City of Arts and Sciences

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Palau de les Arts and Hemispheric, Santiago Calatrava, 1998-2005

I now know that I have already crossed/been through three Calatrava structures: the footbridge by the Imperial War Museum North, the Ponte della Constituzione in Venice (where I cursed the absence of a continuous ramp as I hauled a laden Brompton over it), and the impressive railway station at Liège. The buildings at the City of Arts and Sciences are no less commanding and a popular attraction on a beautiful day, although I do wonder if Calatrava comes in other designs or colours.

Unlike builders of mediaeval cathedrals or Gaudi (whose influence I thought I saw everywhere), Calatrava’s designs benefit from computing power to work out the tolerances required for his steel, concrete and glass structures. (Not materials that naturally work together in real climates.) Unfortunately, computers forgot to remind him to add fire escapes and escalators to the Science Building, so they were added as an afterthought. That is also a wonderful building from the outside, but suffers inside from the need to have some function – so the three floors of scientific exhibits rather cramp and spoil the effect inside.

I thought I saw similarities between Gaudi and Calatrava’s bleached-bone buttresses and supports, and definite echoes of catenary arches:

I spent some of the afternoon in the Oceanographic, bemused by the magic lantern of the enormous glass-walled aquariums. (I now think the nosy fish in Greece were baby bream). I was very much taken with a pelican group

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amongst familiar shelducks and pochards, but when I saw harbour seals swimming endless lengths in a small pool I was overtaken with disgust at confining and clipping so many creatures and left. There was a mismatch between human ingenuity and human cruelty in this part of the complex.

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