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.

  • Not only are these expensive “showcase” projects irresponsible for their soaring building costs to the taxpayer, they also add on millions of dollars in legal liability that straddles the community with further debt.

    Responsibility in design comes from both the designer and the client. When you build with other people’s money, you must plan for these liabilities. How many times have we heard about massively over-budget projects, coming back to haunt their communities?

  • chester stevenson

    Architects should be made responsible for inadequacies in detailing.

  • spadestick

    They are suing the wrong guy – they should be suing the contractor for shoddy workmanship (in this case – using the wrong adhesive). If the building fell apart, and calatrava is the the engineer, then yes, you have the justification for suing him.

    • Concerned Citizen

      Actually, the architect must approve all materials of construction, so, no, the contractor cannot be blamed at all, unless he used the material without approval.

      • Mike

        Yeah, that never happens.

  • notreally

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

    • Tagvlc

      Ceramics can be adhered to a metal surface using a polyurethane adhesive. The Auditorium of Tenerife (also by Calatrava) has the same cladding system (ceramic mosaic directly adhered on metal) and after 10+ years on the waterfront there is no similar damage. The difference – the constructors.

  • 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.

    • Concerned Citizen

      “Contractors are legally bounded to disagree on material use” Not true in this country. The contractor has no responsibility to re-engineer the building. The issue for construction documents must be complete and suitable for construction without further amendment.

  • 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?

    • 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.

        • stourleykracklite

          I, an architect, specified a toilet for my client’s house. The contractor charged him $10,000 for the toilet and $10,000 for the labor. How is this my fault?

  • mitate

    It is my impression that today’s architects design without being obliged to think a great deal about how the construction should be completed. Then again, architecture schools should be far more rigorous and only accept students with top qualifications in physics and mathematics, as I understand they used to.

    • Giancarlo

      They still do in Spain. Calatrava isn’t just an architect. He’s also an engineer after studying in Zurich. This guy has the qualifications. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. It’s how much you care. This guy just doesn’t give a damn. He thinks he’s a sculptor. Problem is .. architecture is actually used.

      • Peter Wilson

        A lot of opinions posted here seem to be based on some kind of prejudice against Calatrava, but I wonder how many of these are based on visiting any of his projects and specifically the one in question here? I visited it during construction and watched (indeed have photographs of) the contractors sticking sheets of mosaics onto the double-curved concrete surfaces and wondered at the time how effective this would be in adverse weather conditions, i.e. those not normal to sunny Valencia? We know now, that’s for sure but whether it’s a contractor or a designer fault is hard to say – the mosaics were clearly intended to reflect bright sunlight off the building, not act as a wind shield. One thing’s for sure – the adhesive used hasn’t been wind resistant but whether the specification was at fault here (who ever was responsible for the specification) or whether it was poor installation still needs to be ascertained. Let’s find out which before rushing to shoot the building’s author – in this instance, it is a unquestionably a structural tour-de-force, whilst the Oviedo building – which might also be described as such – is nevertheless way, way beyond designer self-indulgence.

        The bridge in Bilbao is a curious one – who would think to make a curved walking surface of smooth glass bricks when the city has probably the highest rainfall of any major city in Spain? The remedial rubber coating is simply horrible though – whose idea was that?

  • 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.

  • jdood

    Start suing visionary innovative architects that push the envelope, and start watching visionary innovative architecture become vanilla.

    Building is not an exact science. Manufacturers do their best to mimic nature and test materials, but really, how well can you mimic nature? Materials don’t always perform as anticipated. Innovative design often equates to materials being used in innovative, perhaps in “untested” ways.

    Nature is abusive, and buildings require constant maintenance. There are no guarantees. It’s very doubtful Calatrava just carelessly selected that roof material just to make his design statement.

  • Stuart

    I for one, am of the opinion that people shouldn’t be so quick to blame the ‘designer’, in this case, the architect, for the failing of a structure. It is very rare today that any one person is responsible for a building, as teams of people come together to work on any one project. The architect may have specified a particular material, but it is then the job and responsibility of a contractor who specialises in that particular field of construction, to carry out all necessary work and offer advice on the best proposal in which to achieve the end goal, ultimately, a stable and structurally sound building. By all means, if after a hearing the architect is found to be responsible for a building’s demise, then the right action may be proceeded, but we should not be so narrow-minded and quick to assume that it is always the fault of the creator.

  • 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.

  • DaBronxY

    I’m from New York City and his new building, which is over 1 billion dollars from what I currently hear, is not bad. I hope the quality within the structure lasts. True architecture stands the test of time.