Italy hits architect Santiago Calatrava with €78,000 in fines

Italy hits architect Santiago Calatrava with €78,000 in fines
Venice bridge by Santiago Calatrava. Courtesy Flickr Commons.
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Synonymous with Venice are its canals and with those canals come all the bridges, more than 400 bridges to be exact. However, one bridge has proven to be particularly problematic and the city has fined the architect for damages. On August 6th, a five-judge panel in a Roman court that oversees the spending of public funds ruled that Spanish-Swiss architect Santiago Calatrava, who designed one of Venice’s most modern bridges, failed to account for ‘what everyone understands’ about Venice: that it sees millions of tourists. The issue is that the bridge Calatrava created, consisting primarily of steel and glass, though enticingly sleek, does not accommodate the city’s needs. Built near the city’s train station, and thus in an area of heightened traffic, the court found that the architect committed ‘macroscopic negligence’ with his bridge and has now been fined €78,000 in damages.

At the time of its opening in 2008, the bridge had tallied up a bill of about €11.6 million, nearly €5 million more than its original estimates. The bridge has continued to cost the city money, too. Before its fourth birthday, eight of the bridge’s stairs had already needed replacing, which Calatrava originally estimated wouldn’t need replacing for eight years, accumulating a €36,000 tab in the process. The bridge also became a point of contention for its materials, which, when it rained, became slick. The sloped glass tiles making up the floor more or less became a high-end Slip N’ Slide and tourists often wiped out while crossing it. The judges’ report reflected this issue stating that falling tourists might be part of the reason why the bridge has taken more damage than expected stating: ‘It wasn’t hard to imagine, from the beginning and in practice, that the elevated rate of falls would yield a more than proportionate risk of breaking the glass.’ This issue has even led many who love the bridge to acknowledge its faults.

This isn’t the first time the city has brought Calatrava to court, either. In 2014, they filed a suit against the architect for similar issues of negligence but a lower Italian court ruled in favour of Calatrava stating that the city had allowed for tourists to incorrectly use the bridge. That incorrect use? Wheeling suitcases across the bridge instead of carrying them. As odd as that may seems, the bridge is only one of many places in Venice that has seen the effects of record numbers of tourists and their associated baggage. In fact, the same year the bridge opened, the city tried to ban the use of wheeled luggage but the court struck that down saying that it was an impossible demand given that a ‘large portion of the transit population’ used such bags. The city has also hired ‘decorum’ police to help maintain the integrity of the city and its monuments at a time when the city is seemingly overrun by tourists.

When Calatrava opened the bridge, he defended his design against the naysayers stating that the bridge had been tested with necessary measures to ensure it was up for the job. He is, though, an architect that generally garners polarized opinions. His works, like the PATH station in Lower Manhattan and City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia have received praise as being visionary but many have thought the projects were far too expensive.

Of course, the bridge is only one small issue amongst a growing number of tourist-related issues in the city. Recently Venice has banned cruise ships after one rammed into its piers, a topic that Banksy noted earlier in the year. Venice-based writer, Roberto Ferrucci, told The New York Times that he worries about how Venice has lashed out at the architect. He said that if the bridge was the only problem the city had, ‘[he’d] be popping champagne.’