Posts Tagged ‘Santiago Calatrava’

Ponte di Calatrava, Venice

Ponte di Calatrava, Venice

Ponte della Constituzione, better known as Ponte di Calatrava, opened in 2008. The bridge spans across the Grand Canal at its most northerly point, linking Santa Lucia railway station with the car, bus and ferry terminal at Piazzale Roma. From its inception, the project has polarised opinion, with proponents describing the structure both a ‘carpet of light’ and a ‘lobster’ respectively.

Santiago Calatrava’s design investigates rhythm and transparency. The 94 m single span bridge is achieved using a futuristic structure of glass and steel, which rises from 3.45 m to 9.38 m at the centre.  Stairs are made from toughened glass and istria stone. Each ascending tread becomes progressively wider, forming a curve perpendicular to the span direction. Bronze handrails nimbly vault the Grand Canal, whilst glass panels enclose the bridge deck without obstructing views. At night, illumination in the handrail and beneath the decking, turn the structure into a ribbon of light.

View South along the Grand Canal

Commissioned in 1999, the Ponte di Calatrava is the newest bridge in the city to be constructed in more than 70 years. Venetians first spanned the Grand Canal at Rialto in the 16th century. The Scalzi and Accademia bridges followed later, in the 1930s. Calatrava, a Spanish architect, is well known for projects that fuse Architecture and Engineering, including the City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, and the Tenerife Concert Hall. Although Calatrava has designed over forty bridges worldwide, he believes this his ‘most beautiful’, declaring it ‘an act of love to Venice and of love to Italian civilisation in general’. Aside from linking two important districts, the bridge forms a symbolic gateway to Venice, where visitors leave behind road traffic and enter the domain of vaporetti, motor boats and the gondola. The vista South, along the Grand Canal is particularly key to this transition. The architect believes Venetian bridges ‘serve as landmarks, points of definition in an urban fabric that is utterly unique’. Alongside its function, the bridge has acted as a catalyst, regenerating  the canal side. For example, the abutments provide seating and allow access to the new vaporetto landing stages.

Bridge abutment

Although hailed as ‘the  most important architectural achievement in recent decades’, the Ponte di Calatrava has come under much criticism. The project was completed late and came in four times over budget. Construction had to be halted for two years, due to uncertainty about stability of the canal banks. A further criticism was the lack of disabled access. During the design process, it was always assumed wheelchairs would use the existing vaporetto connection to cross the canal. (Retrofitted lifts have now been installed). The bridge was finally unveiled in September 2008.

As a piece of design, the Ponte di Calatrava both contrasts with and complements its historic context, successfully functioning as the gateway to Venice.