Calatrava's early sketches show the bridge from
different perspectives, starting with an aerial view, as if you could
turn a model of it in your hands.
he can't sleep, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava draws
pictures. Birds, bodies, bulls -- the fluid, figural images repeat
themselves in sketch after sketch. The drawings fill his notebooks, and
the notebooks -- elegant Japanese ledgers with pages that open out like
a room-length accordion -- fill the offices and homes he keeps in
Zurich, Paris, Valencia and Manhattan.
Calatrava is known for buildings and bridges that look as if
they could have sprung forth whole from the pages of his dreamy
sketchbooks. In Valencia, on the Mediterranean in Spain, he built a
planetarium inspired by his sketch of a human eye, complete with a
hydraulic lid that closes. A drawing of a man's midsection gave rise to
the twisting form of a residential tower called Turning Torso, now
under construction in Malmo, Sweden. In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the
Canary Islands, the canopy arched over his recently completed opera
house resembles a petal of a flower. If his remarkable buildings start
as a gesture on the page, for Calatrava it's the act of drawing itself
-- the silent, endless hours spent sketching and resketching a subject
-- that constitutes the creative process. So when the mayor of
Jerusalem asked him to build a bridge that would serve as an entry
point to the holy city, Calatrava started drawing.
Ehud Olmert, Jerusalem's mayor at the time, wasn't just seeking
a functional solution to a traffic problem. He wanted a symbol. ''When
I went to sign the contract,'' Calatrava remembers, ''he told me: 'You
have done many bridges, but you will do a bridge for Jerusalem that
means something. This will be the most beautiful thing that you have
ever done.' ''
Calatrava, who was recently chosen to design the $2 billion
transit hub at ground zero, began by considering the constraints of the
situation in Jerusalem: a tram line that needed to cut an S-shaped path
from Jaffa Road to Theodor Herzl Boulevard, rising above a dense
intersection and clearing the way for a public plaza beneath. The city
engineer wanted to make life easier for pedestrians and also give some
much needed character and panache to a congested urban entanglement
through which much of the traffic arriving into the city passes.
Building in Jerusalem means using Jerusalem stone, and Calatrava knew
that he would need to balance the sturdy honey-colored rock with more
modern touches of fluid steel and glass. He wanted to create something
that would seem to fly -- its span soaring over the tops of the cars --
and hoped the structure would serve the city as a gate and not another
The first drawings for the bridge were abstract. ''If there was a
reference to anything, it was to musical instruments,'' Calatrava says,
looking back over his initial sketches. For each of his projects (he
has designed more than 60 bridges), Calatrava, who is 52, keeps
extensive files chronicling the progress from inchoate doodle through
the final stages of computer modeling. ''Bridges with cables very
easily resemble stringed instruments. I thought the city of David
deserves a bridge that looks like a harp, the instrument he played.''
Not only would the harp strings hold the bridge up, they would be the
focal attraction of a design meant to be as light and transparent as
possible. A cable-stayed bridge would avoid the use of heavy pillars
that would take up space on the ground, which Calatrava and city
planners hoped to use as a pedestrian meeting space. If the embankments
were to be of Jerusalem stone, the pylon would have to be tall and thin
but stable enough to hold the curvy deck of the bridge together.
Unlike most bridges, Calatrava's well-regarded Alamillo Bridge in
Seville has just one supporting tower. The mast is angled, leaning back
from the water and, with visible tension, carrying the roadway by its
cables. Building on this idea, early studies for the Jerusalem bridge
suggested a straight incline, sticking up like a hand on a clock. This,
he realized, would create too much pull on the pylon. A second
incarnation featured a curved mast resting on two legs. Soon, however,
Calatrava figured out that he could add more cables and get rid of one
of the legs altogether, resulting in an even more slender, streamlined
form -- a single, sloping mast at the center of the S-shape. ''It's
very powerful, but it has the ability to disappear,'' Calatrava says of
his solution. ''There were three different versions, though each one
built on the other. You calculate, you make the model, you leave it for
a while, then you come back. Each one tries to be better than the one
before. They make a kind of city.''
Santiago Calatrava is a modern architect. His large staff uses
computers to help him analyze his models. Calatrava guesses that even
Antonio Gaudi -- Spain's singular surrealist Catalan architect who at
the turn of the last century was testing structural models with strings
and weights -- would use computers if he were designing today. But a
couple of factors distinguish Calatrava from the current crop of star
architects. First, he has a second profession. He is an engineer. Most
architects are not engineers, and most engineers do not design
buildings. They graduate from different schools, and though they must
collaborate on the same projects, they eye each other with the mutually
dependent suspicions of the sausagemaker and the health inspector.
After completing his years of architecture training, Calatrava
decided that he needed to know more about how things are constructed.
He took a Ph.D. in civil engineering at the Federal Institute of
Technology in Zurich. The important thing for Calatrava isn't just that
he learned about building but also that he learned to ignore the
traditional divide between his two vocations. ''Many architects say
that they will never do a bridge,'' Calatrava says. ''But I think they
will discover that just as Fallingwater is a piece of art, so Golden
Gate is a piece of art of the 20th century. And Frank Lloyd Wright was
very proud of his study of engineering.''
