Santiago Calatrava

Santiago Calatrava Valls (Valencia, 28 July 1951), or Calatrava for short, is a Spanish architect and civil engineer, as well as a sculptor, painter and ceramist. He is known for the design of many landmarks worldwide, especially bridges, which innovatively combine structural design with architecture.

Santiago Calatrava in 2010
Santiago Calatrava in 2010


Santiago Calatrava attended primary and secondary school in Valencia. At the age of eight, he entered the School of Arts and Crafts to learn drawing and painting. When he was 13, his family took advantage of the opening of the borders to send him to Paris as an exchange student. He then travelled and studied in Switzerland. After his secondary education in Valencia, he left for Paris with the intention of enrolling at the École des Beaux-Arts, but when he arrived in June 1968, he had to abandon his plans. He returned to Valencia and enrolled at the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura, a relatively new institution, where he obtained a degree in architecture and took a course in urban planning. While at school, he also undertook independent projects with a group of fellow students, publishing two books devoted to the vernacular architecture of Valencia and Ibiza.

Attracted by the mathematical rigour of some of the great works of historical architecture, and feeling that his work in Valencia was not giving him a clear direction, Calatrava decided to pursue postgraduate studies in civil engineering and enrolled in 1975 at the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich). He obtained his engineering degree in 1979. It was at this time that he met and married his wife, a law student in Zurich.

After graduating, Calatrava took up a position as an assistant at the ETH Zurich and began to accept modest civil engineering commissions, such as the design of a library roof or a balcony for a private residence. He also began to enter competitions, believing that this was the best way to secure commissions. He won his first competition in 1983, for the design and construction of the Stadelhofen railway station in Zurich, the city where he set up his office.

In 1984, Calatrava designed and built the Bach Bridge in Roda, commissioned for the Barcelona Olympic Games. This was the beginning of the bridge projects that established his international reputation. Other notable bridges that followed included:

  • the Alamillo Bridge, commissioned for the Universal Exhibition in Seville (1987-1992);
  • the Campo Volantin Footbridge in Bilbao (1990-1997);
  • the Alameda Bridge and a metro station in Valencia (1991-95).

Calatrava inaugurated the Paris branch of his office in 1989, while working on the Lyon-Saint-Exupéry TGV station project (1989-94). Since May 2004, the Paris office has been closed after the dismissal of all its employees. He opened his third office, in Valence, in 1991 to facilitate his work on a competition, that of the Cité des Arts et des Sciences in Valence (ongoing), a very large cultural complex and urban intervention project. Other important public projects from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s include:

  • BCE Place mall in Toronto (1987-1992);
  • Orient Station in Lisbon (1993-1998, commissioned for Expo '98);
  • and his successful, but unrealized, proposal for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York (1991),

Exhibitions of Calatrava's work began in 1985, with the presentation of nine of his sculptures in an art gallery in Zurich. Two exhibitions marked a new stage in the recognition of his artistic activity: a retrospective at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London in 1992 and the exhibition Structure and Expression at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993. The latter exhibition included the installation in the museum's Sculpture Garden of Shadow Machine of a monumental sculpture with undulating concrete 'fingers'. The most comprehensive exhibition devoted to his work was Santiago Calatrava: Artist, Architect, Engineer, presented at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Italy (2000-2001). Comparable exhibitions were mounted in 2001 in Dallas, Texas (on the occasion of the opening of the new Meadows Museum) and in Athens, at the National Gallery, Alexandro Soutzos Museum.


Calatrava graduated from the Institute of Architecture in Valencia (1974) and as an engineer from the Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich (1981). In the same year he established his first office in Zurich. In 1989 he opened an office in Paris, in 1991 in Valencia and in 2004 in New York.

Calatrava's combination of construction and architecture allows him to easily find his way in both directions. He creates many innovative works with an eye for both design and structure. On the other hand, he has been criticised for derailing budgets and construction deadlines, as well as for low functionality and low customer satisfaction. His architectural style could be described as neo-Futurism.

In 1979, he won the Auguste Perret Award for reviving the quality of Perret's work in the field of structures, and for again emphasising the importance of having a basic structure to create a final form.



1983 Bahnhof Zürich Stadelhofen Zürich Switzerland
1986 Tabourettli Theatre Basel Switzerland
1987 BCE Place Toronto Canada
1989 Montjuïc Telecommunications Tower Barcelona Spain
1989 Lyon-Saint-Exupéry TGV station Lyon France
1989 Notfallzentrale Sankt Gallen France
1991 Opera House Tenerife Spain
1991 Alameda Metro Station Valencia Spain
1991 Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències Valencia Spain
1992 YORK - Shadow Machine New York United States
1993 Gare do Oriente Lisbon Portugal
1994 Expansion of Milwaukee Art Museum Milwaukee United States
1996 Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house Valencia Spain
1998 Bodegas Ysios Laguardia Spain
1999 Turning Torso Malmö Sweden
2000 Aeropuerto de Bilbao Bilbao Spain
2001 Milwaukee Art Museum Milwaukee United States
2001 Olympic Park of Athens Athens Greece
2003 80th South Street Tower New York United States
2003 Auditorio de Tenerife Santa Cruz de Tenerife Spain
2004 Bibliothekseinbau University of Zurich Zurich Switzerland
2009 Technion Obelisk Haifa Israel
2009 Liège-Guillemins Train Station Liège Belgium
2009 Caja Madrid Obelisk Madrid Spain
2011 Palacio de Congresos Oviedo Spain
2013 Mediopadana AV Reggio Emilia Train Station Reggio Emilia Italy
2014 Florida Polytechnic University Lakeland, Florida United States
2015 Museu do Amanhã Rio de Janeiro Brazil
2016 WTC Path Terminal / Oculus New York United States


