What is it? A bridge across the Canal Grande in Venice.
Budgetted costs: 4 milllion €
Real costs: Amounts are named from 11,3 to 20 million €
Budgetted maintenance costs:740.000 € per year
Real maintenance costs: 1,8 million € per year
Who pays? The Italian tax payer
Main issues: Budget overrun. Unstable on soggy surface. Not accessible for the disabled. Continuous unscheduled extra maintenance costs.
Inauguration: 2008 (was planned 2003)
Calatrava´s Ponte della Costituzione was the first bridge built in Venice in 125 years. Ever since the beginning of the project the bridge was prone to criticism and by the time of its opening in 2008, nobody seemed to want it anymore. The construction had suffered enormous delays and by the time of opening costs had risen to more than 3 times the budget. Apart from this many believed the modern bridge did not fit in its classical surroundings and even worse: it was inaccessible for the disabled. Let them take a boat. For this reason it was decided that for the first time in the history of the Italian town the inauguration of a bridge would not be accompanied by any festivities.
Calatrava himself was not amused about the cancellation of festivities that would have included his “old pal”, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. One should know Calatrava likes to appear in public in company of the famous. Above all he believes he is not accountable for the bridge´s many points of criticism. If building the bridge has cost more than was originally planned, it is the construction company who is to blame, after all as an architect his responsibility is purely aesthetic. Calatrava likes to forget he has made mistakes in the design of the project, that it was he who did not make the bridge accessible for the disabled and that above all he had acted as an engineering consultant during the building process (apart from an architect Calatrava is also an engineer).
In short, according to Calatrava Calatrava deserved a glamorous inauguration ceremony and not some ungrateful law suit, as is currently the case.
Since the bridge´s inauguration in 2008 dissatisfaction has only risen. The department responsible for its day-to-day maintenance has filed a law suit against Calatrava for an amount of 1,78 million € because of errors in design and building. According to county prosecutor Scarano the birdge shows an “unbelievable chain of errors” that can be traced back to the first stages of the designing process.
One of the main errors is that in the creation of the bridge the effect of the soggy Venetian soil was ignored. Because of this the bridge´s bases are unstable with the weight of the construction pushing it´s ends away (horizontal thrust). For this reason the bridge is known to be “walking” at a speed of 2cm per year, a problem that requires constant monitoring and causes maintenance costs to rise with each year.
Many are the specialists who have come to the rescue. The architect Fernando de Simone believes urgent action is needed to avoid greater problems, the main issue he identifies is the bridge´s slope that is not steep enough. The bridge spans 80,8m over the Grand Canal with a maximum height of 4,67m which gives a span/rise ratio of 17,3:1. Bridges in Venice are traditionally built with much steeper arches with span/rise ratios of around 7:1. If Calatrava had given heed to wisdom from the past the bridge across the Grand Canal should have been at least 11,4m high. In the linked paper Kathryn Heath concludes: “A higher span/rise ratio or changing the proportions of the abutments to take more loading would have reduced the displacement. It seems as though the aesthetic design might have been more of a deciding factor over the final design than the structural implications.”
With the design that values the looks of the bridge over its quality, the bridge may turn out to be more of a short term pleaser than a lasting solution for Venetian transport. This is a common issue for Calatrava´s designs that win the admiration of many who regard his works as pure works of art without looking at their practical use.
Another issue is the bridge´s constant suffering of suitcases used by tourists. This year already 14 steps are being replaced for a price of between 4000€ and 7000€ each. An issue here is that each of the bridge´s steps is unique and needs to be hand-made. Yet another financial setback of this project. But can Calatrava be held responsible? After all, how was he to know that in Venice such an extreme number of tourists would be using his bridge?
A red capsule that seems to have landed straight from a Tintin adventure has made the bridge available for the disabled, tele-transporting the less mobile straight across the Grand Channel.
That´s one issue less…
An interesting article about Calatrava´s choice of glass as walking surface: http://www.heskins.com/blog/slippery-glass-on-venice-bridge/