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“Why have form follow function when you can have form follow acid trip and no function at all?”

[ 97 ] April 20, 2013 |

This is great for anyone who rolls their eyes at celebrity architects and the absurd non-functioning buildings they construct.

Celebrated Spanish Architect Santiago Calatrava (whose WTC PATH station is interminably under-construction and insanely over-budget), has now been asked by a Spanish winery to fix a leaky roof, after his Ysios winery, with its miraculous undulating roof, has failed to keep out rain.

The owner of the winery is so fed up with trying to patch the roof, it wants money from the original architect to pay for hiring someone to build a new roof. This demand comes after another one of Calatrava’s buildings, the Palau de Les Art in Valencia, has had its ceramic outer skin begin to slowly wrinkle and “its tiles have started to shake loose.” The city also wants some of its money back.

Calatrava said that “his honour was wounded” by these requests. Other projects have also shown signs of structural failure — a bridge in Bilbao is known as the “wipe-out” bridge as people have slipped and fallen on it. Authorities in Bilbabo now have “to spend up to €6,000 a year replacing broken tiles.” Cities are constantly complaining to Calatrava about the budget of his projects, which often run double their anticipated price and cannot be altered by anyone but Calatrava.

The post title comes from a comment in the link.

Comments (97)

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  1. stibbert says:

    plenty of plain ordinary cost-conscious buildings designed by non-celebrity architects have leaky roofs (excuse me, ‘roofing systems’), too.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      True. But those architects aren’t paid millions of dollars either.

    • Major Kong says:

      Supposedly when the owner of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses called to complain that “I’ve got water dripping on me” Wright’s response was “Move your chair”.

      • ploeg says:

        That is a credible story. Wright loved cheap materials such as plywood and concrete (the better to experiment).

      • BigHank53 says:

        Visit Talesin West sometime, which was originally built with a fabric roof, and marvel at the internal rain gutters.

      • LosGatosCA says:

        The original owner of FLW designed house in Grand Rapids, restored by Steelcase the office furniture maker, wrote such a letter back in 1916 or so. The problem was that FLW loved those cantilevered roofs that gravity pulled down at the extremity, pulling the roof seams apart.

        The letter was overly respectful, ‘We love the house’ etc. but we are experiencing a little itty bitty problem with the leaks. Wright’s response was essentially ‘It’s an honor to live in a house designed by me. That’s a small price to pay.’

        Having been through that house I have to admit FLW was correct. The fireplace in the main living area alone was worth it. The man had talent. That fireplace could be built today for any Woodside/Los Altos Hills zillionaire and it would be impressive.

        • rea says:

          And the thing about Wright (apart from him being Howard Rourke) is that he was inventing new ways to build buildings, and of course, it didn’t always work out the first time . . .

        • BigHank53 says:

          A short piece on the restoration of Fallingwater.

          • Eli Rabett says:

            The ultimate leaker was the glass roof of the Johnson Wax building in Racine. There is video

            Eli’s favorite is the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, completely useless as a museum, but a monument to the architect IM Pei who has mastered the art of getting others to finance tombstones for him

  2. Jerry Vinokurov says:

    Well, obviously architects shouldn’t build badly engineered buildings, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong or bad about them from an aesthetic viewpoint.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      I don’t have a particular problem with the aesthetic. But the aesthetic of a roof actually has to, you know, keep water out of the building.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      The problem is, that when your aesthetic marvel of a roof leaks, then the roof was designed and engineered to be more of a work of “art,” and so, “form” was more of a priority, than was “function.”

      It’s nice that people can view your roof from afar, and marvel at its beauty.
      But, if you hope they come inside, especailly with the expectation of staying dry, then maybe you should have chosen someone who values “function,” more than “form” and “art.”

      Or, find someone with a history of being able to, somehow or other, blend engineering and form, with art and function.

      They’re out there.
      But if you chose a person with a history of favoring art and form over sound engineering, then you have little reason to complain.

    • STH says:

      I don’t understand why people like this don’t become sculptors or something. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about these mundane matters.

      • Lee Rudolph says:

        They actively enjoy controlling the people who live in, work in, or merely share an environment with their work. I say this as one who has lived for 44 years in a house that was the second post-graduation project of a product of the Harvard School of Design. We have just about gotten it the way we like it, and fixed the last of the leaks. He has gone on to great things, like designing the Athlete’s Village for an Olympics. I pity those athletes (but I’m sure their walls “read well”, and who really cares about cross-ventilation?). Bah, humbug.

        • firefall says:

          plus, sculptors make how much?

