He is a renowned artist, architect and engineer known internationally for his designs of public buildings and bridges. Santiago Calatrava, 61, was born in Valencia, Spain, and he studied in Madrid and Zurich.
His drawings and sculpture have been exhibited from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and buildings he designed now stand in Paris, Toronto and Lisbon. In the United States, he designed a landmark addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum and is completing the transportation hub at the new World Trade Center.
Calatrava brought his worldly vision to Lakeland recently for the “topping out” ceremony for his Innovation, Science and Technology building, the hub of the new Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland. The building at Interstate 4 and the east interchange of the Polk Parkway is slated to open in the fall of 2014.
At the topping out, a construction industry tradition, the final and highest support beam of a structure is placed into position near a tree, which symbolizes growth. The ceremony allowed Calatrava to see firsthand how his creation is shaping up.
After the ceremony, he met with reporters. Here are his thoughts on what inspires him, his goal for the building, and other subjects.
There was a moment when they took that piece of steel, and put it on the top of the building, and the workers were waiting. I tell you, it had a religious aspect. Nobody was saying a word. We were watching, and I said to my neighbor, “This is funny, nobody is speaking.” We were just watching a crane take a piece of steel. It was very emotional.
We are delivering a building with a cost guarantee. It’s quite a challenge. We have so far delivered. We are under budget. There’s no way to go over budget. Is this a limitation or not? In my opinion, not. It’s just a strict boundary that we have to accept.
We are doing that by saying this building has to be a very austere building. We are using only industrial materials: concrete, steel, aluminum, glass, metal plates and things like that. Up in the commons, the education area, there is wood, but it is very economical. Very simple.
The use of water in the master plan is a central element. Indeed, the lakes are a central element. Why? The story that all these buildings and the master plan are telling is oriented towards the future. Water will be a fundamental element in the 21st century, in the 22nd. To have the core done with pools, where flowers would grow, where the students can experience the tranquility, it makes an enormous statement.
This is the most mystical aspect, most difficult to explain: The special thing about this building is the space and the light. Imagine a student who arrives at 8 o’clock in the morning, and will leave at 6 o’clock in the evening. A polytechnic education is very intense. When they go in those corridors, I want them happy. I want them enjoying life. When they are seeing the outdoors as much as possible, when they go into the commons, I want them to feel relaxed.
Usually, in modern times, you use the amortization as a calculation for the lifespan of a building. This, in my opinion, is a very bad philosophy. Because buildings survive us. And buildings speak about ourselves to the coming generation. For example, in Florida, if you go to an Art Deco district, these buildings have not only survived the people who built them, but also they represent an enormous heritage because of their beauty and their singularity.
It’s a very Roman way to think. If you go to Rome, there are bridges that have been built 2,000 years ago. There is one that American tanks used to cross the Tiber. Two thousand years later, they have this enormous load, a whole division of tanks, passing through. It’s tremendous.
This is our philosophy. We are coming from an occidental understanding of the world. Sometimes in the Oriental understanding, it’s not like that. Zen Buddhism, which is very characteristic in Japan, everything is passing. Nothing is permanent. You have to enjoy the second and the moment. So they do buildings, and they know after one or two generations they will destroy them and rebuild them again. Nothing is permanent.
It’s very important that the building itself tells a story to the students. This is the reason for the boldness. If you want to have an operational building, you have many examples. The moment they chose me, I think they wanted to do a bold statement.
This is what I felt this morning: It works. Functionally, I am sure it works, we have been testing it so many times.
I look forward to seeing the building finished. But the impression I received today, because I could effectively concentrate today, it works. The whole thing, the transitional spaces, and all the richness of the open spaces that we were looking for.
We have already been working there more than 10 years. I think the emotion today is exactly the same that we felt in the beginning. The fact of reconstructing Ground Zero has touched the heart of each one of us. And I speak on behalf of all of those who are working there.
It’s probably the most challenging and difficult project on which I have ever worked. Now, it’s a little more calm. But it was an enormous size. So many things going on. The stations working, the subway working, it was a tremendous challenge to hold all of that together. It is a very particular project.