by Bryan Hassemer
In early March of this year, an architectural publication showcased Santiago Calatrava’s newly completed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in Dallas, Texas. The first of three Calatrava bridges to be completed over the Trinity River, this simple form was envisioned as a catalyst in conjunction with the City’s revitalization efforts. A cursory review of the photo spread enlivened my thoughts with his vision as an artist and (in general) architects’ penchant for habit and practice.
With habit and practice in mind, a quick glimpse at his portfolio reveals striking similarities, across the board, in composition and form. (www.calatrava.com)
Though varied in context and scale, each elegant structure offers a solution (or two) to a not-so-contiguous problem:
- Span a gap
- Establish a volume
- Create a spectacle
Considering his overall artistic vision, Calatrava’s expressive use of watercolor, pencil sketches, and hand-made models convey humor on par with Da Vinci and sensitivity to rival Rodin. A sketch for his ‘Turning Torso’ tower highlights an understanding of both the human form and its engineered derivative. The acute mathematical calculation of his asymmetrical, counter-balanced designs speaks to his Ph.D. in engineering while habit and practice have branded a message of strength and beauty with each piece of steel, concrete, and glass.
In contrast to Calatrava’s outward sense of artistry, Pier Luigi Nervi was one to apply formulas ahead of artistic gestures. Whether responding to matters of economy or design simplicity, the Italian-born “ingegnere edile” or building engineer, Nervi created or consulted on solutions to structural challenges and civil demands with a penchant for geometry. The blog ‘An Engineer’s Aspect’ highlights a thorough list of twenty two projects from his career. (‘An Engineer’s Aspect’)
Nervi’s legacy may not be seen as intrinsically artistic; however, his pioneering applications of reinforced concrete, ribbing, and various styles of vaulting lead him to author four (4) books, numerous academic papers, and he was awarded Gold Medals by the Institution of Structural Engineers, the American Institute of Architects, and the Royal Institute of British Architects. His finesse conveyed pure, mathematical solutions; and his technical prowess “paved the way” (pun intended) for architect/engineers like Calatrava.
The ‘archi + tekōn’, master builder of ancient Greece is embodied in their work, and Calatrava, when speaking on his own behalf said, “Expression, this is something that, you see, will always remain… As you consider architecture as a vehicle for art, and I consider always architecture as an art, then it must be a vehicle for expression.
Currently, Calatrava’s contributions to the built environment speak to those that Nervi pioneered decades earlier. A dedicated palette of materials and honesty in form align their objectives while precise mathematics drive innovation, encourage humane progress, and marry artistry to habit and practice.
While these masters are often viewed as icons and ‘starchitects’, the work of MKThink is not dissimilar in its values– uniting our respect for honesty of form and materials with a humanist approach and demand for innovation.