

Sorted. I think.

Peter Cresswell's picture

I think I've got it sorted, but I don't know why they disappeared in the first place. :-/

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Pictures have disappeared!

Peter Cresswell's picture

Well, either I'm an idiot -- which of course is possible -- or something wierd is happening here: the six photos that accompanied this piece and which were on display just an hour ago just won't show themselves now.

I'll keep trying. :-/

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.