The John Tusa Interviews
Transcript of the John Tusa Interview with the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava
You can say with absolute confidence that billions of people around the world have seen one of the buildings of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. As vast global audiences tuned in to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics on television in 2004, cameras lingered on the two huge metal girder arches that opened and closed the stadium roof, looking for all the world like the carapace of a vast beetle. It was spectacular, it was popular and it worked. In the years ahead Calatrava, already known as the Starchitect for the exuberance and flamboyance of his buildings, will become even more famous for his designs for the transportation interchange at New York 's Ground Zero. His design described as looking like a bird being released into the air by a child catches the sense of optimism and rebirth that the rebuilt Ground Zero calls for, but Calatrava is recognised, admired and commissioned on a worldwide scale for buildings such as the Station Airport at Lyons with its huge ribcage supporting great protective wings, or his Santa Cruz auditorium looking like a big wave about to overtop the complex, and Calatrava's buildings always attract descriptions such as these because he believes in the importance of metaphor in his work. Years ago he stated 'my ideal is to make works of pure engineering that are inspired by the soul of the artist', for he describes himself as 'architect and engineer by trade, sculptor and painter by avocation', and it's the combination of these four elements that make his work so distinctive and so much of it so appealing. Some critics call his work too busy, too flamboyant, too exhibitionistic, but as the leading proponent of so called biomorphic architecture he certainly can't be overlooked, still less underestimated. Calatrava learnt his trade at the Zurich Technical School , and it's in Zurich at his studio that I've come to talk to him.
Let's begin first with the question of the importance of the architect in society. Why does the architect matter, what is the architect's role?
If you look to our environment and you see the importance that architecture has in our artificial environment of course you see you immediately can understand that the control of it and the quality of it is fundamental for the life of the people, and the impact or the part that the architects have in this built environment is enormous. So this makes maybe open the mind of the people how important it is the quality in in this particular part of their lives.
But most buildings aren't built by great architects thinking about what they're doing. Most buildings are perfectly routine, so what is the case for having significant buildings by people such as yourself as part of the urban and the rural environment?
Well our cities grows enormously after the fifties and became very suburbia, the enormous suburbia area was built without any other preoccupation but just to give housing to the hundreds and even thousands or millions of people arriving to our cities, so enormous important part of our cities you see are very ugly you see, so with single intervention you see makes maybe be a bridge, may, maybe, makes maybe be in a station or, or a concert hall, or a cultural building, you see we grade up the quality of the life of these areas by creating focus. So until now this has been for me one of the let's say related to your first question you know, one of the, the justification of the attitude of a particular architecture of a city. In my case the major part of my buildings are in very focal areas. They are bridges in the periphery or there has been bridges open to new areas need to be refurbished or even you see we has been doing interventions as in ..?.. in areas who was completely depressed and in a period of time, of let's say ten, fifteen years has completely changed. So as a system it has worked. You see I mean maybe the best example has been the intervention in the Expo, in Lisbon you see where when we went there you know before all those buildings you know has been built, you see there was almost a desert. It was an abundant oil refinery and in a period of time of six, seven years the whole thing changed and became one of the most attractive living areas of Lisbon . So there is this background you see that we should not forgot, you know that all those extravagant buildings, let's say the...
Apparently extravagant, they has had a background very much related as I say to your first question, you see very much related to a built environment and to our cities.
So you're raising our stand..., you're raising our expectations, you're giving us something more than the routine, more than the basic of what we need to have?
Yes and through that you create a focus, you create a referential element in this area. People find more identity. They can re-enter themselves, they can say I live close to this building or you see, and also indeed you produce a facility, if this is a transportation facility, if it is a bridge or a station or whatever also makes an improvement you know to their everyday lives because they have, they are living from this moment on close to a facility.
Where does vernacular architecture fit in, after all we all know and love the vernacular of four to five hundred years ago, what is your definition on good vernacular architecture?
Yes you see when I was a student you see in the time when I was in the architectural school in Valencia I was enormous interested in vernacular architecture indeed during more than I think four years I spent big part of the summer time travelling in the Mediterranean, first in the Spanish area, you see in the islands, and then North Africa or Greece or Italy, South of Italy, and you see the tremendous lecture of the vernacular architecture has to be understood in two senses. First of all it is an economic sense, it is an extremely economic use of material. They use just the materials who they found there, and this attitude, very poor let's say arte povera or minimalistic attitude gives them you know the beauty of the unity, you see...