        • BigHank53 says:

          In Michael Pollen’s A Room of My Own, he describes some award-winning house that contains giant holes in the floor of the master suite, that communicate directly with the living room below. No railings. Utterly incompatible with any building code or small children or sleepwalkers or even dumb pets.

          Last summer I toured Kentuck Knob, the other Wright house in Ohiopyle. There’s no storage space in the house, as Wright despised “clutter”. There’s not enough room anywhere for a hobby like a sewing machine or room to build a ship model or even a desk to work at home. There’s no place to keep a lawnmower or any other yard-care stuff. It’s certainly gorgeous, but it’s utterly inflexible. You will live your life the way Frank thinks you should, and go buy somebody else’s house if you don’t like it.

          Reading even the shortest biography of Wright will give you an idea why he was fixated on producing–forcibly, if necessary–a perfect home life.

          • Chuck says:

            His home life was given treatment in a novel by TC Boyle, The Women. At the about the same time (2007) a second novel about Wright and his wives by Nancy Horan called Loving Frank was also published. It is fair to say FLW’s home life was complicated. Boyle lives in a FLW house in Southern California and likely his first hand knowledge of living with FLW had some influence on his novel.

          • Halloween Jack says:

            You mean Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own. And that’s a great example of a house that just doesn’t work the way I’m used to houses working, where usually you can have a guest sleep on your couch and still have sex.

      • Bill Murray says:

        Calatrava is a sculptor — the Metropolitan Museum of Art held a show of his work in 2003

  3. Anonymous says:

    Seems that I recall MIT suing Gehry a few years ago over a similar problem with their library roof. I believe their argument was that he had literally designed something that could not be made weatherproof.

    • Mike Schilling says:

      The civic center where I live is an absolutely gorgeous building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Its beautiful domed roof has leaked on and off for fifty years now.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Last June I was in the Gehry Building for the first time. (Personally I liked Building 20 just the way it was. But hey.) During a long lunch-and-demonstrations-I-didn’t-want-to-see break, I undertook to walk all through all of its upper floors, to see how many of the names on the doors I’d recognize. (One of them was Albus Dumbledore. Also, though I missed his name, at one point when I was tired and taking an elevator down from the philosophy-and-linguistics floor, I shared it—silently—with either Noam Chomsky or his stunt double.) Anyway, in the process I discovered that, for all that it was Gehry-designed, and built at an institute that does have a school of architecture, the risers of the concrete flights of stairs are not of constant height, making walking up (or, especially, down) them an overly-exciting adventure. I took this up with an Administrative Assistant, who told me that the residents share my disapproval; we agreed that it was quite possibly not ADA-compliant.

      • JL says:

        It also has a conference room where the aesthetics of the walls are such that they regularly give people vertigo, dizziness, etc. Making it not the best place to actually have a meeting (unless you hate the people you’re meeting with).

        And chunks of snow and ice pile up and then slide off the slanted roofs onto the street below, where cars are driving by.

        And parts of it are very difficult to navigate.

        On the plus side, all the wasted space behind the walls, and random roofs, make it a wonderful playground for MIT’s vibrant “roof and tunnel hacking” (i.e. legal and illegal campus building exploration) community. When the building first opened we had a great deal of fun discovering all the ridiculous things and irregularly-shaped spaces behind those walls. And I do sort of like the first floor, even if the rest of the building is absurd.

        When it first opened, I remember some tasteless jokes about how the MIT administration was trying to prevent terrorist attacks by commissioning a building that looked like it had already been hit by a plane.

    • Colin Day says:

      Given the engineering talent at MIT, you’d think they would have caught that before it was built.

      • JL says:

        Well, most of the students and profs (I was late in my freshman year when the building opened) were appalled, but we weren’t the ones who got to make decisions about campus construction.

    • kerFuFFler says:

      Yup, MIT had all sorts of problems with that Gehry building. It’s a shame because beautifully designed functional buildings ARE possible. The newly added terminal 4 at the Madrid airport is a great example.

    • Halloween Jack says:

      This is not the first library that’s had that problem, by a long shot, and it’s especially egregious given that, even in the digital age, most libraries still have substantial book collections, which as you might imagine don’t mix well with dripping water. Someone mentioned internal gutters above, and I’ve seen this in one library, which installed these foam-rubber chutes at leaky points in the ceiling to funnel rainwater into barrels.

  4. Data Tutashkhia says:

    They buy ferraris, don’t they.

  5. Caroline Abbott says:

    Frank Lloyd Wright designed a number of leaky roofs. He created a leaky roof, supported by a sweating building, as a home for a cousin in Tulsa.

