CLAD interview

Santiago Calatrava

Multi-disciplinary visionary architect Santiago Calatrava on being artist, technician, engineer and more

Can you tell us about Peninsula Place – your £1bn residential towers, transport and leisure hub in Greenwich, London?
This project is very important to me. There is such potential here. Greenwich is an area of architectural and industrial archaeology. From the top of the three 30-storey towers, you will see the most beautiful fluvial landscape and feel how vibrant London is.

The project appealed to me because for more than 35 years, 80 per cent of my work has been public buildings, and transport projects and bridges. Most architects would think carefully before taking on a project like this. I was no different, but I soon felt I could contribute something to this place.

I want Peninsula Place to be for people who don’t usually have the opportunity to go to public places that are nice and beautiful. I want to make them feel: ‘This is my place, and it’s been made for me’.

The goal is to celebrate the area and deliver important things to the city, but also to humanise the building. If we achieve this, it will be like giving a concerto for someone hearing music for the first time.

What inspired the designs?
The Greenwich Meridian Line. In Spain, if you’re a 10-year-old kid you learn about El Meridiano and it seems fantastic. Now I am building there. I want to impress a child with this design and find elements that excite them. I want them to think, ‘Wow, this is where the Meridian Line passes through.’ Because that is an extraordinary fact that many people in London have forgotten. We want to recall these childhood ideas and memories, and give them form.

Therefore, the bridge and its vertical cable will create a sundial in a playful element that shows a kid that the shadow at noon goes always to the north side.

Many of your buildings move – like the solar panel ‘wings’ on the Museum of Tomorrow’s roof, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – or look poised to take flight. Why is this?
From day one, movability has been important to me. It was the subject of my doctoral thesis. The industrial technology available today means we can create this sense that architecture is no more an aesthetic and firm thing, but rather something that transforms, something alive, something new and poetic.

When I speak to you, I am gesticulating with my arms and hands. When wind blows, trees move and water ripples. It’s the same with my buildings. They are not static. By transforming, they can adapt with time and capture an instant.

For example, they react to the weather. With Peninsula Place, if it’s cloudy and cold, I can close the roof of the Winter Garden. If it’s sunny, I open it. It’s like an old friend told me: if you don’t like the weather in London, wait 10 minutes for it to change.

Do you consider yourself foremost an architect or engineer?
For me, it’s about how I can use engineering in a way to signify a place. This is the way I have been with building with technology. I use it to push the limits of expression.

The possibilities of technology are fascinating because we can trust it. People hang in single-cable cable cars every day, and they are relaxed. They go in an elevator in a tall building, but they have no worries. Technology can move us towards a new architecture. You know, there is no difference between art and technique, nor between architecture and engineering. Both serve the art of construction.

An engineer uses technique, which comes from the ancient Greek word technikí. But the Greeks also have the word téchni, meaning art. The worker – tektón – has a skill, which is used to achieve art.

How do you feel about the criticism sometimes levelled against you?
I’ll tell you a brief story. At the age of 82, when he was completely deaf, Francisco Goya, the great Spanish painter, left Spain and went in exile to Bordeaux, France.

Then, suddenly, he moved to Paris, where nobody knew him and where he could only communicate by writing in Spanish. Even the French culture minister asked why this man had moved there. Well, he went there, deaf and alone, to learn photography.

From around this time there is a small drawing by Goya of an old man, bent over with two walking sticks. It is titled Aun aprendo. It means, ‘I am still learning’.

Santiago Calatrava was interviewed by Kim Megson. Read the full article in CLADmag issue 2 2017.

Greenwich Peninsula

According to developer Knight Dragon, Greenwich Peninsula is London’s largest single regeneration project. The company is building 15,720 new homes in seven new neighbourhoods, wrapped by 2.6km of the River Thames.

A major film studio, a new design district, schools, offices, health services, public spaces and a 5km running trail are also being created. Architecture firm Allies and Morrison have masterplanned the £8.4bn project, and Marks Barfield, DSDHA, Alison Brooks, Duggan Morris and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill have all designed buildings there.

The gateway to Greenwich Peninsula, Santiago Calatrava’s Peninsula Place “signals the intent and ambition for this district.” Knight Dragon is spearheading the development with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London.

Knight Dragon chief executive Richard Margree says: “Arts and culture is embedded in everything, including the buildings. That was the particular appeal of choosing Calatrava to design Peninsula Place, with his artistic, engineering and architectural background.

“Creating a community doesn’t come about because people write it on a master plan. You’ve got to passionately believe in it. You have to build a sense of civic pride into neighbourhoods, otherwise you end up with dormitory towns. Everybody who visits here, lives here and works here is welcome in the public spaces we’re creating.”

The Winter Garden
The Winter Garden
Peninsula Place Bridge
Peninsula Place Bridge

Bridges of Calatrava

Margaret McDermott Bridge
Dallas, Texas • upcoming

Crati River Bridge
Cosenza, Italy • upcoming

Peace Bridge
Calgary, Canada • 2012

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge
Dallas, Texas • 2012

Samuel Beckett Bridge
Dublin, Ireland • 2009

Ponte della Costituzione
Venice, Italy • 2008

Chords Bridge
Jerusalem • 2008

Three bridges
Reggio Emilia, Italy • 2007

Petah Tikva Footbridge
Petah Tikva, Israel • 2005

Harp, Cittern and Lute Bridges
Haarlemmermeer, Netherlands • 2004

Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay
Redding, California • 2004

James Joyce Bridge
Dublin, Ireland • 2003

Women’s Bridge
Buenos Aires, Argentina • 2001

Puente del Hospital
Murcia, Spain • 1999

Campo Volantin Footbridge
Bilbao, Spain • 1997

Trinity Bridge
Greater Manchester, UK • 1995

Alameda Bridge
Valencia, Spain • 1995

Mimico Creek Bridge
Toronto, Canada • 1994

Lusitania Bridge
Mérida, Spain • 1992

Alamillo Bridge
Seville, Spain • 1992

Bac de Roda Bridge
Barcelona, Spain • 1987

Peace Bridge, Calgary, Canada / PHOTO:
Peace Bridge, Calgary, Canada PHOTO:
Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin, Ireland / PHOTO:
Samuel Beckett Bridge, Dublin, Ireland PHOTO:
Sundial Bridge, Redding, California / PHOTO:
Sundial Bridge, Redding, California PHOTO:
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