Calatrava sues for 'violation of copyright' over bridge changes

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Santiago Calatrava's steel and glass Campo Volantin footbridge has become as distinctive a part of the Bilbao skyline as the nearby Guggenheim Museum.

But in a spirited defence of his artistic integrity, the Spanish architect is suing the city of Bilbao for €3m (£2m) for violation of copyright, for allowing an extension to the bridge to be built by another star architect.

The Japanese architect Arata Isozaki designed an extension to the 10-year-old footbridge to connect with his recently completed riverside housing development nearby. The court case has prompted a heated debate over whether a public building can be deemed a work of art.

Calatrava is renowned worldwide for his soaring, airy bridges, and, in the case presented by lawyers in Bilbao's law courts yesterday, he claims that the new link "breaks the symmetry of the bridge, clumsily distorts the design... and damages the integrity of his work". He is demanding €250,000 compensation and the dismantling of Isozaki's extension, or, if the new link remains, - €3m for "moral damages".

Initially ridiculed for "leading from nowhere to nowhere", Calatrava's footbridge is beautiful, but not exactly user-friendly. Its limpid glass floor tiles, designed to reflect the grey-green waters of the river Nervion that flow beneath, are notoriously slippery when wet. For 10 years residents and visitors have complained of skidding and tumbling.

The city authorities who approved Isozaki's housing complex and his bridge link vigorously disagree. "The paintings of Goya are works of art; a bridge is for people to walk on," insisted Bilbao's mayor, Iñaki Azkuna. Without the bridge link, pedestrians would have to walk down to the old riverside jetty, then up two flights of steps. Mr Askuna concedes that a metre of banister was removed from Calatrava's bridge to accommodate Isozaki's extension, but reckons "this has no negative impactwhatsoever upon Calatrava's work", and that the structures co-exist harmoniously.

Calatrava's lawyer, Fernando Villalonga, thinks otherwise. "This mustn't happen, because in this country, architecture, like other arts, is protected by intellectual property rights," he said.

Mr Villalonga accused the town hall of "cheek, arrogance and ignorance". To which Mr Azkuna countered that all 560 glass tiles of Calatrava's bridge have cracked over the years, ravaged by the extremes of climate, and had to be replaced at the cost to taxpayers of €200,000. "If it's his intellectual property, let him take his intellectual property," fumed Mr Azkuna in the spring, when Calatrava launched his suit. "We've had enough of the dictatorship of Calatrava saying we can't touch his little bridge. We've had enough of this superstar."

Isozaki has stood his ground. "We don't know what arrangement Calatrava has with the town hall," said the Japanese architect's office in Barcelona. "Isozaki thinks that in architecture it is very difficult to seek author's rights because we're talking about a work for public use, so how can you claim intellectual property?"

The judge is expected to rule on the matter shortly.

The case comes days after Calatrava's grandiose Arts Palace inValencia was flooded after torrential rainstorms. Mud jammed the stage machinery last week, causing the startof a star-studded opera season to be postponed for a fortnight and some performances cancelled.

The Calatrava portfolio


Oriente rail and bus terminal, on the city's former Expo site, designed to look like a forest of palm trees.


Turning Torso, a 54-storey tower block, winner of 2005 Emporis Skyscraper Award.


The harp-shaped Alamillo Bridge and La Cartuja viaduct marked the city's Expo92.


High-speed train station is designed to look like a bird about to take flight.


The Olympic stadium was the showpiece of the 2004 Games but it came in late and significantly over budget.


The harp bridge (Gesher Hametarim) is part of a new rail project in the city, due to be completed next year.


New bridge over the Grand Canal, near the Rialto.