Starchitects are those structural designers whose names alone ensure a lucrative clientele.
In Spain, the reigning starchitect is Santiago Calatrava, a Valencia native world-renowned for his designs, which include the Athens Olympic Sports Complex and the Milwaukee Art Museum. But he’s best known outside Spain for his innovative bridge designs.
But inside the country, and in his own province, it’s one singular project — a tourist attraction called Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències — that’s drawn the most attention, a creation of pre-crash Spain’s profligate provincial exuberance.
Here are two of his buildings for the complex, via Wikipedia:
But with jobs lost, schools threatened, and massive unemployment, some folks think the money could’ve been spent than on a starchitectural theme park.
And now Valencia’s starchitect is the target of popular anger.
From Bloomberg’s Carol Matlack and Angeline Benoit:
No Valencia project, though, has aroused more ire than Calatrava’s City of Arts and Sciences. Originally projected to cost €300 million (about $375 million), its price tag more than tripled to some €1.1 billion, according to estimates by opposition members of the regional parliament. “The buildings are like symbols of an era when the politicians thought we were rich,” says Ignacio Blanco, a member of the opposition United Left party.
Critics have even set up a website targeting Calatrava, a Valencia-born architect who has achieved global fame with such works as the Milwaukee Art Museum and the planned new World Trade Center transportation hub but who has been known to exceed his budget. The website, http://www.calatravatelaclava.com, translates roughly as “Calatrava rips you off.”
Although the Valencia government has not released details of construction costs, Blanco says his party has reviewed documents showing that Calatrava was paid at least €94 million for the complex, with his fees based on a percentage of the total costs. Because the architect’s business is based in Switzerland, he has paid no Spanish taxes on his earnings, Blanco says. While describing the situation as “scandalous,” Blanco says the fault lies not with Calatrava but with “politicians who wasted public budgets.”
Starchitects generate fees as monumental as their starchitecture, and folks in Valencia are rightly peeved.
But starchitects attract from big money players, and they generate big press in a day when celebrity and branding reign. Investors and donors get their names attached to the buildings, as with starchitect Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Consider this from a recent piece on Gehry by architectural journalist Rowan Moore of The Observer:
According to the art critic Hal Foster, Gehry’s Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles is a “media logo” and his style of architecture is a “winning formula” for “any corporate entity that desires to be perceived, through an instant icon, as a global player”. Someone started selling T-shirts saying “Fuck Frank Gehry” (and he bought some).
But sometimes starchitecture, notable in part for its unusual shapes, runs into other problems as well, as with Gehry’s $300 million Stata Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. MIT sued Gehry because, as the Boston Globe’s Shelley Murphy reported in 2007:
[S]oon after its completion in spring 2004, the center’s outdoor amphitheater began to crack due to drainage problems, the suit says. Snow and ice cascaded dangerously from window boxes and other projecting roof areas, blocking emergency exits and damaging other parts of the building, according to the suit. Mold grew on the center’s brick exterior, the suit says, and there were persistent leaks throughout the building.
Oh, and that Disney erection in L.A. had its own problems, the polished stainless steel blasting heat rays at condos across the street, forcing a sandblasting.
Starchitecture, the most conspicuous consumption
If you’re somebody who has or controls lots of money and your thoughts turn to immortality and legacies, monumental buildings spring to mind. How better to perpetuate your name than by sticking it on something big and designed to last?
By way of solace, we offer this, from Percy Bysshe Shelley:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.