The New York Times Catalogs the Many Critics of Architect Santiago Calatrava

Large Marge awaits her little sister.
Large Marge still awaits her little sister.

The man responsible for Large Marge doesn’t seem too popular these days in Valencia, Spain. As the New York Times reports, architect Santiago Calatrava was commissioned to create a complex of buildings there, including a performance hall, a bridge, a planetarium, an opera house, a science museum, a covered walkway and reflecting pools. The project, originally budgeted at about $405 million, is costing three times that amount. And some of that overrun is due to mistakes Calatrava himself made in his designs.

Ignacio Blanco, the member of the provincial Parliament who started the Web site, has unleashed a flood of information about the complex during the past year, concluding that Valencia still owes 700 million euros (about $944 million) on it.

Mr. Calatrava was paid approximately 94 million euros (about $127 million) for his work. How could that be, Mr. Blanco asks, when the opera house included 150 seats with obstructed views? Or when the science museum was initially built without fire escapes or elevators for the disabled?

“How can you make mistakes like that?” asked Mr. Blanco, a member of the small opposition United Left party here, who said millions were spent to fix such errors. “He was paid even when repairing his own mistakes.”

Calatrava didn’t talk to the Times for this article but has in the past dismissed the complaints in Valencia as politically driven by Communists. But his works in Valencia aren’t the only problems that the paper catalogs. There are problems with a leaky roof at Spanish winery, repairs needed on a bridge in Venice, cost overruns on a New York train station, and a bridge in Bilbao that was built with a glass surface on which pedestrians frequently slip and fall.

When Calatrava was asked about such criticism by Architectural Record last year, his response was:

But I built a train station in Liege, which took more than 12 years, and now I am building a second station for the same client. The same thing happened in Dublin. I was commissioned to do a second, much larger, and more complex bridge. And in Dallas, I did a bridge and we’re doing a second bridge there. The important thing is that the client thinks it’s worth it to work with me.

Dallas does think it’s worth it. Though we had him dumb down his original design to feature only two arches instead of four in a (possibly futile) attempt to cut costs, Small Marge is coming.

9 comments on “The New York Times Catalogs the Many Critics of Architect Santiago Calatrava

  1. I, for one, will wait until we hear from D Magazine’s esteemed architecture critic critic, Mr. Glenn Hunter.

  2. He is more of an engineer than an architect. Also, what kind of architecture firm doesn’t have staff trained to look for and fix accessibility & building safety issues?

  3. I can understand why they paid him for the work he performed in Valencia. Guessing one of the reasons they “unleashed a flood of information” about the problems is that they didn’t write the contracts correctly in the first place, otherwise they would have just fixed them with the proceeds from insurance claims against Calatrava or his company.

  4. The landscape of architecture is littered with dubious dealing and shabby business practices. Money to build the Parthenon was embezzled.

  5. As an architect who’s been doing work in China for many years, the level of corruption in the development industry is mind boggling. I suspect many a well stuffed manila envelope has been delivered to well placed government officials on some of the projects I’ve been involved in. The US is tame by comparison.

  6. In this age of vast computer power, access to engineering information across the globe, and specialists in every field, why do incompetent professionals still flourish? Mr. Santiago would serve his clients, and certainly the taxpayers, better to be put under careful supervision, much as is done with idiot savants.