    “Once finished, the flat roof, typical of and pioneered by Wright, immediately developed leaks. Jones had roofers apply another surface, but it did no good. Finally, in frustration, he called Wright long distance and said, ‘Damn it, Frank! It’s leaking on my desk,’ to which Wright replied, ‘Richard, why don’t you move your desk?’”

  6. S_noe says:

    Not just a Cultural Marxist – an Aesthetic Stalinist!
    Someone needs to light up the Carbon Signal. (Which is probably a tire fire or something.)

  7. somethingblue says:

    There is a metaphor for the Euro lurking in here somewhere.

    • Ken says:

      If the building were a condominium, and the roof were only leaking on the south side, and the people living in the southern condos wanted to repair it, but the people in the northern condos refuse because the repairs would make their association fees go up, so the question is whether the southern condo owners will end up moving out…

  8. Just because an architect can design the form, does not mean that an engineer can design and build the structure. Architects are not engineers.

  9. BigHank53 says:

    The Taubman Museum of Art, located in the bustling metropolis of Roanoke, Virginia, decided they needed a new building, and selected Randall Stout as the architect. Sixty-six million dollars later (only 40% over budget) they wound up with this. They’re currently running two million dollars a year in the red. I shudder to think what heating and cooling that monstrosity is costing.

    The worst part is that even given the size of the place, there’s probably only 3000 square feet of galleries. I’m not joking.

    The roof doesn’t leak yet, as far as I know.

  10. Manta says:

    How did Calatrava manage to become famous (as opposed to notorious)?

    • Lego My Eggo says:

      I don’t know specifically about him, but the route to stardom for many of these guys is to enter and win a design competition or two. Many if not most high-profile projects start with a design competition of some sort.

  11. montag2 says:

    “Calatrava said that ‘his honour was wounded’ by these requests.”

    Now that is pretty fuckin’ funny.

    This guy sounds like the Doug Feith of architecture.

  12. Tiny Tim says:

    I was in my local concert hall a year ago and it wasn’t just leaking, it was completely gushing rain in places. Sure it was during one of those insane storms, but “keeping water out” seems to be a core function of a building.

  13. Linnaeus says:

    Midcentury modernist buildings get a lot of criticism these days (at least from the commentary I read), but I’ll take those designs over something like this.

  14. cpinva says:

    i should think the first requirement of any building meant for actual use, is that it keep the elements at bay. once it’s satisfied that basic function, you can prettify it. it should also stand to reason that an architect incapable of meeting the prime building directive, doesn’t get the opportunity to prettify.

    my question: where were the structural engineers and construction inspectors, while all this nonsense is going on? or do architects work in a vacuum?

    • LosGatosCA says:

      Patrons with excessive money typically have massive clout in getting their buildings built. If it’s an convenience issue (staying dry) rather than a safety issue (roof will collapse of it’s own weight) then the guiding principle is that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way.’

      If an architect wants to treat the roof as a façade, that’s fine. Just recognize that what’s visible isn’t providing the weatherproofing and design accordingly.

      • BigHank53 says:

        If you’re ever in Seattle check out the EMP, right next to the Space Needle. It’s a Gehry. The outside is made of the usual hundreds of overlapping metal panels, supported by posts that are anchored to a steel frame covered with sprayed concrete. The whole thing was painted with an elastomeric waterproofing layer before the panels went on…and when, some decades down the road, it needs to be renewed, every single last one of those panels will need to be removed, labeled, lowered to the ground, stored, hoisted, and reinstalled. I don’t even want to think about fastener corrosion.

        I have my doubts about the long-term survival of a lot architecture that was designed without any consideration for maintenance.

        • Warren Terra says:

          I don’t think I’ve ever heard a good word said about the EMP, and little unalloyed praise for Gehry’s MIT Stata Center, either.

        • Colin Day says:

          Shouldn’t people in Seattle not give commissions to architects with a cavalier attitude towards rain-proofing?

          • Warren Terra says:

            Rain (and weather generally) is a bigger problem in Boston. Seattle has a lot more rainy days, but gets no more annual total precipitation, meaning it rains a lot harder in Boston.

            • BigHank53 says:

              Boston also sees much larger temperature swings. Thermal cycling is harder on waterproofing than water is.

              • Jon H says:

                And ice and snow get into cracks and joints and push things apart, which makes for larger cracks, and more water intrusion, and more ice, etc.

              • Lee Rudolph says:

                One of the apparently-good-so-far features of the Gehry Building is a system to capture rainwater and lead it down to a huge under-a-plaza storage facility, from which it is doled out as needed to the plaza greenery.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  I spent years next to the Stata center. There is very nearly no greenery there – and what is there is an insult to the notion of a college campus, a handful of unfriendly trees surrounded by wood chips or swathes os spiky undergrowth (presumably to make sure no one reads a book sitting under them and spoils someone’s photograph), and a moderate amount of flat swampy grass that’s usually posted against pedestrians. Not that dried-out vegetation is a particular problem on reclaimed marshland a hundred yards from the Charles river in rainy Boston.

