The renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been speaking to euronews.
His designs – which take their inspiration from nature – provoke strong reactions; they are either loved or loathed. Calatrava, who considers himself to be above all an artist, says an architect is also a philanthropist. In the past cities were designed to last, today they provide an insight into the soul of the lost civilisations that built them. So, if architecture is the most tangible sign of a civilisation how then to preserve the sacred nature of a location? euronews “How do you give a sense of sacredness to a particular location and thereby to life itself?” Calatrava “According to the Roman architect Vitruvio, architecture should have three qualities: utility, beauty and solidity – utilitas, venustas and firmitas. By ‘firmitas’ he also meant ‘perennitas’ – in other words permanence in time. In that context, our vision is very much influenced by the view in the bible that there is something divine in everyone. That’s to say a belief in the idea that every person has something special, sacred and divine in them; something which allows us to better understand architecture. And that also means that at its very core, architecture is more than just buildings. It gives a sense of the heritage of a particular time, it’s a time capsule. Architecture is often associated with financial and economic concepts; that the time taken to pay off an investment must equal the amount that your money would make if you put it in a bank account. That’s ridiculous. Because our works survive us.” euronews “Some governments use public building projects to boost their economies, what do you think about that?” Calatrava “I think that during this economic crisis it is important to create new, modern infrastructure. And it presents a unique opportunity to do that in more remote locations. One of the most successful things in Spain, in my opinion, is that the high speed rail line was not originally planned to connect Madrid and Barcelona, but Madrid and Seville; and to end the situation where the less developed areas in the south were not connected to the more developed north. We must continue to do that sort of thing.” euronews “These big infrastructure projects are very controversial – for example, the locks in Venice, the Messina Bridge or the high speed rail link in northern Italy. What’s your opinion?” Calatrava “There are two aspects here. On the one hand, there is the environmental aspect, which has to be respected. These days that’s a bigger consideration than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Nowadays you have to produce designs that are better looking, better adapted to their environment and with less of an impact on their surroundings. I think that the cost of these projects is nothing compared with the millions, even billions and thousands of billions that is being put in to save a paper economy, a purely administrative economy. When you think of the money that states are giving to the banks to save them and what will we get at the end of that process, nothing except the possibility that they’ll ask for more? On the other hand, to build a bridge, a motorway, a new high speed rail line, that is something that is useful to people and will stay there for ever, and is much less costly.” Santiago Calatrava moves constantly the United States and Europe. In New York he’s working on the huge transportation hub that is being created under the buildings that will replace the World Trade Center. euronews “Do you favour a ‘fortress’ Europe or a Europe with more multicultural bridges?” Calatrava “No question, my Europe is a Europe of bridges, because that’s what I do. In any event, I think that Europe’s history was built on connections, bridges, from the monasteries all the way to the universities. As far as I’m concerned, universities are one of the most effective institutions. They stand for a meeting of minds and exchanging information.” euronews “It is easier to be an architect in Europe or in the United States?” Calatrava “I think that here in Europe we’re living in what you could call a mix: you see churches that are partly in the Romanesque style, and with parts that hark back to Roman times, and then there’s another part that is Gothic, and in another part of a city there’s ‘renaissance’ or baroque style; we’re living spread across several centuries. In the United States everything is much more contemporary, of our time.” euronews “Ground Zero, the 9/11 attacks were against people and against an architectural symbol of New York, the Twin Towers. What did you make of that?” Calatrava “Man is at the centre of architecture. If we think of these buildings as containers which were attacked by other containers filled with other people, that shows a great contempt for humanity. The only way to put that right is with love, a lot of generosity and conviction, not only in our view of life but also in our respect for others, and through this respect, itself sublimated by the strength and by the material that represents architecture to support our memories.”