Big name, big controversy

Santiago Calatrava's bridge at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Photo by Jim Brozek.

It seems there's a battle brewing in Calgary over Santiago Calatrava, who some city officials are hoping to woo with $25 million to build a pedestrian bridge that could become a showpiece. The debate, however, isn't about the merits of Calatrava's design plans, but rather center on the idea of hiring Calatrava at all. An editorial in the Calgary Herald argues that instead of paying such a huge sum for one bridge from one big-name architect, why not spend the money for two bridges from local talent.

Citing Calatrava's work in Venice, which is rumored to have gone four times over budget, editorial writer Paula Arab builds a case against starchitects and in favor of nurturing and supporting local designers and architect. Calgary alderman Druh Farrell is quoted as saying "We don't get an opportunity that often to build a river crossing. All bridges should be beautiful, but river crossing should be extraordinary." But, Arab asks—and rightly so—does this imply that only starchitects are capable of designing extraordinary structures? 

What kind of message does this conundrum send—not only to the A&D community, but to the public at large? Should Calgary continue to court Calatrava? Or should it look locally? Invite Calatrava to submit a design that is then judged, blindly, against local schemes? Leave it up to public opinion? 

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