AD Interviews: Santiago Calatrava

Pratt 2012 Commencement. Photo by René Perez.

Earlier this week, Pratt Institute extended an invitation to the ArchDaily team to attend their 123rd commencement, celebrating the achievements of 1300 bachelor’s and master’s degree candidates at Radio City Music Hall. The event also marked a special day of recognition for four honorary degree recipients: artist/curator/critic Ai Weiwei, architect, engineer and artist Santiago Calatrava, patron on the arts and education Kathryn Chenault, and the Metropoitan Museum of Art’s longest-serving director Philippe de Montebello.

We were privileged to have an opportunity to congratulate Mr. Calatrava on his doctor of architecture degree, and pose ArchDaily’s traditional interview questions.   Mr. Calatrava’s contributions to the professions of architecture and engineering can be found scattered across the world, and bring a sense of dynamism that result from the merge between art and technology, expression and functionality.

Calatrava’s charm and good humor made for a friendly conversation that we hope you enjoy.

AD: What is architecture?

Courtesy of The City of Calgary

SC: For me, architecture is an art….the same as painting is an art or sculpture is an art.  Yet, architecture moves a step beyond painting and sculpture because it is more than using materials.  Architecture  responds to functional outputs and environmental factors.  Yet, fundamentally, it is important for me to stress the art in architecture to bring harmony.

AD: What should be the role of architects in our society?

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain via

SC: The concept of an “architect” is one of the oldest professions in the world.  Whereas, some professions, such as a “lawyer”, have their roots in Latin, “Archi – tecton” is actually a Greek word, and much older.  Just knowing how old the profession is gives me hope that we will still exist for years to come, even if we are changing.

The architect is very interesting because the architect is the commander, meaning the one who commands all the workers.  The architect is also the music director and composer…he cannot play each instrument, but he needs to understand and embody the sense of each part.  The architect holds much knowledge, but is not a specialist.   Especially with the computer and technology, the amount of knowledge an architect possesses keeps on growing.  But, the most beautiful part is that the architect is not only the director, but he is the composer.  And, as a composer, the architect brings a sense of creativity to each building.

AD: We just shared the opening of your Dallas Bridge with our readers, and we are always finding your work to be progressive. What is the importance of innovation in your work?

Dallas Bridge. Photo by Brett Chisum

SC: Technology is a vocabulary and a language in which you can say many things.  Technology is constantly changing and brings you automatically into the present.  In that way, it automatically makes you build for this time.  Technology, also, is an important element in progress.  See, we can always do something better.  We can improve water technology, or energy efficiency… there is always progress forward using technology and that’s where innovation starts.

AD: What would you recommend to a future architecture student when looking for a school?

Gare do Oriente. Courtesy of Flickr CC License / bezaleel31. Used under Creative Commons

SC: What each school offers is something unique.  But, there are two types of activity an architect must be educated on.  First, the architect needs concentrated activities to learn the guidelines, and that is what school is for.  But, second, is the public aspect of education.  The architect needs to see architecture in the streets to learn….like in the streets of Rome or even in New York…both, great cities.  The architect needs to learn to see, and to open his eyes because there is always a lesson to learn from the streets.

AD: So, do you feel as though you are continually learning?

SC: Yes, of course! Actually, if you look at the works of the great architects of our time, you can see that their most beautiful works are always their later works – Kahn, Corbusier, even Gehry.  Later works are better because it takes a lot of time in architecture to mature.  And, it takes a lot of discipline to experience everything that is changing around you.

AD: From your experience, what can you tell us about running an office?

WTC Transit Hub via the Port Authority

SC: I can say that I focus on having small offices.  I have an office in New York and one in Switzerland, and we are 80 people….we are not only architects, but also engineers.  So, small, but very efficient.

I think it is important to be present in the places where you are working.  It is not only about doing a project, but following the project through its construction.  For me, I love the construction process and it is always important because we try to experiment and do something new, so the builders are not copying any technique from other projects.  Everything is innovative and so I need to be there and be attentive to make sure everything is running smoothly.

After our interview, Mr. Calatrava went on to address the 1,300 graduates of Pratt.  In his commencement address, Calatrava appealed to the creative minds of the Institute, offering the young professionals advice with deep historical roots.

Pratt Commencement. Photo by René Perez.

“Vitruvius…the great writer, architect and engineer. He identified in his famous treatise on Architecture that the three values essential to any work of Architecture were: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas; or firmness, utility, and delight. Firmness meaning well built, solid and resistant; utility meaning useful and functional, and delight meaning beautiful. Later, in the renaissance Danielle Barbaro, & a humanist and patron of the architect Andréa Palladio, compared  Vitruvius’  qualities of Architecture – those required of the building with three equivalent qualities he believed required of human beings; tenacity, goodness and intelligence. Barbaro equated firmness in a building to tenacity in a person. As a building is resistant to forces acting upon it, a person must be equally tenacious in life. The way is not always easy, but in order to bring a work through to completion, you will need a strong character, a broad foundation of knowledge and an enormous force of persuasion…These three qualities I recommend to you; tenacity, goodness, and intelligence. They are as valuable today as they were in the time of the ancient Greeks, Romans and during the renaissance. They will help make you good professionals.”

Special thanks to Pratt for the opportunity to meet with Mr. Calatrava, and congratulations to the class of 2012.  We wish you much success in all your endeavors.

About this author
Cite: Karen Cilento. "AD Interviews: Santiago Calatrava" 11 May 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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