Venice Has Fined the Architect Santiago Calatrava $86,000 for Building a Bridge That—Oops—Can’t Handle Tourists

The world-renowned architect argued that tourists dragging wheeled luggage was "incorrect use" of his glass-and-steel bridge over the Grand Canal.

Venice's Constitution bridge. Photo By View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.
Santiago Calatrava's Constitution bridge in Venice. Photo By View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

The Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who is no stranger to lawsuits arising from his ambitious designs, has been ordered to pay a €78,000 ($86,000) fine to the city of Venice for “macroscopic negligence” in constructing a bridge over its famous Grand Canal. 

Italian authorities have ordered the 68-year-old architect to pay the fine because his high-maintenance, glass-and-steel bridge near Venice’s train station is unable to withstand the wear and tear of the thousands of tourists using it every day.

Rome’s court of auditors said that the architect failed to account for the number of tourists, many dragging wheeled luggage, who would be crossing the Ponte della Costituzione. This is negligent, the court said, because it is something “everyone understands” about the floating city, according to the New York Times.

The court responsible for the use of public funds issued the ruling against the architect on August 6. It found that Calatrava should have foreseen the problems that arose with his futuristic bridge, given the number of tourists arriving in the city every day. 

Santiago Calatrava's Constitution Bridge in Venice. Photo by View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Santiago Calatrava’s Constitution Bridge in Venice. Photo by View Pictures/Universal Images Group via Getty Images.

Calatrava completed the prestigious commission in 2008. Originally forecast to cost €7 million ($7.7 million), the bridge’s budget ultimately rose to €11.6 million ($12.8 million). Eight of the glass panels on its steps, which were only meant to be replaced every 20 years, have already needed to be restored at a cost of €36,000 ($40,000). The steps also become slippery when it rains, causing people to fall, which also raises the risk to the glass panels (not to mention those crossing the bridge).

Venice originally sued Calatrava for negligence over the bridge in 2014, but he prevailed in a lower court, arguing that the bridge had deteriorated early because the dragging of wheeled suitcases across it constituted “incorrect use” of the structure. The case went to the higher court in Rome after the city appealed this ruling. It won based on the bridge’s location near Venice’s train station, making the impact caused by wheeled suitcases “inevitable.”

Calatrava’s studio did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The architect-engineer has built bridges in cities from Dallas to Bilbao. Several of his other projects have had highly publicized problems, including the leaky Oculus, part of his transport hub at the World Trade Center in New York. In 2014, Valencia sued Calatrava for the crumbling roof of the Opera House at the Palau de les Arts exhibition complex in the Spanish city.

Venice spends around €41 million ($45 million) each year to keep the city clean, remove waste, and maintain its banks, bridges, and cultural heritage, according to a statement from the city council. The municipality of Venice recently announced that it would be introducing an additional tax at the end of the year, aimed at day-trippers who come to the city on cruise ships but avoid the existing tourist tax because they do not stay overnight on shore.


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