1988 Lusitania Bridge Mérida Mexico
1992 Puente del Alamillo (built for Expo '92) Sevilla Spain
1994 Zubizuri Bilbao Spain
1996 Bridge of Europe Orléans France
1996 Piazzale Roma Bridge Venice Italy
1996 Kronprinzenbrücke Berlin Germany
1998 Puente de la Mujer pedestrian bridge Buenos Aires Argentina
1999 Calatrava Bridge Haarlemmermeer The Netherlands
2003 James Joyce Bridge over the Liffey Dublin Ireland
3004 Sundial Bridge Redding, California United States
3005 Bridge connecting the Ovnat shopping centre and the Rabin medical centre Petah Tikva Israel
2007 3 bridges over the A1 motorway and HST railway line Reggio Emilia Italy
2007 Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge Dallas United States
2007 Ponte della Costituzione over the Grand Canal Venice Italy
2008 String Bridge Jerusalem Israel
2009 Samuel Beckett Bridge over the Liffey Dublin Ireland
2012 Peace Bridge: a pedestrian bridge over the Bow River Calgary Canada


Calatrava is also a prolific artist as a painter, sculptor, ceramist, and mobile designer, claiming that architecture combines all the arts. In 2003, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York held an exhibition of several of his works under the title Santiago Calatrava: Sculpture Into Architecture. Other exhibitions have been held in Germany, England, Spain, and Italy. From May to September 2010, an exhibition was held at the Grand Curtius in Liege, Belgium.


1979 August Perret Award
1992 London Institution of Structural Engineers Gold Medal
1993 Toronto Municipality Urban Design Award
1996 Gold Medal for Excellence in the Fine Arts from the Granada Ministry of Culture
1997 Honoris Causa degree awarded by the University of Delft
1999 Prince of Asturias Award in Art
2000 Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University
2004 James Parks Morton Interfaith Award from the Interfaith Center of New York
2005 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal
2006 Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Arts Council
2006 Honorary Engineer of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
2007 Honorary Engineer from Columbia University
2007 Spanish National Architecture Award
2008 Doctor of Philosophy, Honoris Causa from Tel Aviv University, Israel
2008 Gran Cruz de la Orden de Jaume, Generalitat Valenciana, Spain
2009 Golden Building Award, prize in honour of 50 years Batibouw, Belgium
2009 Doctor honoris causa of Lettres, University of Oxford, Great Britain
2009 ECCS European Steel Design Award at the European Steel Convention, Belgium
2010 Honorary citizen of the city of Liège
2010 Doctor honoris causa from the University of Liège, Belgium


Calatrava's projects are controversial. The four main reasons are: the high budgets (which are usually tripled or quadrupled during construction), the high maintenance costs, the similarities between his projects and the structural and functional defects. Examples are legion: The glass tiles of the Zubizuri footbridge in Bilbao break regularly (600 in ten years; cost to the municipality: €300,000) and become slippery when it rains. Bilbao airport does not have a covered waiting area, which causes problems with the local rainy weather. Also in Spain, the Palace of Arts in Valencia cost more than four times the original budgeted amount of EUR 100 million. In the same Valencia, the City of Arts and Sciences cost 1.3 billion euros. Currently[(since) when?] Calatrava is feuding with the Government of the Region of Valencia: several serious structural defects have been identified in the Palace of Arts.

Calatrava was chosen in 1996 to design a bridge over Venice's Grand Canal. During construction, several structural changes were made due to the mechanical instability and high weight of the bridge, which could cause the banks of the canal to collapse. This project was audited eight times by different auditing agencies in ten years and the cost of the project was three times the original budget. In 2008, the bridge was finally completed; however, the mayor decided not to inaugurate it due to the many controversies surrounding the construction. Currently[(since) when?] Calatrava is being held liable by the Italian Court of Auditors for causing "damage" to the public treasury. The costs for the maintenance of the bridge are disproportionate and the Court therefore speaks of a structural and chronic dysfunction of the bridge.

The general criticism of Calatrava's work was reflected in the American newspaper The New York Times in 2009, in an article about his project for the transport hub at Ground Zero. The newspaper wrote of the "striking discrepancy between the extravagance of the architecture and its modest function." After four years, in 2013, the same newspaper concluded that the project had already cost twice as much, was still unfinished after six years of delay, and had many structural and functional problems. The Liège-Guillemins station received similar criticism for derailed budgets and the "megalomaniacal nature" of his constructions. In Spain, Calatrava also received much criticism for the same reasons.

Finally, he also received criticism for the tax "constructions" he set up: his company operates out of Switzerland which allows it to operate tax-free in the countries where the constructions are built.


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