Keeps them honest?
Gives them the beauty of the unity, indeed of the homogeneity of the intervention because that those Greek villages you know they look so beautiful in the hills, even if they are painted white or sometimes even with blue and red colours and things like that depends where you are, and at the other side also if you go into the mountains you see the use of wood, you know, and the extremely colourful use of it. And then the second you see it put them in contact with other vision, which it is the tradition of repeating a pattern you see until the perfection.
But what architects like you are doing, you're not projecting vernacularism, that's not the point, but you're making a completely different additional contribution to what would otherwise be the mass massified urban landscape of the modern city. Is that what the nature of your contribution is?
My contribution in particular is very modest isn't it, because when I speak about my contribution I have to go down you know into pure functional scheme saying look my contribution has been to build a station in this place, or to make a bridge in this place, just to create a link or just to bring people there. This is the real contribution in terms, in real terms. Now you see this station and this bridge are different than the other bridges, you know, who people may maybe say they are ugly. What is the difference then? The difference it is probably the belief that even those very modest buildings you know can carry something more. They can carry a symbolic value, you know. They can be just white painted, you know, and then people get surprised you know so sometimes it's the colour, you know. Sometimes it's the particular use of the structure you know, maybe letting became the building a little bit higher or to have a little bit wider. People will say it has wings or it looks like a cathedral. Doesn't matter you know. It's just simply higher or it, you know or it's a little bit wider, and you also understand through this game that people can understand the symbolic value of architecture, so architecture can carry values you see of symbolic nature.
And you think that we want to do that? Do you think that we prefer a building which we can invest with some meaning, rather than just a bridge as a series of girders to get you from one side of a river to the other. We want it to have some meaning, some metaphor, some poetry?
We need that urgently. Nobody reads, you know, you know a book just because the prosaic aspect of the book. They read it also because they're poetic and because all the symbols and the meaning who are behind it, and architecture is not different, or somebody looks in a, in a painting of Picasso or whatever, another painter, you see what I mean, and try to find the meaning behind it because they are meaningful, yes indeed, and architecture is in my opinion is an art and can carry those meanings. The thing it is are we conscious about that and beyond that also even I would say you see that the pure dialogue between the person and the architectural fact when it started to became a symbol or a sign it's a purely spiritual dialogue, and if we look many of the things who means very much to us they are, because they carry also a symbolism who means for us something very particular and that we can identify with the object.
So do you hope and do you believe that a person walking over one of your bridges is actually investing that particular walk with some extra meaning because of the way you have designed the bridge?
You mean maybe arriving to a station and stay there for five to ten minutes waiting your train, so I want to give this person a little bit of a break, you understand, and that he just enjoy from an environment who is a bit different from the rest of, you see in this getting to the hard work of the day, you understand what I mean getting to, coming back to the home, or things like that you see you have a small break in a place who is a little bit uplifted and is there just as a gift to you.
You yourself, your qualities and you're well known, you said you're a builder, architect, engineer, sculptor, painter, I suppose being an architect is your skill, of the other four elements, engineer, sculptor, painter, builder. Is there one which is more important than the others, or how do they relate to one another?
Yeah you see I started in an art school and or you see my intention was to became a painter. This what I do more personally in which I think is more intimate you see and in which myself you see I can expand maybe as a person you see inside the in a dialogue with myself is the painting and the sculpture.
Yes but those are very subjective, very free, very important, but in the end your buildings have to stand up. You have to be the engineer and you have to be the architect as well.
Yes and you know why because it's very simple, because the difference is in the scale. So you make a sculpture and the sculpture is there, you most maybe like it or not, you understand it may maybe delivered you know the message you want to deliver with it or whatever you see, but you see nothing comparable to architecture or engineering, because you can penetrate it, because it embodies you, because you are a small part, you understand, of the whole body who is the building, and in the scale you see there is no art, nor painting, nor sculpture that is superior to the architecture, because even and the scale is very important because the man is the measure of architecture and the measure of everything is the measure of the step, is the measure of the high of the hand railings, the measure of the high of the seat, is the measure of the high of the lintel, you know and the proportion of the lintel and the door delivers you, you see you establish a dialogue with the place, you understand the high of the ceiling, the shallow of the ceiling, the transition and all those moves you see looking at it just in a pure plastic aspect over the functional advantages that they can deliver you see they are unbelievable, no art can do that.
Yes, but are you saying that that has to, the understanding of how you get that right is driven by an awareness of painting and sculpture, that it's those qualities which...
I don't know if it is in the case of everybody, in my case without any doubt because I keep doing that every day.
Richard Serra , the great sculptor, always teases architects and teases Frank Gehry by saying architects are always claiming to be artists. They're not artists. You're just builders. Sculptors are proper artists. What would you say to Richard Serra ?
The word art you see come from artefact isn't it from artefact who is something artificial, so artefact, artificial and art they have in Latin the same, the same root. So it means something who is artificial, artificially done. The Greeks was more subtle, you know the subtlety of the Greeks seems to me to be more important and it is they call the art techne and they called the technique techniquey, so techne and techniquey was the same root, so there is something between technique and art who is common.
Yeah and we tend to think of technique as being rather mechanical...
Yes rather, rather stripped down, not really as creative.
Exactly and you know the Greeks themselves they say what is an artist, you know. What makes an artist from a technician, and then he say an artist is the man who is capable by using a technique to moves me, to touch me, and this thing who touch me is superior because this, this object, you know whatever it touch me, it moves me until the tide you know if you are hearing, you know reading a poem or something like that, you understand, so it touch, there is something beyond the exercise of the techniques who is far over the human possibilities, so they say there is an intervention of the gods they say, they call it muses at the time so they have different muses for the different discipline. So an architect can be an artist as much as a painter can be an artist. There is no doubt let's say that architecture is one of those capital art, and I think you know a technician architect who goes to his work with his soul you see and wants to deliver and to say something and reach the heart of the people you see this man is also an artist.
Let's look at one of your buildings in, in particular and explore this question of the importance of, of metaphor. Your addition, more than an addition to the art gallery in Milwaukee right on the edge of Lake Michigan, and that has a huge opening screen, a brise soleil, a sunscreen, and that has been described, because people always give your buildings names, as a giant aquatic phoenix, and it's also been described as a strong personal statement by you of course, and a sensitive essay in the making of place. Now is the latter, that is making the building fit into its place, is that as important to you as the strong personal statement?
When I think on the project of Milwaukee you see I cannot come over the fact that Frank Lloyd Wright was from this area of the world and it's necessary to speak on Frank Lloyd Wright and his relation with the landscape and his intellect for techniques and his understanding of the exactitude of a building you see in terms of the free form or that may maybe give to it and finally but I approach the problem of Milwaukee trying or very impressed in the works of Frank Lloyd Wright let's say...
But your building couldn't be more different from Frank Lloyd Wright .
Yes because you see I am also not Frank Lloyd Wright . I would like to be but I am not, you see, but the spirit, you understand the spirit to recognise in those grandiose American landscape you know let's say a heroic dimension. Standing in front of this lake you see the horizon is like it was an ocean because you don't see the other side. The city who is behind you you see when you are facing the lake is a great city, very young, you know in relation toward our old European cities you see. So it's a city who had tremendous potential. So you see the fact that this building creates a place you see and you see and, and react to the situation of the, the, the emptiness of, of the lake and at the other side the city you know with axis of the Wisconsin Avenue who arrive just where we put the pavilion, and we link it in my opinion you see from this equilibrium and from this move you know and this relation to the landscape.
It's not just a building plonked down in the city, it relates?
It relates to the city indeed, you see when you work in the American cities one of the fascinating thing it is for an architect like me who is practising here as a profession in Europe more than twenty years you see is that you are confronted to very young cities, so you can really influence the city and to build a piece of city was also a proposal so, so we move one block about, we create new gardens, we also link the city with a museum through the construction of a bridge, which is nothing to do with a museum but we build a bridge because it was nice you see and the bridge is very much articulated with the museum see it's almost like a, an arm you see getting to, to carry the people from the city by...
Yes doing something to the environment and, and linking it in to how human beings use it...
Exactly, exactly, so, so we try let's say not only to do a piece of let's say of building but also to create, to, to continue you know in this tradition of a growing city, you know to create also a small piece of city.
Do you see yourself as a visionary?
