introducing calatrava

I once read that, Calatrava, one of the world’s most acclaimed modern architects, keeps a skeleton in his studio. A skeleton of a dog

Through the years of my college degree in architecture, I’d also admired early modern architect Louis Sullivan for his principle that, Form follows function. Sullivan, believer in studying natural forms, not just referred to them in his buildings, but studied the processes Nature refined plants and other living things; the way bodies and forms efficiently and capably suit a function, their means of survival.

Window detail of Carson Pirie Scott Building, Chicago. (Photo by Terence Faircloth)

In Sullivan’s 1890’s, this challenged the many architects of his time who borrowed from classical styles of Greece and Rome, building skyscrapers and modern American institutions that mimicked forms from ancient temples, or revivalists building in the gothic styles of medieval Europe.

Millenium Park, Chicago, simulating the Doric construction of Ancient Greece (Photo by Patrick Malon)

This ‘borrowing’– we notice some variants today- sees a building as for appearance, with little heed to the function these buildings serve or their true construction.

Sullivan, and a great many of my favourite modern architects to follow, instead set out to create their own individual styles, many as I discovered in Santiago Calatrava holding the notion that buildings’ form must suit the purpose for which they are built.

In Calatrava’s works, I see today’s Louis Sullivan. Admiring his buildings, I can’t help but notice Calatrava’s incorporation of natural forms and ideas striving both practical purpose and to delight us in their ‘fitness’ to perform.

I’d like to share with you in following posts how, importantly, Calatrava harnesses this principle in designing exciting, dazzling architecture, reviving  form following function.

Looking up through the ceiling of Calatrava's Allen Lambert Galleria, Toronto (Photo by A. Schoeberlein)

1) Individuality. Calatrava has a unique and recognizable style, yet no two of his buildings or bridges appear the same, but designed as a reference to a problem solved, the individual nature of each setting.

2) Movement. Many of Calatrava’s buildings incorporate machined movement, so his dynamism becomes literal. Themes and designs of his buildings are enhanced by ornamentation, and living action, creating new language in architecture.

3) Optimisation.† What this term means can be best illustrated by looking at the body. Carrying a heavy load, our arm flexes its muscles, broadening along the line of force.

Calatrava's Leige Station, Leige. (Photo by Bert Kaufmann)

The bones of the arm are also thicker at the points of stress, the joints of connection. To ascertain what makes Calatrava’s style, I’ve noticed how Calatrava designs supports and beams of his buildings to taper and lean into the line of force, so we viewers see  the weight load of a building’s shelter actively supported. The result? His buildings don’t appear to stand, so much as more efficiently shoulder and thrust, creating the dynamic emphases we find in Nature.

It explains why for Calatrava, even a canine skeleton can be an important model for study. ♦

† see Tzonis, A. (1999) Santiago Calatrava: The Poetics of Movement Thames & Hudson: London.

[images sourced and attributed from Flickr Commons]