Campus Maastricht – Maastricht (NL)

calatrava maastricht foundationConstruction of the prestigious campus was abandoned after the costs kept increasing. The original budget of 40 million € was soon abandoned. When estimated costs reached 235 million € the housing company pulled the plug on the project because of urgent cash issues, leaving the already invested 66 million € of public money to rot away in the southern Dutch soil. All people involved in the decision making who had hoped for a photo of them standing next to world famous Santiago Calatrava before their prestigious campus, lost their jobs.

In case there was any doubt: Calatrava remained untouched, receiving all his money as if the campus had been completed. He stated he could not be blamed for the rise in costs that caused the fiasco. Of course not.

The Maastricht Campus affair has all the traits of a classic Calatrava disaster: costs that multiply the original budget, an enormous waste of public funds, decision makers that instead of obtaining glory lose their jobs and Santiago Calatrava as the only winner, cashing a large check of public money for another impossible project.

To understand what happened in Maastricht we need to go back to 1995. That year the Dutch government decided that social housing corporations would no longer receive any government funding. Instead housing corporations should be run more businesslike, developing more profitable projects with which costly social housing could be financed.

Servatius looks for projects to make a profit

One of the many housing corporations affected was Servatius in Maastricht. Where it had always focused on building affordable homes to meet the needs of society it all of a sudden needed to develop property to make a profit, something it had no experience with.

In 1999 the university of Maastricht expressed interest in developing a new, high profile campus to attract foreign students. Servatius´ president Leks Verzijlbergh was instantly inspired foreseeing a future of glamour and glory. He decided the campus needed a famous architect and hired Santiago Calatrava, who had developed he TGV railway station in neighboring city Liège that had taken 10 years to build and had cost 312 million €, double of the available budget. Verzijlbergh instantly knew this was the exact guy he needed so in 2000 he asked Calatrava to design a campus that would cost around 40 million €.

verzijlbergh at campus ruins

Former president Leks Verzijlbergh proudly posing next to his Calatrava building as it reached its highest point

The Plan

In 2004 it was officially announced Santiago Calatrava would be designing the new campus that would be built in the Randwyck neighborhood and would consist of a 300 meter long building housing student flats, apartments for university personnel, shops, offices, a sports complex and parking space. The costs of the project had in the meantime risen to 104 million €. The Campus Maastricht was to be completed by 2008.


Billboards announce the new Campus Maastricht

Campus Randwyck Calatrava 04

Campus Maastricht was visualized in a fancy 3D presentation that starts out with the words Vision today, Future tomorrow. Little did they know how different that future would really be.

The project is stopped for a first time

With the total costs of the project rising, Calatrava´s campus attracted national attention. In 2006 minister Dekker ordered the project to stop as she did not believe building the sports hall and office space was part of the housing corporation´s core business.

Campus Randwyck Calatrava 03

The magnificent sports hall that minister Dekker wanted cancelled

Maybe the minister had forgotten that since 1995 it had been the government itself that was forcing housing corporations out of their core business by making them responsible for earning their own funds. One year later new minister Ella Vogelaar decided building the sports complex and the office space was no problem. After the financing structure has been changed she allowed Servatius to continue its plans even though the total costs were already budgeted at 130 million €.

The project is stopped again

With all political barriers out of the way building was finally started in 2008, the year that the campus should have been finished according to the first plans. 300 trees were cut and a sports complex demolished to allow for the foundations of the spectacular new campus to be laid. But again things did not go as planned. In the spring of 2009 Servatius president Leks Verzijlbergh was stripped of his powers because he had taken too many financial risks in the development of the campus plans. In the summer of that year building activities were halted and shortly after Tjeu Blommaert, professor of economics at Maastricht´s university, left the social housing company´s board of control after leading it for only nine weeks. Something was definitely wrong.

