Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Valencia Loses its Shine...

Palau de las Artes Reina Sofia.

The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) is the 'crown-jewel' of modern Valencia. At the eastern end of the (now dry) River Turía bed, it stands like a collection of recently-landed space craft. The Museo de las Ciencias and the Hemisferic are impressive buildings, but the most spectacular of all is the Palau de las Arts Reina Sofia (the Queen Sofia Opera House). Designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava and opened in 2006, its white-tiled facade glitters brightly in the sunlight...

Museo de las Ciencias.

Hemisferic (left) and the Palau de las Artes Seina Sofia.

Well, it used to...

In 2013 parts of the tiled covering began to buckle, and then fall off. The cause of the problem (and therefore the target of the finger of blame) is fiercely disputed. Some point to recent high winds while others cite the heat, as if a modern retelling of the 'Sun verses Wind' fable was being played out in the centre of Valencia.  In an update to the tale, yet others blame 'the wrong type of glue' (used to stick the white ceramic tiles onto the steel shell).  

A decision was quickly taken to remove all the remaining tiles for safety reasons, and in little more than a fortnight a team of workers scaled the walls and ripped them off.


... and after.

As the financial crisis has hit Spain, Valencia has suffered more than many other areas. The City of Arts and Sciences was dubbed an expensive 'white elephant' by many even before the economy collapsed. But Calatrava's problems don't end in Valencia; a string of other 'prestige' projects are also turning sour. 

The 'Ysios' winery, near the Basque town of Laguardia, has a stunning undulating roof... which is leaking. In Oviedo, his Palacio de Congresos cost him over 3 million euros in compensation when part of the roof collapsed. The Zubizuri bridge in Bilbao has had its glass walkway covered in black matting to prevent people slipping on it when it rains, while another bridge (over the Grand Canal in Venice) needed expensive repair work and has provoked a 4 million-euro claim from the Italian Treasury. 

Ysios winery's beautiful (leaking) roof.

Back in Valencia, a local politician (Ignacio Blanco) has a website showcasing what he claims to be Calatrava's (many) faults. http://www.calatravatelaclava.com/ loosely translates as 'Calatrava bleeds you dry'. 

The 'starchitect' isn't taking all this criticism passively. Far from it; the Spanish newspaper El País recently reported that he's moved all his money to Switzerland. http://elpais.com/elpais/2012/12/12/inenglish/1355319328_137072.html

So, if the local Valencian is planning on making himself (and his money) scarce, at least he will leave the city of Valencia with a reminder of the times when the money flowed freely. 

Maybe not a such white elephant after all, more a traditional grey one.

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  1. Hi, I stumbled across your site as I searched for traditional Spanish hotels in the Peniscola area. Great pictures.... and I purchased your book from Amazon.... I'll get back to my search soon!

    When did this happen to Palau de las Arts Reina Sofia? We were in Valencia in October 2013 and it was brilliant white at that time. If it is still grey now, are there plans to return it to its former glory?

    Many thanks.

  2. I took these photos just before posting the comment, so about a month ago. The row over the tiles has been simmering for over a year however, when it was first noticed that there were 'bulges', and then when they started falling off. There's quite an argument going on between the architect and the builders over who should pay, and for what... Calatrava is still blaming the builders and they him. A very recent newspaper report claims that Calatrava seems to be losing that fight, but it could go on and on.
    As to what they're going to do, I was in Valencia yesterday and I noticed 5 or 6 square patches, low down on the southern face, each about 10 metres square, at a very rough guess. (I was on the tour-bus at the time, enjoying a treat I'd promised myself for 8 years!) It looked it me like they were 'tests', maybe for different types of white paint with which to cover the metal. They were varying shades of white, maybe they're testing to see which lasts/looks the best. I'll have a dig and ask a few friends who live there to see if I can find more. Certainly there was talk of painting it white. Next time I'm in town I'll have my camera ready and add a snap to the blog to carry on the saga.
    Hope you enjoy the book, and Peñiscola, which is a stunning little town. And make sure you take a day-trip into the hills to see the beautiful town of Morella. Another Spanish stunner, with a castle on top of a hill. The view as you approach is wonderful. Well woth not looking it up on google if you've never seen it before. Trust me!
    Un saludo,