Friday, May 31, 2013

Leaky Roofs

This story is about a building by Santiago Calatrava plagued by the bane of modern architecture: leaky roofs:
He is the genius behind some of the world's most spectacular bridges, museums and airports, but Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava cannot plug a leaking roof, according to a client who is demanding he contribute to the €2m (£1.7m) needed to pay someone else to do the job. A dozen years after Calatrava built the spectacular Ysios winery in the rainy Alava region of northern Spain, the building's dramatic, undulating roof continues to let in the damp.

Now Domecq, the owner of the winery, has said it is fed up with the botched attempts of Calatrava's original builders at fixing the roof and wants money from them so that it can bring in fresh architects and engineers to design a new one.

An expert's report that accompanies a writ lodged at a court in Vitoria claims that the roof, made of wood and aluminium, has never managed to keep the rain out. The firm pledges to maintain the original outline designed by Calatrava – an architect and engineer sometimes compared with fellow Spaniard Antoni Gaudí – but says that the leaks are damaging its image.

The row comes on the top of complaints in Calatrava's home city of Valencia about the slowly wrinkling, ceramic outer skin of the city's emblematic Palau de Les Arts, where tiles have started to shake loose.
Celebrated architect Santiago Calatrava told to pay for leaking roof (The Guardian)

If you read the Guardian article, you’ll see that a number of Calatrava’s buildings have been plagued by various technical and usability issues and cost overruns. It’s sort of a pity, because I really like the aesthetics of his work. Here in Milwaukee, he’s something of a celebrity for designing our art museum, which is simply called by most people ‘The Calatrava.” Ironically, the art museum features a movable roof structure, but problems so far have been pretty minimal.

Once again we see the sad record of modern architecture in keeping buildings dry. Creating some kind of new type of roof, often using high-tech materials, seems to be a calling card of modernist architecture, despite usable roof shapes and techniques dating back thousands of years. Isn’t this reinventing the wheel? In fact, thatch, a very old natural building material, seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance:

Town Hall Midden-Delfland by Inbo (Dezeen)

Living on the Edge by Arjen Reas (Dezeen)

These thatched roofs are probably less leaky. See more here:

Also, see these examples of brick architecure:

And speaking of more building techniques using natural materials, I find this intriguing: Brettstapel: another way of building with wood (Treehugger). See also Wooden skyscrapers: efficient, fire-safe, environmentally friendly(ier) (BoingBoing)

There are a lot of innovative ways to build with natural maerials, if only we can past the gizmo-centric greenwashing and tree-infested skyscrapers.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Why am I not surprised. A house is built from two directions -- from inside out and from outside in. They meet and harmony happens. When we forget a house is a real object standing in a real place with other buildings and relentless weather, both aesthetic and technical ruptures happen. Have the schools stopped teaching it rains outside? Maybe they thought it obvious.

  3. Schools never taught it rains outside, that happened when architects trained as apprentices. Schools taught that buildings are abstract forms, and that it is the lone artiste who drives buildings forward. Students are taught to disregard things like the weather, climate, wind, rain, structural considerations or building codes because they would get in the way of the student's expressing themselves via design. They are also told, and I am not making this up, to imagine that buildings are made of an imaginary material that can do anything. In other words, materials are secondary to "pure" design. This is why so many modernist buildings can't function *cough* Paul Rudolph, *cough*

  4. When you build coming from a design’s PoV rather than functionality, you’d expect results like this. It may look like a fancy roof, it may be made from expensive materials, but if it can’t provide the function it was made for, it’s useless. What they got there is a million-dollar leaky house. And the interior must look weird.

    Pleasance @ Shelton Roofing

  5. The Living on the Edge kinda looks like something 8-bit suddenly became 3D, what with all the square-y features. Though it does have its appeal. But I digress.

    Designs like this are good if it’s only for display. If you’re planning to get any function out of it, say a warehouse or an office for example, various problems are sure to crop up, as said by the article itself. The utilities alone might be disastrous!

    Maricela @ Homecraft

  6. That’s thatch? Wow. While it most likely have some kind of roof underneath all that thatch, it seems that it would still be quite a hassle to maintain all that, especially when storms come a-knockin’. But I have to admit, it does look good from what I’m seeing in the picture.


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