                  Whatever sociopath designed the landscaping must have thought it would look lovely in a scale model, and must not have given the slightest of thoughts to the people who’d have to live and work there. Given that’s precisely the philosophy you see in the rest of Gehry’s work (and especially in the State center), he may have chosen the greenery himself.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  I think the landscape was designed by Laurie Olin, most famous for Battery Park City.

  15. Tyro says:

    Who is the more foolish? The fool or the fool who pays him millions of dollars to design the roof?

  16. Calatrava’s addition the Milwaukee Art Museum is beautiful and seems to have dodged the roof bullet. Of course, a local firm was responsible for the detailing and engineering.

  17. herr doktor bimler says:

    celebrity architects and the absurd non-functioning buildings they construct

    Where is the absurdity? If you contract a celebrity architect, presumably you want a building that does not function (except as an aesthetic statement).

    When Galicia held a competition of starchitects (all the usual suspects) to build them a Museum of Culture and selected Eisenman (Calatrava had withdrew his proposal), he was perfectly justified in assuming that neither functionality nor construction budgets were relevant.

    The general approach seemed to be “I draw the pictures; it’s the engineer’s job to make it possible”. The whackyweedia tells me that “The project has more than doubled its original budget [...] Construction [...] terminated definitively in March 2013 due to the high cost overruns”.

    Bonus Eisenman:

    In the words of Andrew Ballantyne, “By some scale of values he was actually enhancing the reputation of his building by letting it be known that it was hostile to humanity.”

  18. DrDick says:

    I think you are mistaken about the actual function of these buildings. They are, in fact, designed to demonstrate that a fool and his money are soon parted and that there are a lot of people with far more money at their disposal than sense.

  19. N__B says:

    In Calatrava’s defense, the length of time it’s taking to build the WTC station and a fair amount of the cost overrun are functions of the non-functioning of the Port Authority. The only thing worse than a bad client is a bad client who is also the builder.

  20. herr doktor bimler says:

    How much of this is a problem of design juries? City X wishes to put itself on the map with new public amenity Y, and to keep the whole thing free from the whiff of corruption they invite various architectural firms to enter their designs. Which are then judged by a panel of independent experts, i.e. more feckin’ architects.

    Deyan Sudjic’s “The Edifice Complex” is fun to read.

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  22. Manju says:

    That is one good looking roof though. And it doubles as a shower. Wow.

  23. Ned says:

    My former office neighbor, a biologist, once mentioned that as a student he shared an apartment with Calatrava. Calatrava had already studied architecture, but came to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich to study building engineering. He wanted to have a better grasp of the technical side of building as opposed to the aesthetic side. The ETH is generally good in architecture and engineering, so I wouldn’t expect that plain ignorance could explain the problems with his buildings.

    Calatrava designed the Stadelhofen train station in Zurich, which so far as I know has functioned well.

    • As I said above, many projects he’s just the design architect. There is often an associated firm whose task is to make the design buildable. the details of construction and weatherproofing would typically fall to that firm, not the primary designer.

      Sure, you might argue that as the Name associated, Calatrava might be expected to review the construction documents. But it seems likely to me that oftentimes, there may be other points of failure in the process; as someone points out above, inexperienced contractors and inapproporiate materials can contribute to the failures.

      I will speak from experience that even with relatively traditional designs (or trickier projects such as adaptive reuse) having a contractor that has never done it before can lead to LOTS of interesting conversations….

  24. Another Kiwi says:

    Calatrava? Why not a Calatrava.
    Hmmm needs work.

  25. Dday says:

    I’ve been to this building – on a rainy day! – and it is actually spectacular, rising out of farmland with almost nothing around it but a medieval city on a nearby hill. But I never understood why the winery actually NEEDED a building like this. It’s not in a touristy area; most of the big wineries are about 20 miles away. It’s actually kind of hard to find.

    Somewhat closer to this is the only Frank Gehry-designed hotel in the world, in Elciego. I stayed there one night, it was like staying overnight in a Terry Gilliam set. And totally functional!

  26. Amber Parnell says:

    Hi there I am so delighted I found your blog page, I really found you by error, while I was looking on Askjeeve for something else, Regardless I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a lot more, Please do keep up the fantastic job.Roofing of Fort Worth, 8100 Wallace Road, Fort Worth, TX 76135 – (817) 330-8100

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