It's difficult to answer that. Certainly not in the sense of the twentieth century. So far a visionary has been also a revolutionary you see and I am not, I don't think you see I, I, I don't have the vocation to make any revolution, but I have the vocation to have a vision, you see more an introspective vision, so a vision in my world and projected you see out through my buildings, so it's a very different attitude, you see it's not, it's not a prophetic or a messianic let's say vision, you understand. It's more the deeply belief that you can say something and people can understand it through the architecture.
But you say it begins internally?
Inside, inside, in an introspective work and probably the archit..., the painting and the sculpture, artist mechanism who permits me to do that.
But with the introspection you then have to make a very public statement.
Yes, yes very important and it's also very, very important and also you have to have the courage to do that isn't it, you have to have the courage you know to say to the people this is what I want to tell to you, you see this is where I think you will feel well, this is the way I want the station, this particular station for this particular place could be and it is there to serve you, this is this museum for this particular place for this particular city for this particular generation you see and it is there to serve you. You have to have the courage.
But service is the important thing?
You are offering something to us which will serve us, not which just glorifies you?
I think this is out of question, that I don't need, you see I'm enough in equilibrium you understand that I don't need to be glorified by, by anybody.
But so is egoism, or egotism, is it a danger, is it a pitfall for the architect of producing these huge buildings going up and saying that's my building, I did it?
You know let me tell you, you see I believe and I speak in behalf of many, many architects, you see it is so hard you know to practise this profession. It demands so much from yourself, demands so much of your time and even the time of yours and your people, you know your family, your, your collaborators, people working with you and everybody such that you almost don't have time to think on yourself, you understand. This is the real reality, and then also you see once the building is finished it's no more yours, you see and during five, six, seven, maybe twelve years you are responsible for everything in this place. If there is an accident, if the cost goes over you see if something happens, if they are changes, you are responsible, then the day when you deliver the building you are nobody there, you have even to pay a ticket to enter, and so this is the reality.
Let's talk about how you, how you work. You're famous for drawing, drawing, drawing. Sometimes I think sixty thousand drawings in the course of the major..... What, just describe how you, how you draw, I mean perhaps even show to me how you would draw when you're working?
You see indeed I, I, I draw very much, constantly, among other things because in the communication you see a drawing or you see or a sign is more important than one thousand words so.
Yes you're working at the moment I think on a bridge for Tel Aviv ?
Yes on a bridge and also a bridge to Jerusalem . Bridges are very pragmatic things you see so the, the few elements in a bridge that you can expose you see in order to make it particular for this place are you see need to be used very accurately.
Now what Santiago is now doing is drawing a very deft, very quick, very elegant figure, the face upturned looking up to the skies, the hands held out, also gesturing up to the, to the skies, and now Santiago's going to put colour on it.
Well this is you see is an exercise that I mean consists in drawing a, a human figure in whatever an attitude and this is something that I have done thousands of times among other things, because the, the personal call that I have today to the nude and to the human figure.
And what's the importance of the human figure?
Well you see first the, the sense of the movement, the sense of the proportion and more than anything else that we are all human so indeed and so it became as I say a canonic pattern for architecture.
And the idea of movement is also something that matters enormously to your, to your buildings, that is that you want to convey somehow within the shape of a building which is going to stand up, but you want to convey the idea that the building contains movement as, as, as well?
Yes in..., indeed the idea of the, the movement in a building you see can't, doesn't need to be explicitly a movement like it happens in, in Milwaukee or, or in other, in other buildings I have done you know who has moveable part, but what it is interesting of the movement it is the sense of the dynamic you see and the sense of, of the relation that the building itself can develop with the idea of time and the idea of...
It's not speaking this is drawing which is sensible, so that's just that when, when, when you draw you concentrate on the drawing and the painting and you're not talking at the same time. When you're doing it do you hate being interrupted?
No, no I can also hear other people or even if it is necessary even hear music or something like that, but my drawing is there.
And what sort of music do you listen to?
All, all kind of music, you see all kinds of music but I if you, if you want to hear what is my preferred accompanist that is Bach .
What appeals to you about Bach?
By Bach you see it's the enormous perfection of the rhythm and you see the sublimation of in the possibilities in the ........... possibilities of an instrument and the, the, the chords of music you see to achieve things like the sonata number.... for violin, or Das Wohltemperierte Klavier or, or things like that you see for...
Does that suggest that there is a kind of very important classical discipline to what you do as well even though the forms are, they're not romantic they are, they are post, post romantic aren't they?