Campus Randwyck Calatrava 02

The cosy student living units on poles above the water had looked so good…

Blommaert publicly announced an explosive situation: Building the campus would costs 200 million € but no contract has been signed, leaving housing corporation Servatius liable for a large part of the 200 million €. Blommaert: “So far no contract has been signed with a client. It´s more adventuring than entrepreneuring.” According to Blommaert, senior members of the board of control were unwilling to accept time was running out before the Calatrava campus project would ruin the social housing corporation. The board members had enjoyed being part of such an ambitious project but were not willing to admit that in the meantime they had not been paying attention.


Every prestige product needs a phallus: The 60 meter high living units for university employees had seemed such a good idea…

Even after Blommaert´s declaration board members at first refused to accept their mistakes. They finally stepped down because, in the words of one of them, board member Harry Fekkers: “The sudden change in the economic climate has made it clear that too many risks have been taken. This has happened under our supervision so we are accepting our responsibility.” “Accepting our responsibility” meant leaving the board, it did not mean board members were prepared to face any personal financial measures to make up for the huge losses they had caused.

Choosing Calatrava was a mistake

duco stadig

The minister of housing sent an external supervisor

The costs of building the campus kept going up and were asteemed at 235 million € by November 2009 when Duco Stadig, who had been brought in as external supervisor to assess the project, concluded that choosing Calatrava as the architect had been an error. “If you are rich and have all this money in your wallet, it is something you can do. Very near in the City of Liège he has built a beautiful railway station but it has cost double of what was planned…” “This guy (Calatrava) makes very beautiful buildings, let´s be clear on that, but he has to be paid from the budget for a sports hall and some student rooms … and that does not match in size of project. If you want to build rooms for students and a sporting facility, then that is what you need to and you will just make it (money wise). Housing corporations don´t usually have much money. They have been over-ambitious.”

With the project dead the hunt for a culprit started. Basically two things had lead to the Maastricht campus disaster: the ever-rising costs (from 40 million € to more than 200 million €) and the disastrous organization structure of social housing company Servatius that allowed the project to snow-ball out of control. When Spainish newspaper La Vanguardia reported the city of Maastricht had stopped building the Calatrava campus because of its high costs, Calatrava studios´ Mike Pfisterer wrote to the newspaper:

calatrava y maastricht carta a la vanguardia

“We would like to respond to the article “Maastricht stops building a Calatrava design because of its high cost” (12/XI/2009). On 11 November Santiago Calatrava´s studios were informed (first by the press and later by a representative of the housing corporation) that the building of the Maastricht Campus had been cancelled by Dutch housing corporation Servatius. The press release by Servatius indicates that in the last year the costs have risen by 35 million € which made the company decide to cancel the project. The press release associates the risen costs with a rise in the construction costs of the project. This is not correct. At the beginning of 2008 building costs were budgeted at 124 million €. A second independent report that was executed at Servatius request confirms that construction costs have not risen since that moment. In fact the only way Santiago Calatrava´s offices knew of the estimated costs by means of this report. Up till now Servatius has not asked us to revise the project to reduce costs even though we suggested to Servatius and to the city of Maastricht that we could look into means to save costs. No rise of the costs is related with extra added costs that we know of, nor can they have been caused by the offices of Santiago Calatrava and they can therefore only be seen as the direct result of bad project management by Servatius.” (translation by Thefullcalatrava)

The article was followed by a legal threat to Servatius by Calatrava, urging the housing corporation to release an official statement that Calatrava was not responsible for the risen costs (it is unclear if they meant the rise of 35 million € in 2008 or the rise from 40 million € to more than 200 million € for the whole project since Calatrava joined the project in 2000). Apparently intimidated by Calatrava´s threats, Servatius sent out a letter to Calatrava declaring that the risen costs of the project were not his fault. Instead, the costs that had so run out of hand were blamed on something unclear and abstract: According to Servatius costs had risen by 100 million € because of the financial construction. Who was responsible for this financial construction? How could a financial construction increase the costs of a project of initially 40 million by € 100 million €? Servatius´ declaration did not make sense.

Campus Randwyck Calatrava 01

Calatrava´s building was actually quite cheap: It wasn´t the building that cost money, it was its financial construction.

