A Calatravesty

Venice fines Santiago Calatrava for slippery, inaccessible bridge

Calatrava's Ponte della Costituzione, a glass and steel bridge in Venice, is reportedly dangerous to walk on and the city is fining him for damages over the faulty design. (Courtesy Wikimedia)

Santiago Calatrava is being fined—again—for his work. 

This time it’s $87,000 for his Ponte della Costituzione, or Constitution Bridge, in Venice, Italy. An Italian court recently ruled that the Spanish architect needs to pay the city for cost over-runs and “negligence” in faulty design. According to The Telegraph, the 300-foot-long steel and glass piece of infrastructure ended up being weaker than intended. 

Completed in 2008, the project was controversial from the beginning. Protests and heated criticism over its placement rang out upon its announcement in 1999. The biggest issues included its lack of accessibility for wheelchair users, the conflict between its modernist design and the city’s historic scenery, and the fact that it’s located very close to one of the other three walking bridges that span the Grand Canal. Nevertheless, the structure was installed after years of delays for a total of $12.9 million and now leads locals and tourists over the water from a bus terminal (many of them with rolling luggage in tow) in Santa Croce to the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia. 

The Telegraph reports that one of the other unexpected problems that people have complained about over the years involves the glass steps. They noted how slippery the stairs get when it rains or the fog descends on Venice in the winter, but Calatrava’s office recently told AN that the steps are “no more slippery than other parts of the city.” In addition to this, due to the bridge’s location in a highly-trafficked area, the steps have become worn-down. Some of them have already been replaced, according to the ruling judges, even though they were expected to last 20 years.  

Furthermore, the court determined that the steel tubes used on the bridge were too small and the egg-shaped glass elevator, which was later added for accessibility, overheated too much. A court found earlier this year it had to be removed for safety reasons, costing the city $44,000. 

The Telegraph noted that when asked over a decade ago to respond to all the criticism, Calatrava noted that he had “no influence in the selection of the contracting company that built the structure.” His work, he said, was limited to the aesthetic. In a call with AN, the firm clarified that the stairlift was, in fact, incorporated into the initial design that was revealed in the late 90s, but it was rejected by the city council. They claimed wheelchair users could take the Vaporetto water taxi instead. Years later, a new mayor commissioned the glass elevator “against Calatrava’s advice,” the firm said. 

This isn’t the first time the famed architect has gotten in trouble with a municipality over the complexity of his projects and the time it takes to build them. Despite that, bridges are one of his specialties having designed 35 total in his career. The first, located in Barcelona, was completed in 1987—which is why the fines against him due to the mistakes on the Constitution Bridge are so high, according to the court.

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