Eye Candy

It's overpriced, it's gaudy and we have to put it on a credit card. Yep, that Calatrava bridge says Dallas all over.

Kitsch.

In an article in The New Republic last January, "Santiago Calatrava's Moment for the Birds," Goldhagen expressed great respect for Calatrava's early work but said he's turning out junk now. Goldhagen homes in on the icon thing.

"People like the simplicity and the obvious iconicity of Calatrava's architecture," Goldhagen writes. "It is popular because it is comprehensible.

Will the suspension bridges be the next roadside icon?
Will the suspension bridges be the next roadside icon?
A rendering of one of the proposed bridges
A rendering of one of the proposed bridges

"There is a word that characterizes the phenomenon that I am describing," she says in the article. "That word is 'kitsch.' And as Calatrava builds more architectural projects, it becomes increasingly apparent that much of this work is not even well-considered kitsch."

Goldhagen works Calatrava over pretty brutally for the way he ignores materials, terrain and the environment itself. Wait until she gets a look at his San Francisco Bay bridges in downtown Dallas, Texas.

And please don't say, "Who cares what some architecture critic at Harvard thinks?" Remember. We got into this whole deal in the first place because of what architecture critics thought. They were our shopping guides.

But let me ask a final question. What if the people who have pushed this project so far, including Mayor Miller and Gail Thomas and Veletta Lill, no matter how good their intentions, are not, in fact, the people who know what's cool? Remember: That was our opening hypothesis--that downtown now is just another neighborhood. To survive, it must appeal to back-to-the-city types, and to do that it must be cool.

Even if the Calatrava bridges are impressive, are they cool enough to make you want to live near them?

I spoke with city council member Angela Hunt, who was careful to say good things about Calatrava and how the bridges might look if completed but who also said she thinks the bridges generally are not the kind of cool thing people want to live near.

"You know why people are going to move downtown and why they're going to gravitate toward the Trinity?" she asked. "Not because of the toll road and not because of any grand bridges, but because of lakes and parks and trails."

She went off on a little reverie about what it would be like to wake up on a nice weekend day, get on your bike and flow down a bike path into the Great Trinity Forest, past kayakers and fishermen, past people listening to the Dallas Symphony at an outdoor amphitheatre, past people playing soccer and picnicking.

Yeah. That would be cool. Very cool. Lots of people would want to live near that.

But I remind you of that $48 million. That almost happened. It will happen again. City Manager Mary Suhm has put the Woodall Rodgers bridge out for bid again. They'll whittle it down a bit, fake it up so parts of it can be charged to other projects, and then they will grab what they need out of the kitty. And don't let them lie to you: Every cent they put in those bridges comes out of the cool stuff.

The only way Dallas could turn the Trinity River project around and change it back into what we voted for in '98 is by holding a new election to de-authorize the project and start over from scratch.

If we did that, it would be the new, cool Dallas finally stepping up--the birth of an incredibly exciting new era.

Tell me I'm not romantic.

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