One thing Servatius´ letter did clearly state is that the architect Calatrava was not to blame for the project´s failure. Calatrava therefore reasoned that if the project was cancelled because of other people´s mistakes, he should be paid the complete sum (10,25%) that he would have received if the campus had not been cancelled. Servatius did not agree, they believed Calatrava should only be paid for the work on the project that had actually been built. May 2011 a judge decided Calatrava was in the right and ordered Servatius to pay him another 4 million €. Here Calatrava was lucky in The Netherlands social housing corporations like Servatius are public offices. Most commercial property promoters would have gone bankrupt, leaving Calatrava without his money, but Servatius was allowed a loan of 100 million € of public funds to avoid this. 4 millions of this public money was directly transferred to Calatrava´s Swiss bank account.

Servatius should never have started the project

Calatrava may have gotten the financial retributions he wanted but the Maastricht campus disaster left Servatius struggling to avoid bankruptcy. By 2010 it was allowed an emergency loan of 100 million € from a Dutch national fund for social housing. It also had to sell 1800 social housing units to cover for the financial effects of the campus affair. The total loss by Servatius on the campus project was calculated in 2012 at 79,9 million €. This was far less than the 100 million € plus revenues of the sale of 1800 housing units. So why did Servatius need that much money in 2010? The reason is that, like most social housing corporations, Servatius was not making money. Instead of earning money to pay for social housing projects themselves, as the Dutch government had so intelligently decided in 1995, housing corporations were losing money. So even apart from the failed campus plans, Servatius was not a financially healthy organization. The obvious conclusion is president Verzijlbergh should never have embarked on the ambitious campus project in the first place. Until today Mr Verzijlbergh does not share this vision. He accuses the new Servatius board of a lack of vision.

Lousy decision makers are taken to court

Following the conclusion that the social housing corporation should never have planned such an expensive and high-risk project, the new Servatius board of control were looking for ways to claim 67 million € from former president Leks Verzijlbergh and eight members of the former board of control. Where often decision makers are allowed to walk away without receiving any personal punishment for their errors, Servatius have taken them to court.

campus stopped 2011

The state of Calatrava´s campus in 2011 reflects the financial health of the building coroporation that hired him.

Dutch minister of internal affairs Liesbeth Spies agreed that the responsible people should be taken to court. For this reason she explicitely forbode Servatius to reach an agreement with Verzijlbergh outside of court as she valued the case as an important precedent for similar cases in the future. By doing this she hoped at least something good would come from this affair. In 2013 new responsible minister Stef Blok revoked this decision and allowed for talks between Servatius and Verzijlbergh. In practice these talks have not lead to any results, the main reason being that former president Verzijlbergh does not have the millions that Servatius asks of him. For this reason he believes the whole juridicial procedure is a political showdown. He is right of course, it ìs a political process. One that aims to stop people like him from wasting large sums of public money. In November 2013 a judge declared Verzijlbergh guilty and ordered him to pay a compensation of 10 million €.

New plans for a new future

14 years after the University of Maastricht first expressed its desire for a new, modern campus it is left with nothing. But there´s a light at the end of the tunnel: Maastricht University, Servatius and the Municipality of Maastricht have reached agreement on the construction of a new University Sports Centre and a redesign of the existing campus. The foundations of the old Calatrava project will be covered by a meter of earth on which a sports hall will be built that looks like… well a sports hall.


The new, affordable design for a sports hall. Not by Calatrava as connoisseurs can tell.



Calatrava Towers – Valencia (Spain)


The over-ambitious plan by Calatrava to place 3 skyscrapers next to Valencia´s Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (CAC), The skyscrapers were never built but Calatrava received a handsome amount of public funding for a couple of paper models.

Esteemed cost of the complete project: 450 million €

Real cost: 15 million €

The Plan

In November 2004 Santiago Calatrava, accompanied by the president of the region Valencia Francisco Camps and by Valencian mayoress Rita Barberá, presented the plan of erecting 4 brand new sky-scrapers next to the Valencian Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (CAC). The general impression was that by selling the four new Calatrava towers, the city of Valencia hoped to gain a little cash to cover the losses incurred by the building of the CAC whose Calatrava designed buildings amounted to a total cost of 1.300 million €, surpassing the original budget of 300 million by a billion Euros. What better way to fix the cashflow of one Calatrava project than by taking on another?


