Sunday, 21 April 2013

Looks good but leaks like a sieve

How many times have you heard it, leveled against the iconic building, and accusing its 'starchitect' designer of incompetent whimsy?

The latest version of this predictable stereotype turns up in Inhabitat this week, under the title "Santiago Calatrava Told to Pay for Leaky Roof of Ysios Winery in Spain":

"The owner of the Santiago Calatrava-designed Ysios winery is demanding that the Spanish architect contribute $2 million ($2.6 million) for the redesign and reconstruction the building’s leaky roof. The architect’s original builders have made several attempts to fix the roof so it doesn’t let in water, and now the owner wants to hire a new architect to design a replacement for the curvy roof."

Reading a few more on-line articles, one discovers that apparently the individual aluminium elements of the complex curved roof flutter enough in high winds to admit rain, and also contribute to other moisture control problems. It is reported that Calatrava has been unsympathetic to the winery's problems (difficulties maintaining their tight environmental controls, amongst other things), and that has opened a bit of a flood of cross references in the blogosphere.

Calatrava appears to be having a bit of a bad run since he started to experiment with materials, going beyond his trademark structural virtuosity. The ceramic skin of the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia appears to be slowly wrinkling and shaking loose. This is like adding injury to insult for local opposition politicians, who point out that the budget for the project has quadrupled to €1.2 billion because of the spaceship-like design, with almost 100 million accounted for by the architect’s fee. To be fair, it should be mentioned that the project actually contains an opera house, museum and planetarium as well as two bridges, and has been executed over a period of twenty years. But as a bottom line, Calatrava defends the unconventional design by pointing out the 'Bilbao effect', claiming Valencia has benefited from the arts and science center which put the city on the tourist map.

Which makes it doubly poignant that in northern Bilbao, Calatrava’s Zubizuri bridge has been nick-named the “wipe-out” bridge because of the number of people that have slipped and fallen on its glass deck. That Calatrava sued the city for protection of his intellectual rights, when Arata Isozaki connected another footbridge to his, has only given ammunition to those who criticise architects for indulging in impractical art statements at the public expense.

Also reported is that the architect and the firms involved in the building of the conference hall in Oviedo were ordered by a court to pay 3million because a part of the structure collapsed during construction.  Both court cases apparently raised serious issues about the interpretation of the relevant laws.

The Guardian newspaper has gathered together a few more current court cases in which the architect is involved:

Italian authorities are demanding, five years after its opening, that Calatrava and others involved cover some €4m of the over-spending on the long delayed fourth bridge over the Grand canal.  Wikipaedia's claim of a judgement for 1m Euro in March this year is hard to corroborate.

In Oviedo a court has ordered that the architect and construction firms involved in building a conference hall there should pay €3m to the insurance firm after part of the structure collapsed during building.  As the Guardian reports, the Oviedo hall's infamous, huge mechanical visor has never worked because of problems with its hydraulics. Calatrava is currently battling the building's owners through the courts after they blamed him and refused to pay his full fees.

In 2011 the Telegraph had run with a story, now again quoted, of a case dropped by the public prosecutor, in which it emerged that Calatrava was paid 15.2 million euros for a building project in Valencia that will never be built.

It seems that Santiago Calatrava has focused on himself the ire of disappointed clients, and agitated opponents of his public projects, as much because of the perception of excessive fees, as  questions of technical performance.  That his defence of those fees rests on the proportion of the project costs, cuts little water with critics who blame him for those costs in the first place. 


Producing buildings with strange shapes and experimental materials just makes Calatrava a more visible target.  I can't forgive him for insisting on slippery steps, not on one bridge, but on two.  However, I bet if we looked dispassionately at the numbers of leaking roofs, star architects' weird buildings wouldn't stand out as having more of them, than common or vanilla buildings, with or without architects involved.

Read more: Santiago Calatrava Told to Pay for Leaky Roof of Ysios Winery in Spain | Inhabitat 

Edit:
from the Irish Times via Architectural Record:



And the Valencia-born architect is again in the limelight for the wrong reasons, after a judge yesterday ordered him to pay 3.3 million to the company that manages the Exhibitions and Conventions Centre in Oviedo, due to faults in Mr Calatrava's design.
Paradoxically, the court case originates in a suit the architect brought against the firm Jovellanos XXI, for allegedly failing to pay him his full fee for the building in the northern region of Asturias. While the court found in Mr Calatrava's favour on that count, it also accepted the company's allegation that the building has flaws.
Jovellanos XXI owed the architect 7.3 million, Judge Pablo Martnez-Hombre found, but Mr Calatrava was found liable to pay compensation of 10.6 million - leaving him to pay the difference. Calatrava once described the huge white building as "a forum for discussion and progress", but its construction has been hindered by problems. Part of its structure collapsed in 2006, and Jovellanos XXI held back his fee when it emerged that a hydraulic sliding facade did not work.
 

3 comments:

David Week said...

Hi Steve. You write good, long, informative and well-researched posts. Most of them would make good articles in journals and magazines. Thank you for that.

I made a similar comment on a list I'm on, in which my colleagues spend much ire complaining about starchitects. First, starchitects are indeed probably no better nor worse on basic technical stuff, and I know from people who have worked for them that controlling the design and execution of these mega buildings is a nightmare.

But more important, the gaze fixated on the starchitect--whether positive or negative--is like the Hollywood fan who is obsessed with movie stars, to the extent of missing the real life that goes on around them. Starchitects account for less than 0.001% of all building production (my guesstimate) and as architects who care about the WHOLE built environment, and the experience of EVERYBODY (not just tourists or museum-goers), we should be looking at the process that create the other 99.999%.

David Week said...

Hi Steve. You write good, long, informative and well-researched posts. Most of them would make good articles in journals and magazines. Thank you for that.

I made a similar comment on a list I'm on, in which my colleagues spend much ire complaining about starchitects. First, starchitects are indeed probably no better nor worse on basic technical stuff, and I know from people who have worked for them that controlling the design and execution of these mega buildings is a nightmare.

But more important, the gaze fixated on the starchitect--whether positive or negative--is like the Hollywood fan who is obsessed with movie stars, to the extent of missing the real life that goes on around them. Starchitects account for less than 0.001% of all building production (my guesstimate) and as architects who care about the WHOLE built environment, and the experience of EVERYBODY (not just tourists or museum-goers), we should be looking at the process that create the other 99.999%.

Steve King said...

Thanks, David.
Especially for the kind words.

I obviously agree with you. At the moment, I am working from a stance that is focused on the journeyman architects, in the sense that I am concerned about the way knowledge is built up. The problem is that most of the issues, and most of the buildings that are accessible are from that tiny minority of projects.

But now that you have highlighted the idea, I will see what I can do.