I think often you see the, the, the deep source of, of many of the forms I use has to do with let's say problems related to the static. For example in many of my sculptures all also to pure geometrical approaches you see, so even some of the sculptures so abstract they can appear they are related to the fact of why we stand up and why we see what the problem of the verticality and the problem of...
Santiago I should say has now done another lovely watercolour in the front of one of his books. He's now picked up a third book of, this is of, photographs of his Alpine bridges and on the introductory page having just added a brown shade to a outstretched figure in the second book and now he's going to start on this book of Alpine bridges on the frontest piece as well. When you're drawing in relation to a particular project what, what do you feel? Tell me something of the process of why it helps you have ideas.
Yeah, probably the first element who transmit you a bit you do something about the soul of the place is the landscape isn't it and the position of the bridge. There are also all the aspects important you know as recognising you know what is the problem, or where are the centre of gravity of the problem you see, then you're not getting close to the, the actual thing, you know the particular anthropology, and then you know there is a process of, of work that sometimes goes over one project, you know. For example particularly for the project of the bridge in Jerusalem might have been I almost you see I make a first solution. I was rather satisfied, we even built a model, you know then we make even a second solution. I was even more satisfied. I thought that's not bad you know it's a good process and then we make even a third solution with another new model. So we went over three different models and three different possible solutions for this particular place, not in order to let the client choice, make a choice, but simply you know because I thought this is a very particular place, it's a, a kind of gate to the city, it, whatever we do there will remain for a while and we'll also characterise this entrance to the city through our bridge.
So the commission was for a bridge but you've ended up delivering an entrance to the city, something even more symbolic?
Yeah, this is one of the things who fascinate from the beginning, you know. It is that let's say in the early eighties when I started working as a free architect and engineer you see the idea of, of bridges you see whatever you see it was a matter of what is the cheapest bridge you know for this particular place and in contradiction you know with cities you see like Paris or London who has jewels of bridges you see, bridges who remains there and are almost you know if you look at the Tower Bridge you know there are, you know by, by their, their own right you know they, they're the symbols of a city. You see the Tower Bridge and you think in London, as indeed you see Le Pont Neuf in Paris and you know that this is Paris and, and the collection of bridges that they have over La Seine you know is, is a wonderful thing and even in my home town Valencia we have seven stone bridges you know, and then you understand that the position, the relative position of the bridge in the ranking of, the mental ranking of this what things can be you see is a little bit disturbed you know, because for previous generations doing a bridge was something wonderful, and for our generation doing a bridge is just that you know. And you see some of, of my bridges in a very modest way you know question this attitude, you know and try to wake up the attention of people that bridges are a meaning. Imagine you see the art of the twentieth century without the Golden Gate , it will be much poorer.
When you're working on a, on a project what happens when you run into a, a dead end, that is when you are working on a building and you know, or a bridge, and you know that you just haven't got the right solution, how, how do you deal with that?
You need time, sometimes you let things stay there, you know for two, three weeks, even one month, even one summer. When you come back things are much better.
That must be very difficult when you have a project to fill, a deadline to meet, a developer or a client who has a certain deadline for building it and if you can't find the solution it must be very difficult to say I will walk away maybe for a month until I find the solution?
You should have the courage to do that.
But has that happened to you?
It happened to me several times. I am not mature you see I need more time. When you look back into the work of architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, great architects of the twentieth century, Louis Kahn, they has done, you see a limited number of works, has not done hundreds of works, has done a limited number of works. You see limited that you almost can count them in the fingers of your hand.
Is there a danger though that the pressure on people like you is that you have to do too much?
I think it, it should be terrible you know when you are working in an atmosphere in which you, you have more than five things you know to think, you know different things to, to think about you know I, I think it, it, it has to be really a real tyranny.
A tyranny yes. Let, let's talk about this business of biomorphism, that is the fact that your buildings, not just yours but a lot of yours, look like shapes from the physical world, birds, inside ribcages, etcetera, why is biomorphism important to you? Is it important from the metaphorical point of view, or is it important from an engineering point of view as well?
In the beginning you see of my work you see I was very much looking for patterns of understanding a way you know to, to let's say who will permit me to get out of the let's say academic standards from which I was merging, you understand, so I came after forty years of studies you see as a free professional, and of course you see the first reflects will be almost you know repeat ..?.. this what you has learnt, what it is what your teachers has shown you you should do, so...
