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Santiago Calatrava - Sculpting Architecture | Architect's Perspective

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Santiago Calatrava was born in Valencia, Spain. With a bachelor's in architecture and master's in urbanism, he has offices in Switzerland, France, Spain, and the United States. Most of his early works include bridges and train stations. 


 "Architecture and sculpture are two rivers in which the same water flows. Think of sculpture as a pure plastic art while architecture is a plastic art which is submitted to function, taking into consideration the human scale."

  • Calatrava is not only an architect but also a structural engineer and a sculptor who intently studied the nature around him, all of which had a profound impact on his buildings’ design. 
  • His works of art create on a smaller scale influence the elegant buildings that he creates. 
  • All his buildings have a futuristic touch, in terms of design and engineering behind it. Movement is an element incorporated in many of his works 
  • White is predominantly seen in his structures, reminiscent of the whitewashed Mediterranean buildings of his childhood. He mainly works with steel and concrete. 

Here are four of his most prominent works-

1. The Turning Torso

The Turning Torso by Santiago Calatrava
The Turning Torso by Santiago Calatrava
  • It is an office and residential building located in Sweden.
  • It was originally conceived as a sculpture.
The Turning Torso Building Conceptualization Sketch
The Turning Torso Building Conceptualization Sketch
  • It is an abstraction of human movement executed in the form of triangular-tipped cubicle units spiraling around a central core.
  • Each unit is a substructure consisting of 5 floors. The entire building stands at a height of 190 meters with 57 stories.
  • The first two units are office space and the rest are residential space.
  • The main load-bearing structure is the central core, whose center corresponds exactly to the rotation center of the floors.
  • The core is made of concrete, with its diameter gradually decreasing as it rises to the top.
Three-Dimensional View of the Turning Torso Building
Three-Dimensional View of the Turning Torso Building
  • A steel column exterior truss strengthens the core. The spine is attached to each unit by a large diagonal and horizontal steel strut, which transfers the shearing forces to the concrete core.
  • The elevators and stairs of the building are set into the core.
  •  The facade is made of curved aluminum panels and flat glass panes.
  • Calatrava's engineering expertise ensured that the intricate design was made possible effectively within a short span of time.

2. The Oculus

The Oculus by Santiago Calatrava
The Oculus by Santiago Calatrava
  • It is the transportation hub in Manhattan, New York. 
  • Its form is inspired by the image of a bird being released from a child’s hands. 
  • It consists of steel ribs and glass arranged in a large elliptical shape. 
  • The ribs extend to form two canopies.
  • Two arches of 350 ft flank the building’s central axis which bears rafters. Between the arches is a skylight that captures a part of the New York sky and is opened on suitable days.
The Ribs in the Oculus
The Ribs in the Oculus
  • Light is a prominent element, reaching up to 60 ft below ground level.
  • This building turns into a beautiful light source during the night, illuminating the neighborhood. 
Daylighting in the Oculus
Daylighting in the Oculus

3. Bodega Ysios Winery

Bodega Ysois Winery by Santiago Calatrava
Bodega Ysois Winery by Santiago Calatrava
  • It is a winery located in Alava, Spain.
  • The building is sinusoidal both in elevation and plan. 
  • The basic plan of the building is rectangular (196mx26m)  with an emphasis on linearity to accommodate the linear program winemaking process.
  • The form of the building was conceived in such a way that it harmonizes with the ranges behind it. 
  • The building has a kinetic quality contrasting with the calm vineyard in the background.
Concept of Bodega Ysios Winery
Concept of Bodega Ysios Winery
  • The southern facade is clad with horizontally placed cedar slates which resemble wine barrels when reflected in the pool.
  • The north side is covered with precast concrete panels whereas the east and west side are covered with corrugated aluminum sheets. 
  • Aluminum used in the roofs contrasts the wood. The sun reflected on the metal accentuates the kinetic effect of the building.
Metal Roofing at the Bodega Ysios Winery
Metal Roofing at the Bodega Ysios Winery

4. Peace Bridge, Calgary

Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava
Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava
  • It is a bridge across the Bow river in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
  • It measures 126 meters long and 8 meters wide with a height of 5.85 meters. 
  • Its structure is derived from a helix over an oval cross-section made of steel with glass between the curved steel frames forming the canopy. This ensures that the tunnel is not claustrophobic.
View of the Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava
View of the Peace Bridge by Santiago Calatrava
  • In order to minimize the ecological footprint, it has been ensured that there are no piers in the water. 
  • Deviating from Calatrava’s signature white structures, the bridge features red and white, as seen in Canada’s and Calgary’s flags. This makes it stand out against the river and the buildings.
  • It has different paths for pedestrians and cyclists, making commuting easy. 
Night View of the Peace Bridge
Night View of the Peace Bridge

His buildings maintain a delicate balance between being a structural and architectural marvels. His excellent understanding of the engineering behind buildings helps him create sculpture-like structures that will go on to be appreciated till they last.

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