Lawsuit gives rise to new bridge of sighs in Venice

After endless criticism over its aesthetic, its durability and even its accessibility for the disabled,Santiago Calatrava faces legal action as a result of alleged deficiencies in the construction

Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava, must be ruing the day he decided to construct his bridge over Venice’s Grand Canal, the lagoon city’s first new crossing in over 70 years.

On its inauguration in September 2008, he described the Constitution Bridge as his “most beautiful bridge” and “an act of love for Venice, and for Italian culture in general”.

Italians – and Venetians –have never shown much gratitude, however. After endless criticism over its aesthetic, its durability and even its accessibility for the disabled, the “starchitect” now faces legal action as a result of alleged deficiencies in the construction.

In the latest development, it’s emerged that the city council is suing him for the €463,000 (£384,000) that the controversial structure has already cost it in necessary repairs and improvements since the original plans were presented.

The Corriere della Sera newspaper said yesterday demand for compensation was “inevitable” after the fifth inquiry into the bridge, this time conducted by experts from Turin University, highlighted the extra costs provoked by the need to revise the original design.

The council’s move follows the notice last August from Rome’s audit court that it is seeking €3.8m in compensation in what it says were extra costs to the taxpayer due to “gross errors” in the Constitution’s design.

Although very different from the extravagant constructs in cities such as Dublin, Athens and Buenos Aires that made Calatrava’s name, the modern but deliberately discreet structure over the Grand Canal was nonetheless criticised for failing to fit in with its medieval surroundings. The complaint that, at way over the budgeted €11m, it cost too much did sound familiar, however. The controversy grew when it was pointed out that the bridge’s series of long steps meant it was virtually unusable for people in wheelchairs.

Six years on, an ungainly looking pod attached to the side of the bridge is now able to ferry the wheelchair-bound across the canal. But that too has been criticised as undignified, and as resembling a fairground ride. It seems local love for the Grand Canal’s fifth bridge is as far away as ever.

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