CALATRAVA CALLED OUT

Turning Torso, Malmö

Turning Torso, Malmö

The front page of today’s New York Times carries a scathing indictment of Santiago Calatrava’s buildings. The solidly researched article chronicles a record of work that is over-budget, poorly constructed, and in some cases downright dangerous to users. Many engineers have been skeptical of Calatrava’s approach to design, which seems to glamorize structure, while not making a whole lot of structural sense. I had this feeling when I saw his residential tower in Malmö, Sweden, portentously called Turning Torso. The 54-story building on the Öresund Strait is intended to be a landmark, and indeed, from a distance (crossing the 5-mile-long bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark), it is an impressive site, a tall twisting form. Close-up is something else again. The structural “spine” that supposedly braces the building appears a decorative add-on; the trapedzoidal windows look not interesting but odd; and the details are unresolved and crude. The tower was built by HSB, a Swedish cooperative housing association. I was told that the elevated construction cost (reported as $250 million), meant that sales of the 147 apartments were so slow that the building had to be converted to rental. HSB suffered serious losses, and its managing director was sentenced to jail time for fraud, although he was later cleared on appeal. As for Calatrava, he got away scot-free. Until today.

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