"Exuberantly shallow"

Suspension bridge of disbelief

"Exuberantly shallow": Perhaps you missed this gem, reported in The Dallas Morning Newson December 10. Emily Ramshaw, staff writer for the Dealey Daily, take it away:

"With a glimmering Dallas skyline behind them and a serene, russet riverbed before them, state and local officials joined renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on Friday to dedicate the first of three new bridges to span the Trinity River. For most of those in attendance, the groundbreaking signaled the long-awaited beginning of the Trinity River Project--a $246 million public works venture designed to ultimately include lakes, a roadway and a giant waterfront park...'Today, we break ground on our Eiffel Tower for Dallas,' Mayor Laura Miller cheered. 'Once we start, there will be no stopping. Our project has arrived.'"

Whoa, there. Ourproject? How about yourproject, padnuh.

Sure, by now we all know Calatrava has a superior rep as a builder of fancy-schmancy bridges the world over. He has the awards and big-budget contracts to prove it--most, like the job in Dallas, paid for by taxpayers. Done big things in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Greece. Working on bigger things in New York City and Atlanta. Likes to build bridges that look like tree branches and buildings that look like a little bird's wingspan. Is all about making things look like they're part of nature, if nature had a $250 million budget to spend on a bridge and not, oh, more cops.

Buzz has never been too keen on this particular project; surprise, surprise. Turns out others are turning on Calatrava too. Seems like a good opportunity to share that with you since, in about two years, Dallas will have at least one Calatrava bridge most of the city will never drive over or, for that matter, ever see.

Just last week, The New Republicran a piece on Calatrava that takes to task his recent projects, including the World Trade Center transportation hub in Manhattan. Writer and Harvard Design School instructor Sarah Williams Goldhagen describes much of Calatrava's work as "exuberantly shallow." She likes his bridges better but writes that "not every highway overpass requires an artistic statement." Couldn't have said it better. Ultimately, though, she damns his body of work with the ultimate pejorative: "That word is 'kitsch.'"

Believe the word we'relooking for is "ouch."

The New Republic piece follows one that appeared two weeks ago in The Financial Times of London, written by Edwin Heathcote. Heathcote's a reformed fan of Calatrava's who was once enamored of his work and ideology but has since turned on the master.

Calatrava's work was once "radical and fascinating," Heathcote writes, but "then it all seemed to go a bit wrong. Suddenly, rather than bringing his genius to the everyday, he started winning huge architectural commissions, which became expressions of ego rather than structure. Buildings such as the Tenerife Opera House and his extension to the Milwaukee Art Museum were poorly received by critics, and his work has been seen as one of the worst offenders of the icon-syndrome, the relentless brand-building of cities trying to establish themselves on the international-tourist and weekend-break circuit."

Relentless brand building? He must be talking about other cities. Doesn't sound like Big D at all, does it?

 
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