Calatrava presents  the second version (3 towers) of his multi-million paper models in company of mayoress Rita Barberá (left) and president Francisco Camps (right).

Soon after the project´s presentation its four towers were changed into three higher ones:

  • The Torre Alicante: 58 stories and 220 meters high
  • The Torre Castellón: 70 stories and 266 meters high
  • The Torre Valencia: 80 stories and with 308 meters the highest in Spain

The first two towers would house offices and a hotel while the latter would contain expensive appartment blocks, not unlike Calatrava´s Turning Torso tower in Malmö, Sweden, that seems to turns around its axes in a similar way the three Spanish towers would.

Two versions

The project started off with 4 towers soon to change into one of 3 higher towers. The 4-tower version was first presented in 2004  in company of mayoress Rita Barberá and president Francisco Camps, the 3-tower version was presented in February 2005 with the same people present. Many internet sources seem to have forgotten these first stages of this project, often accompanying the initial 4-tower event with a picture from the 3-tower one. The photos show that various models have been built. At least some-one on the Calatrava team had to work hard for the money…

Four towers


Close-up of the original 4-tower project


The four towers in harmony with next door Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias


Joking among friends

Three towers


Three towers on a small scale


“You push a button and they grow!”


Same large scale towers, different venue


From the beginning the project met with scepticism: wasn´t this a bit too ambitious? Why three or four towers at once instead of starting with one and thus spreading the financial risk? Was the dry river bed of the Rio Turia really the best place for the project? -When I was a child, I often went camping with my parents my father used to teach me common sense by instructing me not to put up my tent at low points or near a river bed for the risk of flooding. Calatrava probably never went camping.

Also people wondered about Calatrava´s obsession with height: was it really necessary to build that high? Of course the towers´ height would grant them exclusivity -and who would not want to live in a unique, Calatrava-designed tower of record height? A year after the project´s presentation the contract with Calatrava was finally signed.

Why not in Valencia?

Even though the project was deemed impossible, critics had to acknowledge Caltrava had managed to pull off a project of similar size -well, maybe just a little bit smaller- in Sweden. In Malmö Calatrava had built the Turning Torso tower of 190 meters height while succeeding to stay within only three times the budgeted cost (costing a total 1600 million Swedish Krona instead of the esteemed 550 million). With this success in mind, building three Calatrava towers would surely be Valencia´s winning lottery ticket.

So, if Malmö could build one, why couldn´t Valencia build three? There are some reasons why not:
·         There was no solid financial basis to build the towers. Here was a plan with no money: Who was going to finance it?

·         The city did not need the towers´ fancy apartments or hotels.

·        Let´s not forget that constructing only one tower in “well organised” Sweden had already proved quite a feat. No doubt constructing three towers in chaotic and corrupt Valencia would be worse.

·         With the ending of the construction bubble and the beginning of the financial crisis apartment blocks would soon lose their value. A perfect example of what might have happened can be found in the same city.


Local football heroes Valencia CF decided to finance their new stadium (Nou Mestalla) with the future sale of their old (Mestalla). The result is a half-finished stadium on a building site that lies abandoned since 2009 and a football club with debts of around 300 million €.

So even beforehand chances weren´t good. Then what happened?

Before 2004

Already in1994 the city of Valencia had disowned the grounds it later destined for the Calatrava Towers as part of the project for the CAC. The owner of the grounds, a film production company was paid an amount of 3 million € in pesetas for the terrain and its buildings. The terrain was left without any permanent use until 2004 when Calatrava came up with a new plan for it. Calatrava directly presented it to his good friends in politics who instantly accepted, they returned the favor by naming Calatrava the architect who would be allowed to execute a plan on the mentioned terrain. No other architects were given the chance to present their own (cheaper, more prestigious?) projects for the same grounds. Striking the iron while it was hot Calatrava quickly produced a couple of paper models that were presented to the press and cashed his first check of 2,6 million € for them. According to Francisco Camps, the democratically voted president of the Generalitat –the regional government- this was the only money that was paid to Calatrava for the project.


