When we think of stone and concrete buildings the words movement, flow and waving don’t come readily as descriptors. For centuries, architecture has exploited inert stability to create feelings of permanence from these favoured materials. The Parthenon, its stone base atop the Acropolis, the stone buttresses that guard like giant sentinels around gothic cathedrals. These buildings ‘move’ us, yet stand quite still.
Now these feelings may change- change being the ‘operative’ style of architect Santiago Calatrava.
The Spanish-born designer/engineer is the purveyor of a revolution in architecture, devoted to displaying Nature’s constant ability to move and shift.
Famous for his dramatic bridges which often feature tensioned masts suspending huge spans across rivers, there are also buildings such as his Lyon TGV station, where sweeping organic forms depict the sense of speed and excitement of travel.
His Montjuic Tower, Barcelona, leans and counterbalances, supported like a dancer in ballet, limbs outstretched at the most dramatic moment of equipoise.
These buildings have an easy imagination of movement, of physics diagrams – all pressing forces – drawn large and imposing. Instead they form and function as telecommunications towers and town halls.
Calatrava’s latest projects however, literally move, machines gesturing for our closer attention. With Calatrava, his robot buildings can unfold, rotate and undulate, acting as we act, describing movements as living sculpture. Calatrava’s work- often bare, white, and sharing many of the forms of the body, are not decorative in any traditional sense. Instead, moving parts provoke our own movement and function.
This is Calatrava’s most astounding achievement. Consider the widespread sense that we approach buildings only as passive viewers, leading to buildings decorated or ornamented as something primarily of appearance. Yet buildings critically house our active movement, and shape them.
Consider his Milwaukee Art Museum, describing its lakeside connection to the water with mechanical arms, symbolising the wing motions of birds in the surrounding landscape. When the museum closes, so do these arms, or change according to other movements in Nature- wind and solar conditions in an architecture that is responsive.
In his birthplace Valencia, Calatrava designed its planetarium, a spherical planet form, with its opening and shutting roof acting like an observing, moving eye.
These forms and motions do not simply adorn these buildings- they are the buildings themselves. Rather than functioning as signs for the building- they are the buildings signalling. Not only are they important visual elements, but kinetic ones also- occupying and defining space, but also moving and describing it. They symbolise what buildings seemingly never do- change.
This literally moving architecture challenges us to imagine not only changing Nature to live in it, but living in a changing Nature. A ‘future written in stone’ now waves to us instead with the hand of Calatrava.♦
[images sourced and attributed from Flickr Commons]