Who’s at fault?

Ysios2 Ysios1 Ysios3 Ysios4 Ysios5 

Photos by Chancha S. Ulloa

The other week I was lucky enough to spend some time touring a few wineries in La Rioja, Spain and among the stops on the itinerary was Ysios, designed by Santiago Calatrava. It's a beautiful facility, to be sure, that rises out of the ground in wave-like ripples that continue on the interior. The ceilings are stunning on the inside and the technology is top-notch, but here's the thing: The building leaks. Not even eight years old, its walls sport patches of water damage at some seams and while you may not notice it on first glance, once it's seen, it's hard to ignore. And so, wandering among all the barrels and bottles, I could help but wonder: who is at fault? Is it Calatrava for designing a facility that perhaps doesn't take its regional weather into account? Is it the engineers? The construction company? The clients for not questioning Calatrava's designs more? Is it all of the above and then some? Or is it simply the price to pay for a piece of starchitecture? (And, on that note, why should that even be a compromise?)

Instantly I was reminded of the 2007 negligence suit filed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology against Frank Gehry, which alleged, among other things, that his design for the State Center (which cost a not-so-paltry $300 million), caused leaks, masonry cracks, mold growth, and drainage problems. Skanska Construction Company, also named in the suit, blamed Gehry, alledging Gehry Partners ignored warnings about design flaws. And so the finger pointing began.

It also turns out it isn't Calatrava's first brush of trouble with water damage. Last fall, his hometown of Valencia, Spain, found its opera house (part of Calatrava's ambitious City of Arts and Sciences) flooded following torrential rain. According to a report in the Guardian, the toll included damaged electrical and cooling systems, and rehearsal areas and a side theater doused with mud and water. The damage, in fact, required the season's inaugural show to be postponed and another to be cancelled completely. The city blames the architect, the architect blames the city. Calatrava's also in a row with Bilbao over an addition to his fan-like bridge in that city, which he claims violates the "balance, unity and symmetry" of the structure.

I'm interested: what do you think of this conundrum? How much (if at all) should these clients chalk up to creative genius and how much should these starchitects be brought down to reality and held accountable for the problems with their spaces?

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