Architecture etymology: arkhi – téktōn, “techne … reveals whatever does not bring itself forth and does not yet lie here before us, whatever can look and turn out now one way and now another…Thus what is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making or manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing as mentioned above. It is as revealing, and not as manufacturing, that techne is a bringing-forth.” 1
In that respect, José Ortega y Gasset identifies three stages of human technology: accidental invention, craftsmanship and the technician, the latter marked by full consciousness of technology.
So, the technician can recognize technology “…as a host of social and intellectual processes and modes of organization” 2 rather than being merely tools and machines. As long as the individual’s intelligence “functions in the service of an imagination pregnant not with technical, but vital projects.” 3. In other words, original desires that are to become an invention.
For Leonardo da Vinci, as an artist, scientist, engineer and inventor, there was no separation between reason and imagination. Through his capacity to observe the world, he produced knowledge and created artefacts that decoded experience and the understanding of the world into a transformed reality.
Similarly, Santiago Calatrava has transcended these, being both an architect and an engineer, with the capacity to combine aesthetic expression with structural potential. “(He) considers engineering the art of the possible and seeks a new vocabulary of form that is based on technical know-how yet is not an anthem of techniques.” 4
The Stadelhofen Station presents this quality, one of Santiago Calatrava’s earliest projects executed between 1983 and 1990. Found near the dense city centre of Zurich, parallel to the lake and Kreuzbühl Street, the adjacent public road. It integrates into the traditional urban scene, between Stadelhofen Square where tram lines converge and the Hohe Promenade hill, “once a bastion of the old city fortifications.” 5
The station’s old rail tracks defined the steep hill’s form, contained by a high retaining wall. Now, it establishes the outline of the curved form in Calatrava’s project. Another vestige, the old station building faces the new project, revealing itself as a neoclassical landmark of the cityscape built in 1894.
Eventually, changes to the city rail network in 1990 became the ideal circumstances for the origination of this project, entirely defined by the ever-changing urban fabric, thus becoming a link between its gradually increasing fragmentation.
“The plot both slopes and curves along more than one axis. An abrupt change of level from east to west, a gentle incline and then decline from north to south, and a sharp lateral curve in the tracks the whole way across the site add up to a geometrical nightmare or, as it turned out, a series of spatial opportunities.” 6
Uninterrupted Dissection of a Four-Part System
“I began, for the first time, to experiment with the body and ideas of anatomy. I thought about a gesture, and I started it with my hand, and the idea of the open hand, which signifies sincerity and openness. From the open hand upside down, I chose the profile of the thumb and index finger and this became the shape of the column which you then see repeated several times throughout the project.” 7
For Da Vinci, the act of drawing was the means for theoretical experimentation; for Calatrava, the floor plan establishes the order of the design while the section becomes the ultimate means for creative expression.
As a meticulously refined two-dimensional representation, the cross-section works as the system’s basic unit or module—a cell. Bearing this in mind, imagine it is extruded horizontally or replicated into an array of distinct elements, materializing the whole composition—the organ.
So, Calatrava’s architecture is experienced through a sequence of transforming surfaces as if they were in motion. In a way, it resembles the principle of metamorphosis in architecture, “…to move from the static conception of system to the active principle of growth, wherein one form emerges from another in a variety of ways.” 8
There is tension and release of form, creating a dynamic whole. Thus, Calatrava’s project can be through the uninterrupted visual experience, a result of the intellectual and creative stages of creation.
Walking through Kreuzbühl Street, one comes upon the Stadelhofen old station and the square, a reference point for the new station. Inside, a set of vertical connections take to the underground, a threshold to the project. It provides support and access to the different parts of the composition.
Part 1: Underground
As the project’s backbone, the underground commercial arcade supports bearing forces and articulates the movement through the station’s body. As one moves through the hundred and fifty-meter hollowed space of exposed concrete, it resembles a ribcage, structured through a succession of sculpted vaults conforming a “one continuous, undulating surface.” 9
Natural light increases this dynamism as it breaks through the glass blocks embedded in the plate above, at ground level, producing luminous thresholds. At night, this underground scene is sealed by hydraulic doors that are risen at the sign of returned daylight.
Inside, as one walks through the passageway, the vertical circulation points of assorted concrete staircase, and elevators can be distinguished as three main articulation areas. These create clearings, interruptions in the passage’s echo, spaces of encounter contrasting the uninterrupted movement through space. They connect – through the east side – to the central platform and, – through the west side – to the city, the latter takes either to the Stadelhofen passageway, the Stadelhofen old station building or a direct encounter with the public road, the Stadelhofen street.
Part 2: Platform
By taking the concrete stairs from the east side, one arrives at the central platform. Surrounded by two tracks: on the west the tracks the “old city” and the east, a new track added by the Calatrava through the redefinition of the existing hillside.
