Several Spanish media (such as El Diario and El País) are reporting that Santiago Calatrava is suing Esquerra Unida País Valencià (EUPV), a Valencian leftist political party, to the tune of 600 thousand euros for defamation over a website it launched in 2012 called “calatravatelaclava”, or “Calatrava bleeds you dry”. The website, a growing collection of news articles documenting problems and irregularities with the Valencian architect, was set up in order to denounce what it calls Caltrava’s “ruinous projects and tax-free invoices”. The site reveals, for example, public disbursements totaling approximately 100 million tax-exempt euros to Calatrava, whose fiscal residence is Switzerland, along with a litany of technical problems associated with his buildings and bridges.
The architect’s lawyers argue that the website is defamatory, that it could never have gained its notoriety –over one million visits and mentions in the NYT and The Guardian— were it not for Calatrava’s international fame, that it is to blame for the cancellation of a commission in Brazil after the news medium O Globo made references to it, and that the site’s cover photograph portraying Calatrava in the company of Carlos Fabra and Francisco Camps, two politicians indicted for corruption, creates a misleading impression of the architect.
Calatrava has undoubtedly become somewhat of a scapegoat for all of contemporary architecture’s ills. He is of course not the only architect who exceeds budgets manyfold, behaves arrogantly, and builds works that leak or send tid-bits falling onto bystanders. He is simply the most famous architect involving all of the above, and since there is a public backlash against so-called “starchitecture”, that makes him an easy target. Is it fair that he is being singled out by a political party and the mass-media? I guess that’s the risk involved in the high-stakes game of high-profile architecture. Fame and recognition, which is what motivates young architects most (it certainly ain’t the paycheck!) can always backfire at any time, it’s worthwhile remembering.
I have never been a fan of Calatrava’s work, as my students and readers know, but to be fair, he can’t be solely blamed for at least some of the problems his works have incurred. Cost is a good example. Why should architects be the ones expected to keep a building project’s cost under control when it is clearly not in their interest to do so? After all, it’s the client’s money, isn’t it? Even in the case of public projects, in which case the client is an elected representative empowered to control the public purse strings, the architect cannot reasonably be expected to be the one controlling cost. Expecting ambitious architects to control budgets is like empowering hunters to act as game wardens. Duh! Policing should never be left to anyone with ulterior interests, which architects inevitably have despite any rhetoric about defending the public’s best interests.
This is precisely what brings us back to the lawsuit. EUPV is obviously trying to bring down the Valencian Popular Party over its irresponsibilities. An architect’s head is not the first priority of a political party. The notion of “opposition” is fundamental to democratic political governance, another high-stakes game, especially in Spain, where political parties, like football clubs, can become huge corporations. The elected representatives who gave their amigo Calatrava a blank check are ultimately the ones who have to pay the price. They are the ones who should have known better.
In the meantime, Calatrava should come to grips with the idea that the universe does not revolve solely around him and get on with solving his buildings’ many technical problems.