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Santiago Calatrava Says of His Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge: "Beautiful is Difficult."

It's not often that world-renowned architects like Santiago Calatrava find their way to Big D, so we pounced on the opportunity to fire a question or two at the man behind the design of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and not-yet-funded Margaret McDermott Bridge. Or just one, as it turns out Calatrava gave us a thoughtful, four-minute answer to our opening query at the end of yesterday's $10-million donation announcement before Margaret McDermott Cook ruined our fun, so it's a good thing we made it count.

Given the problems with the levees surrounding the Trinity River and related delays to the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, we asked Calatrava how he feels it reflects on his reputation as people begin to have a negative view of the bridge project in light of levee concerns.

Calatrava emphasized that his role in the project has been to design the bridge "from levee to levee, but not the part on the levees." He said he knows very little about the levee issues and isn't asked for his opinion because that wasn't his commitment. The approaches to the bridge are still under review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and City Manager Mary Suhm said the corps is still testing core samples from the floodway.

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"I don't have anything to do with the foundation of the levees, the schedule or with the way how the construction gets managed," Calatrava said. "However, I have a lot of understanding for those who are confronted on that and I say we all have to be patient. Although I am not responsible, I would like to say a good word in favor of those who are involved in those things that it's very important that the people understand that we are doing something new, and we are doing that also without an enormous amount of money -- we have been working in a very limited economy."

Calatrava said with 30 years of experience, including more than 40 bridges designed, his reputation isn't at stake, but he is humbled by the difficulty of this project. "We are trying to do something different. It would be so easy to repeat another interstate bridge done so many times -- probably no delays, probably no problems. Here it's difficult. You see, it's difficult. Beautiful is difficult. I admire very much the courage of the people who have said, 'Let's do something different. Let's try to see if our environment will be more beautiful and our city will be more beautiful.' This is what is inspiring us. We are all inspired by the fact of delivering a fine piece of art to the city of Dallas instead of something that will be just another bridge."

More pics from yesterday:

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