Is it just, were you taught essentially in the modernist post Bauhaus tradition?
Exactly and, and the first thing I approached was the fact of finding you know patterns of thought, for example it could be one like this, the l'architectura depende del la membra del'uomo, which is just a very old Italian sentence who say written in the Renaissance who say the architecture depends of the human members, of the human...
Yes, and it means you see that in your body almost is architecture, so indeed you see if you put your hands together you see or, or your face you see the expression of your mouth, you see even your, the proportions of your body, all those things you see has an archi..., let's say are patterns of understanding of architecture. And it is very interesting looking at the human person because finally it's the use also of the buildings isn't it, so the, the human person became the cannon not only for the measurement and the proportion of the internal and more intimate parts of the building, the things that you touch, where you sit, where you, where you sleep and things like that, but it became also the cannon and the pattern for the overall building. I thought that quite a fascinating idea.
Where did that idea come from, you say you weren't taught that, that wasn't in your academic teaching but...
No I was reading, I was reading exactly a book of somebody called Matteo Marangoni , called Saper vedere, and it has a wonderful chapter and I say on the architecture, and it begins with the sentence which is attributed to Michelangelo. You see of course it's very difficult to translate that in a mechanistic understanding of the profession, but being an engineer I thought well you see I am not afraid about mechanics yes indeed so I will try you see to approach this problem you see more from the eye of the engineer than from this of the architect, because the engineering deeply in his soul is very much based on the empiricism you know and the empiric, you know and the experimental understanding of the reality.
So there's no reason why buildings should just be matchboxes, you can design them to do anything?
Yes and although you see if you look the engineer you see approach you know and study the water, you know, by watching water, and study let's say the slopes of the, of the soil, you understand what I mean by watching the soil and, and, and will make a retaining wall you know to retain water and has to deal with something so natural like this wild stream or things like that, so the relation engineering and natural is a wonderful key. It's you see whatever you think is artificial, you understand, whatever we think so I can draw an apple, you see I can draw an apple, but you see nothing to do with an apple it's just a drawing, you understand it's similar to an apple so you can also note you see it's not edible, you understand so I mean it's, it's just to tell you that as soon as you project a thought you are in an artificial world. So this is all faculty also, so featuring natural we create, we create craters you see who has following the patterns of the natural belongs to a completely different world which it is the world of our mind and through that they became art, artefacts, they became artificial, they became artefacts and they may, even maybe they may become art.
So they of course they are not animals, or the fact that they look like animals is an engineering solution rather than a, well it is a metaphorical solution but you're saying that it's, it has been modified. The original idea of saying let us make something which is like a human being so to say, but by the time you have made the building it doesn't matter that it's like a human being, it is a building, it's completely artificial?
It's very beautiful as you define it, it looks like, like animals. You see if you, another author you know who impressed me very much is Victor Hugo, he has a wonderful book called Notre Dame de Paris, and he describes in Notre Dame de Paris the cathedral as an animal, you know with the legs inside the column, indeed when you go there nothing to do with an animal, but it's a way, it's a metaphorical way to introduce you in a world of understanding of something. So you see even artists like Victor Huge you know needs also the use of the metaphor you know to express something about a wonderful building, so you can now feed back, you see you could have started by the metaphor and you may maybe be in a way you see close to understanding you see a poetic issue to wrap a building.
So just because a building looks like a bird or whatever it may be, that of course doesn't make it a good building, it could be a rotten piece of architecture?
Yes and also indeed you see very often you see what you only let is the freedom of other people to make their own interpretation. You don't want to force them to see in this building a sphinx. You don't want to force them to see a particular animal. You understand what I, no it's just, you know what you're excited to let them the freedom you see also to project his own imagination you see in, in order to interpret this place.
So the buildings are big but because we can interpret them they make them personal, they make them available to, to us?
Yeah, yeah that is because we have a good understanding.
Now there's one other example of this of course the design that you have made for the railway station at Ground Zero, which as I said was described as a bird being liberated by a child. Now how explicit was that image to you when you were designing the shape of Ground Zero, or was that something which, which just occurred?