After 2004

According to Gerardo Camps (not related, as far as I know), a local big shot of the reigning Partido Popular and named in various major corruption scandals, Calatrava handed in a completely finished project for the three towers as early as in 2005. A plan, however, that no-one has ever seen. The next logical step would have been to invite interested construction companies to present their offers for building the towers. This never happened.

A minor detail in the eyes of the project´s initiators but one that had to be surmounted was the development plan for the area that reserved 45.000m2 for a social housing project. As social housing requires apartments to be sold or let for as little money as possible this did not fit in well with in the prestigious Calatrava project. The Valencian government managed to erase the social housing from the map, although the legality of the procedures that were used is still being disputed, paving the road for the construction of the luxurious Calatrava towers.

Before officially opening up the project for construction companies that were interested in building the towers, the Valencian government tried to find a partner that would guarantee it would buy the completed towers for at least 300 million €. This to avoid the government would pay constructors for the building of the three towers without being able to sell the completed towers to a buyer. As time went by without a buyer in sight the Calatrava towers seemed to have gone up into thin air.

The project silently disappears

Ever since 2006 the project has silently disappeared only to unexpectedly resurface every now and then. The original owners of the grounds as early as 1994 have protested the illegality of the procedures by which they were evicted claiming that the 3,5 million € they received for the grounds were not their real value. Otherwise how could it be possible that what was once valued at 3 million € by the government was in 2012 being put up for sale by that same government for 289 million €?

The Calatrava towers, be it as models, had been main features on the 2004 and 2005 Valencian real estate exhibition Urbe Desarrollo but in 2006 they were removed from the city´s exhibition stand even though the project was officially still a reality.

The government´s official position by name of consellera Lola Johnson still is that it is “working on the project to get the best price and highest financial gain.” Does this mean the regional government has become a real estate speculator itself, waiting for prices to go up again after the current financial crisis? Or has the government really given up on the project but needs it esteemed value to fill gaps in the region´s yearly budget? In 2011 the purely hypothetical sale of the grounds, including Calatrava´s project,  figured as income on the local government´s official budget for an amount of 416 million €, thus masking part of the region´s disastrous financial situation. Of course nothing happened, no sale was done and these 416 million € never materialized. In spite of this the grounds and project appeared again on the 2012 budget, be it this time for only 289 million €. What made the building ground lose 125 million € worth in one year? And why had it not been sold as planned? The truth is, of course, that the terrains were only used in an act of creative accounting by Valencia´s local government.

Calatrava decides

By 2013 the expected sale of the grounds and Calatrava´s project (those paper models, remember?) have been taken off the local government´s budget. Although apparently the sale is no longer expected, one thing has become clear: any interested buyer will be negotiating with Calatrava himself. In the original contract Calatrava signed in 2005 with the Valencian government, he negotiated that in case of sale of the grounds, the buyer would buy the grounds including the project for Calatrava´s three towers. In case the buyer was not planning on proceeding with building them, he would need to negotiate with Calatrava about a new use, meaning the buyer should either hire Calatrava for a new project or he should pay him a large sum of money to let go of his right to decide about the ground´s use.

In other words: in order to cover the debt Valencia incurred by building the unfinished Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias (CAC) that was designed by Santiago Calatrava and that cost 1,4 billion € instead of the planned 300 million, a possible buyer for the grounds at which the Calatrava towers were planned will need to negotiate with the very same Calatrava that has already cost the Valencian community so much money.

“All right,” one might say, “but this right to negotiate with an interested buyer is a way for Calatrava to compensate for his project not being carried out and the financial loss this means for him.” What financial loss? For the three towers that were never built and for which no design exists beside the paper models, Calatrava already cashed 15 million € (Correct, this is significantly more than the 2,6 million that were mentioned by provincial president and Calatrava´s buddy Francisco Camps. We will get to that). The towers´ project was invented to make up for the financial losses of the Ciudad de las Artes (CAC) that went roughly a billion Euros over budget and for which Calatrava received 10% of the total construction costs (Indeed: Calatrava tends to put in his contracts a fee of 10% of the final costs and not of the budget, meaning that the more expensive his project becomes the more money he gets). In short, there is no need to feel sorry, with these millions of public money on his bank account it is unlikely Calatrava will suffer starvation in the near future.