The excavation is retained by a concrete wall which grows into a concave surface – enclosing the space through shadows – and suddenly shifts into a convex canopy – uncovering the platform with light. This massive sculpture rests on three-point steel columns, tilted as in a state of “static movement”.
As one observes beyond the old tracks, the other platform appears as an extension of the public road and thus, associated with the square. It is covered by a contrasting canopy, made of laminated glass resting on a configuration of steel supports. The translucent surface balances on in an angled position, allowing light to pass and break through the glass blocks embedded in the ground.
A tube, working in tension, connects the elements that compose this seemingly lightweight structure. Hence, the forms challenge the expression of the properties inherent to the materials—still, manifest stress as active forces acting on the structures, the effects of gravity.
Part 3 and 4: Promenade and Park
Still moving through the central platform, from the array of vertical connecting elements to the underground, one can identify a different set of stairs, slightly displaced from the principal curved axis, denying the general sense of order. These take to cavernous niches that break through the wall to access the cantilevered promenade. This space develops along the platform’s three hundred meters length, as the resulting space from the curved canopy below.
The path is demarcated by the undulating wall against the hill and completed by “the succession of metallic elements which together make up a skeleton that defines a virtual space.” 10 Connected by cables, Calatrava seeks to create a surface for the spreading plants coming from the hill. As one travels through the virtual tunnel, the green canopy casts its shadows on the concrete surfaces that start to appear to be moving.
But what would happen if one came from the street? Along this hypothetical trajectory, to the east three contrasting bridges would materialize over the tracks establishing a direct connection: “A road bridge follows the gradient of the hill; a pedestrian bridge is supported by a triangulated structure; and a second pedestrian bridge springs like a thin, undulating membrane of concrete from a distinctive sculptural base.” 11
Besides its transversal connections, the promenade becomes the ladder’s continuation and a longitudinal city balcony. Finally, one can get to the top of the hill through a set of stairs that continue the main pedestrian bridge course. Like a linear park, this area is covered by leafy trees, with views of the city, encounters with 19th-century villas, an old cemetery, and a modernist school building. Thus, revealing a whole new character concerning the lower level of the station.
“Unlikely as it sounds, the messy, open-ended and conflicting features of the Stadelhofen site and brief appearance in retrospect have supplied an ideal stimulus to Calatrava’s structural inventiveness and wit. The site is a large rent or rupture in the fabric of the city caused by the overlay of remnants of the old system of city walls and an intrusive but brief eruption of railway tracks above ground.” 12 The project inserted in the urban fabric becomes an extension of the existing city: a connective tissue between Zurich’s evolving parts and an inner longitudinal node to express its infrastructure.
“Calatrava’s work can captivate, communicate, and inspire through a visual process. We sense a familiarity within it that is often definable yet not attributable to a single source.” 13 His architecture’s expression resembles Dali’s dream-like paintings, Gaudi’s organic architecture and Miro’s mutating abstract forms. In a way, his work becomes a lyrical expression of the city.
Now, Calatrava’s technology is fundamentally a mode of thought driven by imagination. The technician of our times approaches technology as a science, a model for problem-solving through the making of things. In contrast, Calatrava transforms reality as a technician, life, through desire as a fundamental way of being human. Independence from a dependable technology.
- Beckman, Tad. “What Is Technology?” Technology. Harvey Mudd College, 1999. http://pages.hmc.edu/beckman/environment/phil-140/Notes/Technology.htm.
- Ortega y Gasset, José, and José Ortega y Gasset. “Man the Technician.” Essay. In Toward a Philosophy of History, 87–161. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002., 137
- McQuaid, Matilda. Santiago Calatrava: Structure and Expression. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1993., 10
- Calatrava, Santiago. “Projects.” Santiago Calatrava – Architects & Engineers, 2021. https://calatrava.com/projects/stadelhofen-station-zuerich.html.
- Harbison, Robert. Creatures from the Mind of the Engineer the Architecture of Santiago Calatrava. Zurich: Artemis-Verl., 1992., 2-3
- Lewis Kausel, Cecilia, and Ann Pendleton-Jullian, eds. “Santiago Calatrava, The MIT Lectures.” MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accessed January 2021. http://web.mit.edu/civenv/Calatrava/.
- McQuaid, Matilda, and Santiago Calatrava., 15
- Calatrava, Santiago.
- Zeballos, Carlos. “Calatrava: Stadelhofen Station, Zurich.” MY ARCHITECTURAL MOLESKINE®, April 5, 2012. https://architecturalmoleskine.blogspot.com/2012/04/calatrava-stadelhofen-station-zurich.html.
- Calatrava, Santiago.
- Harbison, Robert., 2-3
- McQuaid, Matilda., 15