In the analysis of the problem I understood you see that a very important element in this building is to deliver something who has let's say or has to me a clear symbolic character because the place is so particular, you see I mean no project, there's no project in which I have done where so much emotion is imbedded in it, you understand. Working with my client the Port Authority you see they pay a tremendous tribute you see in the accident, because there was, they has had a headquarters in one of the towers, and also for everybody working there, there is a tremendous engagement, personal engagement you know who goes beyond any suspect we could have you see from the, from that our profession will bring us you know into those circumstances. Now you see looking at this particular problem you see you have to make choices of the vocabulary you, you use, and I think what we are, we I speak on behalf of me and the rest of, of my colleagues working with me in my team, you see what we are trying to, to transfer you know to other people is that what we are celebrating there is not anything other than life. We are celebrating life. For me you see a child you see in terms of you see of the next generation or the coming generation and something that a child can understand is more important and that's what I can understand because I know all the detail. Indeed you see finally you choice, you mentalise a person for which this is addressed, you understand, and you look to this person and you stay in dialogue to this person you see as this person should understand this what you want to say, because...
So it's the most public statement relating to one person?
To one person and if this person understand it then many child of, incoming child they will understand it, because one of the goals is also that you know how many monument has been done, and then you write something a paragraph there, you know written in stone, and nobody reads it, nobody cares. So in my opinion my conviction was that the force of the architecture can be so that the, the, the, the paragraph is written in the building itself. Do you understand what I mean? It is, I'll give you an example. You see if I go to the Church of the Pantheon in Rome you see this hall, cutting a piece of the sky of Rome with the light entering in you see has a symbolic value who is today as valuable as in the time of the Romans, and so we thought that this roof, you know like the wings of a bird, which it is a beautiful metaphor, will open you see. Maybe the eleventh of September of every year you see even in ten generations from now people will understand that there happened something in this particular day many years before who changed the life of many people, the life of the city and even the life of the world.
This idea of light coming in goes back five thousand years to Stone Age graves where the light of the winter solstice goes right down into the heart of the burial chamber.
And the people goes there every, every solstice to look at...
That's right yes, yes.
Even in the modern time, you know in the time of the aeroplanes and the trains and everything, people go there to see the sun setting between a gap between two stones. Is that not wonderful?
That's right, so you are, from that point of view you are part of a, a timeless tradition as old as civilisation?
Yes and this is the, this force has still architecture untouched, it's untouched. You understand what I mean this force that you recognise as Stonehenge that we recognise in the Pantheon is still there in architecture, is still there untouched, you know it's as strong as it was with the same force to project itself you know over the generations and, and let the message untouched. You see the people goes today with the same feel as those who built up the monument to Stonehenge .
Do you ever get worried that you will start to repeat yourself somehow, that you will become formulaic in your, your approach and that they'll say oh it's another one of Calatrava's wings, whatever it may be?
On the one side it's a real danger. You see we should not repeat ourselves. It's better one clear statement than twenty, you understand, and the repetition just take away force. On the other side you see what it happens very often you get trapped you see in the fact of the knowledge that the time you have to continue working is shorter than the time you has already worked, and this is my case. So on the other side you has a tremendous desire you see to, to, to continue pushing ahead, but indeed as I say to you you see the real reality it is that I know from Le Corbusier, it may be fifteen buildings that I know from Louis Kahn maybe ten buildings and that I know from Antonio Gaudi eight buildings, you see and it's also not necessary to do more than that. So indeed your question the right and, and a proportionate answer to your question it is, it, repetition should be avoided. It should be avoided in any case because it's only you see became a little bit cacophonic.
If there was one building of the ones that you have built which is the one that you think you would like to be remembered by, if there was only one?
When I look at Stadelhofen let's say I like it because I see the intensity of the fellow with thirty-three years that during seven years has dedicate almost every day and every, every thought you know to this building. I can recognise every corner I see you know the concrete folding like this and this lamp and this other thing you see, so the intensity of this building you see is enormous. I have to say that you see in this other particular building we has been discussing, Ground Zero, we all, not only myself but everybody in, in our, in my team you see is deciding really to deliver an important statement, you know. If we are culpable what the critics will say and the people will say you know, but it's also you see as a future building you know in which we keep working since two years let's say we are doing that you see and we want to deliver something that is the fruit of our maturity you see and also with the let's say at least our response you know to this what the whole the re-building of Ground Zero signifies.
Santiago Calatrava thank you very much.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.