Although consellera Johnson insists that the Calatrava Towers remain a life project, in harmony with nearby Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias and that the province aims to sell to the highest bidder, the fictitious towers are likely to remain an abandoned wasteland, in harmony with the province of Valencia´s bank accounts.

Before the court

Being politically powerless against the absolute majority of Valencia´s Partido Popular members of left wing party EU (Esquerra Unida) have taken the case to court where it was shelved because Spanish law “does not consider wasting public funds a crime”. Preliminary investigations did however bring to light something that Valencia´s president Francisco Camps had tried to keep hidden from the public: Calatrava had received a total of 15 million Euros for the project that consisted of nothing more than some paper models of the towers:

30 September 2005: 2,6 million €

30 March 2006: 6,2 million € for the project´s second pre-phase (whatever is meant by that)

30 August 2006: 137.000€ for the three models of 2004 (Wait, hadn´t they already been paid in 2005? Probably this regards the second version of the project: the model with 3 instead of 4 towers)

28 February 2007: 6,2 million € for the project´s third pre-phase (sure, add another pre-phase)

President Francisco Camps until then had always claimed Calatrava had only received 2,6 million Euros of public money. In Spain politicians do not tend to be transparent about the way public money is spent and no legal obligations exist for them to do so. Needless to say not a single politician left office because of the 15 million that could have been spent on unfinished hospitals, schools or other social improvements that Valencia desperately needs but went into the pocket of Santiago Calatrava for a job that beforehand was deemed impossible and was never carried out. Partido Popular politicians have underlined the whole process has been completely legal because “in every moment the one who decides is the one who is allowed to decide”, he who has the “responsibility to govern” has to decide. In other words: giving the project to Calatrava was legal because we (the Partido Popular) were allowed to decide. Or in even other words: We can do what the %&+#!; we want. Be it nepotism or not.

The case of the three unbuilt Calatrava towers is a sad example of typical political attitudes that have lead Spain into its current economical crisis.

What is left

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The metal wings of Calatrava´s Agora lay abandoned on the grounds of the Calatrava towers. “In a perfect state” according to consellera Lola Johnson.

The grounds that were chosen for the construction of the three Calatrava Towers are now nothing but a wasteland where 1388 tons of expensive hydraulic metal wings of nearby Agora (one of the unfinished buildings of Calatrava´s infamous Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias) are rotting away waiting for metal thiefs and vandals. Consellera Lola Johnson however denied this. According to her the Agora´s wings wings are a metal structure that weighs tons that is being kept in a perfectly secured and closed place… The wings are being well looked after and in a perfect state.” The picture above be the judge of Mrs. Johnson´s credibility.


Partido Popular politician Lola Johnson, so shamelessly lying I just had to look her up. To the left president Camps, again.

Officially the Agora will still be completed by placing the (scrap) metal as its hydraulically mobile wings. But as often is the case when Caltrava designs his building to move, the moving parts are scrapped from the project or turn out not to work (for example the Obelisc in Madrid, the roof of the WTC hub in New York). The same will happen with the Agora that no-one believes will ever be finished and whose crown is left to rot away on the corpse of yet another abandoned-but-expensive Calatrava project.


Ponte della Costituzione – Venice (IT)


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.

Ponte_della_Costituzione_Panoramafoto (1)

Behold the Ponte della Costituzione in its full glory.

Unbelievable mistakes

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.

koffers en kapot glas

Easily damaged

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?

zitje voor gehandicapten 3

Tintin´s professor Calculus has designed a futuristic solution for the disabled.

Miracle Capsule

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…

Interesting links:

An interesting article about Calatrava´s choice of glass as walking surface: