"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Sunday, 29 December 2013

2. Valencia, Spain: Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia 

A couple of months ago, my partner Heather and I moved from Toronto, Canada to Valencia, Spain. Or as we like to think of it, from the birthplace of Frank Gehry to the cradle of Santiago Calatrava.

To commemorate our big move, WOWchitecture shines its first spotlight on Valencia's most iconic building, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts):


The Palau towers 14 storeys above its reflecting pool and is the tallest opera house/performing arts centre in the world. It is surrounded by over 87,000 metres squared of gardens, with another 10,000 metres squared of reflecting pools and connected pathways. The building took 10 years to complete, followed by several more years of landscaping. 
 
Calatrava trained as a sculptor, architect and engineer and all of these skills are on full display in the Palau. Like most of his major works, the Palau has a free-flowing, organic, and sculptural quality to it, with a distinctly futuristic look. I can think of only two other architects who can make concrete look this beautiful -- Zaha Hadid and the late, great Oscar Niemeyer.

But what exactly does the design represent?  

Some say a conquistador's helmet:



Others, a hooded cobra preparing to strike:




The front end of a white fish?



Or maybe even an alien robot/spacecraft firing its death ray:






































The Palau is just one of a number of buildings making up Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences, an enormous complex of futuristic structures. The Jetsons would feel very much at home here. 

But all is not happy in wonderland. For one thing, the roof of the Palau occasionally leaks. When I last saw the building in the summer of 2012, there was bubbling and rippling under the skin. It gets worse. A couple of weeks ago, bits of cladding fell off and yesterday the Palau was closed down through February.

Talk of lawsuits filled the air. Valencia blamed Calatrava for flawed design. Calatrava blamed the city for failed maintenance. The only certainty is that a lot of lawyers are going to make a lot of money before the dust settles. Stay tuned, this one isn't over by a longshot.


UPDATE: May, 25, 2014

Early in 2014, Calatrava and the city of Valencia signed a secret deal to tear down the white tiles covering the Palau and replace them with a different type of cladding. Valencia is big on secret deals - which may explain why so many of its elected officials are in jail or under indictment.

So far, only the first half the deal has been kept. I was down there last week and saw the building stripped down to its naked cement form, partially rusted and covered in patches:


I could have cried; one of my favourite buildings in the entire world reduced to a brutalist nightmare!

The Valencia government still claims that the Palau will be re-clad. But then this is the same Valencia government that stopped construction - at the three-quarters-built mark - on a new, futuristic football stadium. That was five years ago and not as much as a hammer has been picked up since. It's also the same government that threw together a box-like hi-speed rail station, saying that a magnificent one would replace it with two years. That was three years ago.


Stay tuned for further updates.