There is a Sea-World quality to the work of Santiago Calatrava. He designs with a maritime sensitivity that, at times can soothe the surrounding landscape, or crucify it. A trained architect/engineer, Calatrava consistently attempts to design the impossible, but then engages his engineering dual-persona to prove his designer limitations wrong. Calatrava may very well be the type of architect who would rather write Ph.D before his name, than after. His design approach can create a disturbing paradox, as there seems to be a low tremor of insecurity that runs through the veins of his work. Much of his work leans towards design arrogance that seeks to forcibly establish legacy, all at once.
Santiago is not without authentic talent, in fact, extraordinary talent. He is not only an architect/engineer, but a painter and sculptor. Many critics have distilled his abilities and consider him to be simply a great engineer, and an average designer. Calatrava was born on July 28, 1951 in Benimámet, a rural part of Valencia, Spain. He was educated locally at the Architecture, Arts and Crafts School. Following his graduation in 1975, Calatrava enrolled in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland for graduate work in civil engineering. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1981, the topic, "The Foldability of Space Frames", after which he started his architecture and engineering practice.
Although known for his many bridges in Europe, his most discussed work is his addition to the Milwaukee Museum of Art. The structure is a unique combination of what one may see gazing into the open ocean as a whale emerges from the water for a mid-day leap. Either you love it, or hate it. The addition is nonetheless stunning, and to his credit, is impossible to overlook or ignore.
Calatrava has strong views on the tendency to separate the discipline of architecture, from the discipline of engineering. His view is that they are inextricably connected. In his words, "…The professions of architecture and engineering are linked together by the art of construction" he continues, "…The goal of putting a bridging landscape, or putting a cathedral in the middle of a city is the same thing." This is the philosophy that guides his work.
With his main residence and office in Zurich, Switzerland, Calatrava is classed among the elite designers of the world. One can critique that his pattern of design routinely risks incongruence, because of the perception of force-fitting pre-conceived ideas. This perception is then soundly contradicted when one views many of his very thoughtful, considerate works. These works include: The Montjuic Communications Tower in Barcelona, Spain, the 54 storey high twisting tower called Turning Torso in Malmö, Sweden, or even the much anticipated skyscraper, Chicago Spire in Chicago, Illinois. The wonderful modern architectural design of Palacio de las Artes is another example; this building is
located in Valencia, Spain. His most prized, selfless assignment may very well be designing the future train station for the yet to be build World Trade Center in New York City.
His awards are numerous: Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University, Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Council for the Arts at MIT, (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), an Honorary Engineering Degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the AIA Gold Medal Designation as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Davos. Calatrava is also a recipient of the Spanish National Architecture Award.
Calatrava is a respected sculpture and painter. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City held an exhibition of his artistic work entitled; "Santiago Calatrava: Sculpture into Architecture." His work has also been honored with exhibition in Germany, England, Spain, and Italy. There is a renaissance quality to his gifting. One can truly admire, and many adore his paintings and sculptures, while strongly disliking his buildings and towers.
There has been much criticism of Calatrava’s work on the airport in Bilbao, Spain, and in many ways this project crystallizes the most frequently expressed views. The airport is essentially art that is impractical for the day-to-day activities for which it was built. The airport lacks adequate facilities and the tiles and glass break under local weather conditions. A planning oversight that is mysterious for one who has extensive training in the area of engineering.
With such extreme abilities to do so many various kinds of art and engineering there will always be a market for Calatrava. The ultimate judge of how his work is received or rejected is time, and the honest over-the-shoulder perspective of history. The most likely conclusion will be one that is inconclusive and as diversified as his talents are today.