Masterpieces: Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias

14 04 2010

Santiago Calatrava’s ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’, or ‘City of Arts and Sciences’ was built between 1996 – 1998 and sits on the outskirts of Valencia, Spain.

It is vast, white, clean and utterly breathtaking. It is an almost perfect symbiosis of organic forms and modernism that still looks brand new today – even though it is now more than 12 years old. The ‘city’ is populated by several key buildings that each have their own purpose, and their own inspiration.

El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofìa: Valencia’s Opera House and cultural centre wasn’t actually opened until 2005, but is part of the whole scheme. It’s impressive form makes seeing this building quite an extraordinary experience. Standing at the base of the giant spine that runs across the whole facade, you really get a feeling of the sheer volume of the building – 40,000 sq. metres. It’s a wonderful mix of rendered concrete and glass that suits the city perfectly and on a bright sunny day the entire complex is dazzling.

L’Hemisfèric: sits in front of the Palau de les Arts and, from the air, resembles an open eye. It was the first phase of the project to be opened to the public back in 1998 and is truly one of the most fascinating. The vast eye opens and closes via a complex arrangement of hydraulics allowing the building to adapt to the needs of the guests inside. The building houses a planetarium, an IMAX theatre and restaurants and other tourist services.

L’Umbracle: a subtle (in comparison) landscaped garden adjacent to the main thrust of the complex. It offers an exhibition of plants indigenous to Valencia and the local area, as well as displaying various contemporary artworks.

L’Oceanogràfic: this is were the complex eventually leads you – Europe’s largest aquarium. It houses over 45,000 animals and 500 different species within it’s sculpted, marine-like form.

The complex, as a whole, is an awesome experience. The landscaping between each structure lends perfectly to the fluid, effortless lines of the ‘city’. What I love most about this project, and most of Calatrava’s work, is that the buildings constantly challenge you. Every step you take, you are confronted with a new angle in which to appreciate the wonderful complexity of their design. When you’re in ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’ there is no escape from Calatrava’s ever-changing creations; you cannot turn your head without noticing something new and fantastic about the environment you are standing in. There is also a nod to, and appreciation of, the fact these buildings are in Spain – each are clad (in some from) with intricate mosaic tiles not unlike the ones you’d find on many of Gaudi’s creations – this makes the complex feel firmly rooted in it’s Mediterranean home.

A little alien, perhaps, to it’s surrounding landscape, but ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’ really showcases Calatrava and the groundbreaking work he has created.

Take a look at the complex’s official website for some very interesting ‘virtual tours’: