Venice Calatrava’s Bridge over Troubled Waters

Santiago Caltrava is—together with Frank Gehry, Richard Meier, Renzo Piano and Norman Foster—an architect for sensational, eye-catching constructions. The Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge—but known to everybody as “Calatrava’s Bridge”) is the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice. 

But the “Calatrava’s Bridge” in Venice has been controversial since the day in 1996 that his commission was announced. 

Critics claimed there was simply no need for a fourth bridge over the Grand Canal—a mere stone-throw from the existing Ponte degli Scalzi bridge, although I find it useful since I tend to park my car in Piazzale Roma, it makes it easy to cross over to walk then to the popular destinations. 

However, by the time the bridge finally opened in 2008 the total bill came to at least three times the budgeted amount, maybe even five.

I must say that I do like it. It is sleek and elegant, and in my view it does fit well with the architecture of the surrounding buildings, and the waterway (Canal Grande). But unfortunately it is indeed “sleek” and slippery too. 

After endless criticism over its aesthetic, its durability and even its accessibility for the disabled, Calatrava faced legal action as a result of alleged deficiencies in the construction. 

When part of the Biblioteca Marciana collapsed during its construction in 1538 its eminent architect, Jacopo Sansovino, was immediately thrown into jail, he was eventually released on the condition that Sansovino himself pay for the needed reconstruction. I suspect that a few Venetians may be happy to see Calatrava too behind bars—apparently he is partly liable due to “huge errors” in his design and construction of the bridge.

I’ve eagerly crossed over the bridge many times myself, and it does indeed requires all of my attention not to mis-step. The bridge’s low broad steps are spaced so irregularly that stumbles and injuries have been a regular occurrence since its opening. 

Even in dry weather many locals tend to avoid walking on the slippery glass panels, moreover, walking on the bridge gets even more challenging when the weather is just a bit inclement. 

Each wide step consists of glass which, as everyone but Calatrava himself seems to know, becomes slippery in the fog that characterizes a Venetian winter, not to mention in rain or snow. The glass panels, whose pale-green-blue tint gives the impression of walking over the Grand Canal waters (this must have been Calatrava’s idea), it also freeze quite easily. 

Calatrava is already in court in two different regions in Spain over faulty projects. Indeed, Calatrava’s errors, overruns, and trials have become so extensive that a blogger has devoted an entire site to keeping track of them. See the New York Times article about it.

After all is said, I do suggest a visit and a walk over the bridge, while looking at the steps not the panorama of course. 🙂

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