Architect fined for Venice bridge failings

Architect fined for Venice bridge failings

Valencia-based architect Santiago Calatrava is being fined US$87,000 for his work on the Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge) in Venice.

An Italian court ruled that the Spaniard must pay the city for cost overruns and “negligence” in the faulty design of the 94-metre steel and glass bridge that is apparently weaker and more slippery than intended.

Its width varies from 5.6m to 9.4m.

The court said there had been errors in its design and was meant to have cost €7 million but ended up costing €11.6 million.

The court said the bridge’s mistakes were “all the more serious” because the project had been conducted by “a respected, world-famous professional, with a very high level of competence, with wide and proven experience in bridge construction”.

The decision overturned a 2015 ruling by the court which cleared Calatrava of responsibility for the extra costs.

Completed in 2008, the bridge has been criticised for its lack of accessibility for wheelchair users, the contrast between its sleek, contemporary design and historic Venice and its proximity to three other footbridges that span the Grand Canal.

It was the first bridge to be built in central Venice for 125 years.

After years of delays, the US$12.9-million bridge now links a bus terminal in Santa Croce to the Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia.

Users have criticised how slippery the stairs get when wet and that they are wearing down.

Some glass steps have already been replaced, according to the judges, even though they were expected to last 20 years.

The steps are hammered each day by tens of thousands of tourists who arrive at the bus terminal, with many of them pulling wheeled suitcases.

The court determined that the steel tubes used on the bridge were too small and the egg-shaped glass lift (pictured), which was subsequently added for accessibility, overheated and had to be removed.

In 2008 Calatrava said his studio had nothing to do with the construction of the platform for wheelchair users which was completed by the Venetian authorities.

Responding to criticism a decade ago, he said he had been responsible for its design, not its execution.

“My work is limited to the aesthetic. I had no influence on the selection of the contracting company that built the structure. A lot of things have happened that are out of my hands,” the architect said.

Calatrava also denied any material weaknesses. He added: “The bridge was checked with sophisticated methods, which determined that it has a solid structure which is behaving better than expected.”

The architect has won many international awards and completed projects, including the Turning Torso tower in Malmo, Sweden, and the World Trade Centre Transport Hub in New York.

The wheelchair lift. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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