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Santiago Calatrava Artworks
By Michael Levin

June 09, 2009 /
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Calatrava-photo-1.jpg

Santiago Calatrava, who until now has been known mainly for his architectural work, sees in art a stimulus for his oeuvre at large. His preoccupation with art over the years finds expression in the astounding number of drawings and sculptures he has created to date. In the course of the last two decades more than 65,000 drawings have accumulated in his archive.

The varying type of format and technique afford us a key to understanding the ensemble of Calatrava's work. The sketchbooks are alternatively small or large, of absorbent or non-absorbent paper, specifically suited to watercolor or to pencil and crayon. Calatrava himself says that the variations in his drawings reflect the importance he attaches to each detail, and that the size and quality of the paper create a dialogue between it and the drawing.

Calatrava-photo-2.jpgBird (drawing 1987)

The book contains a selection of 200 drawings, water colors and depictions of sculptures, chosen by the architect and the author because they are particularly well-suited to showing the significance of Calatrava's artistic work as the basis of his architectural design. Many of the themes and forms which Calatrava investigates and develops on this level are subsequently transformed into sculptures and go on to provide the inspiration for his bridges, railway stations, airports, museums and even dining tables.

Calatrava-photo-3.jpgL'Hemisferic (Planeterium), Valencia, Spain
(Watercolor drawing 1992)

Calatrava's initial sketches for buildings are loosely conceived; the drawings too are largely spontaneous. Only the later planning phase concerns itself with engineering calculations. From the very outset, however, the drawings are made by an artist seeking forms of artistic expression but embracing engineering as a way of thinking.

Calatrava-photo-4.jpgOrlêans Bridge, France (Watercolor drawing 1996)

Calatrava has made several thousand drawings of the human body based on imagination rather than on specific models. His obsessive preoccupation with this theme is reflected in portraits, single figures and groups, as well as figures integrated with buildings and design.

Calatrava-photo-5.jpgWatercolor drawing inspired by Classical pediment sculpture (1997)

Several of Calatrava's drawings show a juxtaposition of cubes and the human body in different postures. Outstanding is its dynamic tension in the drawing conjoining cubes and a running figure.

Calatrava-photo-6.jpgRunning torso and cube sculpture (Drawing 1995)

Calatrava does not see himself as a designer. His engagement with design constitutes but another avenue by which to investigate the potential of ideas which absorb him. Calatrava's tables are among his most dynamic furniture designs. His preoccupation with the engineering aspect is evident in his treatment of the support, which constitutes the major innovation in the table designs. A sizeable number of the sketches, prototypes and realized full-size tables are based on a human figure whose knees, arms or head support the glass top. They are in fact sculptures, transformed into functional objects by the flat surface superimposed on them, which nevertheless looks like an integral part of their overall form.

Calatrava-photo-7.jpgDrawing for anthropomorphic table with glass top (1998)

Calatrava-photo-8.jpgPhoto: Leonardo Bezzola
Anthropomorphic table, metal and glass

Calatrava-photo-9.jpgBull's horns serving as a source of inspiration for legs on an occasional table (1994)

The eye with its emphasis on the pupil intrigues Calatrava and is a prominent motif in his drawings and design. In the Planetarium in Valencia Science Centre (1991), the pool alongside the building reflects the semi-elliptical Planetarium, completing its form to the full shape of the eye.

Calatrava-photo-10.jpgL'Hemisferic (Planeterium), Valencia, Spain
(Watercolor drawing 1992)

Santiago Calatrava's drawings and sculptures should be contemplated as works of art in their own right. At the same time, being germinal stages in Calatrava's creative process, they also constitute a laboratory or seedbed for the development of the overall concept, a means of quickening thought and crystallizing a contemporary, individual gestalt of forms. This laboratory generates a reservoir of ideas that emanate from a dialogue with nature and with forms manifested in art and architecture throughout history. Here memories from the past intermesh with visions for the world of the future - a synthesis of engineering, mathematics, design per se, and structures answering specific functional needs.

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Publisher: Birkhäuser

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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