Valencia to sue Calatrava over falling masonry
at City of Arts and Sciences


News: architect Santiago Calatrava is facing legal action from his home city of Valencia because parts of the opera house roof at his City of Arts and Sciences complex are falling off just eight years after completion.

Sections of the swooping mosaic roof of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house at the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias de Valencia came away in high winds on Friday, forcing authorities to cancel performances and close the building to the public.

Regional government spokesman Maximo Buch announced on Friday that Valencia would sue Calatrava and his architectural firm for the cost of repairs, and said that the building will remain closed until it can be made safe again. A technical report on the state of the building is due next week.

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia at the City of Arts and Sciences Valencia by Santiago Calatrava

The opera house is one of seven buildings that comprise the City of Arts and Sciences complex, opened in October 2005 and constructed on reclaimed land in the city's former port. The white concrete opera house features a feather-like roof sailing over two outer shells that curl round the sides. These are clad in a layer of ceramic mosaic tiles or "trencadis", which first showed signs of ageing a year ago when wrinkles appeared in the smooth white surface and is now coming away in chunks.

Calatrava has been heavily criticised for the cost of the City of Arts and Sciences complex and was accused of "bleeding Valencia dry" over alleged fees of €100 million for the showpiece cultural centre, despite it coming in four times over budget at over €1 billion.

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia at the City of Arts and Sciences Valencia by Santiago Calatrava

The starchitect is no stranger to legal disputes over his buildings and had to pay €3.3 million to settle a dispute last June after a conference centre he designed in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo suffered structural collapse.

Meanwhile the owners of the Ysios winery in Spain have launched legal action demanding he pays €2 million so they can appoint a new team of architects and engineers to fix the building's leaky roof, following repeatedly failed attempts by Calatrava's builders to solve the problem.

His footbridge to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao has also caused controversy, with the city having to pay compensation to dozens of pedestrians who slipped on the glass surface in wet weather, while Calatrava is also being taken to court due to his footbridge over the Grand Canal in Venice coming in three times over budget and requiring what the city sees as excessive repairs.

  • mario fernandez

    The sad part is that people still pay him to build things.

  • notreally

    You just don’t ‘glue’ ceramics to a metal shell. That’s pretty basic concept stage design.

  • nivora

    So you say that an architect should design and not think about how the construction must be completed? Construction is where it all starts, even at school ;)

  • spadestick

    I agree with your points. I meant adhesion as in fixing and/or gluing. Yes the detailing is important – I’m not downplaying it. But in this instance, the ceramics usage is just the wrong choice of material. If a dispute as such this was legally brought up – it would be prudent to find out who insisted on the mosaic tiles. Contractors are legally bounded to disagree on methods of construction or material use if they think it does not work. All proper architects have such clauses built into their drawings. If a 100 mile/hr wind starts blowing against all structures and panels tore off them – who is to blame? Calatrava may have been paid a certain fee, but I believe it is nothing compared to what the wealthy contractors or tile manufacturers take away with them.

  • spadestick

    Just saying, bad buildings fall apart going decrepit all the time, people just accept it and builders go scott free. But when a piece of architecture falls apart, all blame goes to the architect. So is it then our excuse to practice bad architecture so when it falls apart no one pays attention?

  • spadestick

    Do share with us some haunting examples. Haven’t you heard of the Bilbao effect? Perhaps citing your reasoning, we should all build single storey bunkers that withstand end of the world scenarios. I’m not defending Calatrava, but we should support the cause of strong designers in general, rather than shoot them down. Some things are unforeseen, like Fukushima. Who do we blame? Must we blame?

    • bonsaiman

      Yes, we designers and architects MUST blame “strong designers in general” whose buildings collapse after zillions of taxpayers money went to their pockets. Just imagine it was your house. Would you “support” the architect’s “cause”? And unforeseen things are happening too much around him, aren’t they?

    • The Liberty Disciple

      I am not bashing “strong designers”. They are part of an ecosystem that artificially inflates the cost of design through these massive public projects. Public money flows in without end, to balloon and keep afloat these hideous wastes of public money.

      Let’s take a look at stadium construction, as they are most often, paid for by the tax money from their communities.

      The Big Owe, or the Montreal 1976 Olympic Stadium was recently paid off in 2006 after 30 years of drowning debt for Montrealiens. Initial estimates showed $134 million, that quickly doubled as construction began. City council created a tobacco tax, that lost it’s effect over time, when they curbed smoking in public places.

      Final cost of construction and related debt, $1.5 Billion CAD. You can read dozens or articles on the roof failure, foundation problems, concrete spalling and a tower that nearly toppled into the dome. Of course, the final construction debt doesn’t include steep maintenance costs, like the $700k a year, retractable kevlar roof.

      If you placed the burden on a private company, that did not receive endless public money to keep it in the black, these projects wouldn’t exist. They are as much a plague upon the design community, as they are parasitic upon their hosts, the taxpayers.

      We champion sustainable design. Shouldn’t the first step, be to work in a way that ensures the costs of each project are sustainable throughout it’s life?

      • bonsaiman

        Now I couldn’t agree more, although I still think the designers/architects are also to blame in situations like this. I am not saying we should refuse the jobs but all involved in wasting public money like this should be blamed and sued; we are no exception, of course.

  • The Liberty Disciple

    Work in an architecture firm. The contract is signed with the firm. Sue the firm.

    If a contractor is to blame, as in he used an incorrect adhesive that Calatrava’s group did not call out in a plan, then Calatrava must sue the contractor to collect on the damages from the client’s law suit.

    He’s got several lawsuits running against him. My suspicion is this will be another design flaw.

  • Concerned Citizen

    I think you have it wrong all the way around. Most architects do design buildings to be successful, according to the client’s criteria and building safety. However, there are some who apparently believe they are above being held to this lowest level of criteria.

    I have never understood that architects were required to excel in physics and mathematics. We hire consultants to provide the engineering for us because the knowledge required to master all design disciplines is too vast to be invested in a single person.

    The reason the architect bears liability is that the contract is between owner and architect. All the engineers are contracted with the architect, and the architect must seek relief from them, if they are liable.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Calatrava certainly does not unique with this liability issue. Many starchitects suffer the same ego problems, in that they seem to believe they are above worrying about roof leaks, material stability, and other such major issues.

  • Kevin Joel Ameyo

    Lesson learnt: if you’re going to design out of the box spaces, have exceptional detailing and reinforcement…Calatrava should learn from this, if this isn’t his first time to face legal action.