Which brings us to the second point of departure in Calatrava's
work: his process of drawing and sculpturing buildings and bridges into
life. Unattached to any school of architecture, Calatrava draws like an
artist and thinks like a scientist. ''What is interesting,'' he says,
''is that the sketch is always spontaneous. If you keep drawing, you
can preserve much of this spontaneity. You have an idea. You refine it
through sketching. You see, the interaction between the free work of
the sketches and the pure geometrical work makes things move toward a
precise solution. On one side, you have the spontaneity of the sketch.
And on the other side, you have the rigor of the confluence of all the
square footages you have to account for, all the toilets, the
elevators, the doors, the security issues, the questions of fire
protection, all of this.''
Right brain and left brain are kept in lock step by a constant
overlapping of enthusiasms -- and by constant work. The movement of a
man's torso is sketched and reimagined as a sculpture of sleek cubes
and tension wires, the figure translated into pure mathematics. The
Jerusalem bridge is drawn and, after the models have been tested, drawn
again. The result is architecture born of both creative inspiration and
scientific rigor. Enthusiasm itself, Calatrava tells me, comes from the
Greek enthousiasmos, or ''possessed by the gods.'' The artist, in the
Greek mind, was a man given remarkable tools by the gods.
It's no accident that the book ''Santiago Calatrava's Creative
Process'' was published in two volumes. The first, ''Fundamentals,''
deals with the mathematical and engineering underpinnings of his work.
The second, ''Sketchbooks,'' collects a portion of Calatrava's 60,000
drawings. Neither is it an accident that the books are boxed together:
one informs the other. ''You can't have one without the other --
besides, they come as a set,'' says the architect-engineer, who is also
something of a salesman. Calatrava is a man of many enthusiasms.
Calatrava's structures tend to be stark, white and eye-catching.
Though they proclaim their own complexity, his bridges are more than
mere science projects. They are lovely, each an elegant argument for
For his Jerusalem bridge, Calatrava has indulged in a bit of
color. Running along the pedestrian walkway is a band of blue light.
''It is a pastel blue, like the blue of the Israeli flag and also the
tallit,'' Calatrava says, referring to the traditional prayer shawl
worn by observant Jews. ''When you see the bridge from far away, it
will appear like a modern obelisk. And at the top we would like to put
a bronze plate, something that will reflect in the sun like a golden
In the post-Bilbao era, comparisons to Frank Gehry will
necessarily be made. The two men admire each other, and though they
both have produced remarkable works of public-pleasing art, they could
not be more different in approach or effect. Gehry makes buildings with
beautiful skin. Calatrava is an architect of bones. Gehry's cosmic
collages of shimmery titanium speak to the expressive power of modern
computing. Calatrava doesn't know how to send e-mail. He sits with his
staff members as they test with a computer, but he doesn't create with
one. And if Gehry is the more famous of the two, it is Calatrava --
with his railway stations, museums, theaters and bridges -- who has
constructed the greater presence in Europe. You may go to Bilbao for
Gehry's Guggenheim, but you will arrive via Calatrava's airport --
nicknamed la paloma, or ''the dove,'' for its poised-for-flight form -- and walk across his Campo Volantin footbridge.
Gaudi, too, is an obvious point of reference. Calatrava has noted the
unfinished Sagrada Familia temple as a source of inspiration. But in
conversation, the Spanish polymath who Calatrava refers to most isn't
an architect at all. It's Picasso. ''I prefer the zigzag way as opposed
to the linear; Picasso has done this,'' Calatrava says, referring to
both a process of art and the development of a career. Picasso painted
in different styles while always expressing his time. Calatrava admires
that. An architect's career is long, he observes. By always drawing,
letting every idea build on the last, he hopes to see his work evolve.
''I think it is like people who pray, repeating the same
thing,'' he says. ''Even if you say it a thousand times, finally what
you are saying is praying is part of my life. Well, drawing is part of
my life.'' He admits he sometimes has a problem knowing when to stop
drawing and to let the building begin. He fears the client will tell
him to get on with it. ''Or my wife will say, 'Enough,' '' he says.
Robertina Calatrava runs the family business, spread as it is between
Europe and New York. Robertina keeps her husbands' appointments and
generally blocks out distractions so the architect can draw in silence
for hours at a stretch. ''The Chinese say dissatisfaction is the first
step to progress,'' Calatrava notes. ''You can always think, How can
this be better? It happened to me with the Jerusalem project. Everybody
was satisfied, but myself, I thought this can be better. The process
teaches you. You do the steps again. That was when we took away the
leg, and suddenly it emerged. You know you're done when you get the
feeling that at last you're in a new land.''
Work is set to begin on the Jerusalem bridge early next year.
Construction will take 16 months. When it is completed, Calatrava says,
he hopes that he will have done something more for the city than just
smooth the flow of traffic. ''Bridges join places that were
separated,'' he says. ''They are built for the sake of progress and for
the average citizen. They even have a religious dimension. Even the
word 'religious' comes from the Latin, meaning 'creating a link.' A
bridge makes a lot of sense in a city like Jerusalem.''