Calatrava finally arrives in London – but is he rehashing old ideas?

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Calatrava finally arrives in London – but is he rehashing old ideas?
The bridge to Meridian Quays, in Calatrava’s signature style / © Uniform
Calatrava finally arrives in London – but is he rehashing old ideas?
The bridge to Meridian Quays, in Calatrava’s signature style / © Uniform

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava is loved for his striking designs and loathed for cost overruns. Will his £1bn project for Greenwich Peninsula stay on course?

The Star Wars theme tune was playing as London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, arrived, flanked by his deputy mayors for housing and planning, to unveil a glowing perspex model of the capital’s new £1bn landmark on the Greenwich Peninsula. It was a suitably ominous tone to launch the first UK project by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, a man who has built a global reputation not only for his gleaming white space-age structures, but for leaving a trail of delays, inflated budgets and costly lawsuits in his wake.

Billed as a new “gateway to Greenwich”, the 130,000 sq metre scheme will provide a new tube and bus station, as well as bars, shops and entertainment venues, crowned with three tapering white towers of offices, hotels and apartments, linked to the riverside by a trademark Calatrava bridge.

“It will be the most beautiful station the country has ever seen,” said Richard Margee, chief executive of Knight Dragon, the Hong Kong-based developer behind the £8.4bn regeneration of the peninsula. “It’s not just a bit of frippery in the middle of the site. The building will really work hard.”

Visitors will emerge from the Underground into a 25 metre-high winter garden, where slender white steel trees will rise to a glazed roof, topped with an opening pyramidal oculus. The three towers will sweep up above, with staggered planted terraces at their base.

“I consider this project a synthesis of what I have done over my entire career,” said the 65-year-old Calatrava. “It has a bridge – I have built 50 of them – and a transport hub – I have built seven of them – and a public space, of which I have done many.”

If it is a summation of his career, it also reads as a series of tired tropes bodged together in one cliched collage. The lumpen towers seem to ape the vogueish work of young Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, while the atrium could be lifted straight from a 1980s suburban shopping plaza, and the bridge – as Calatrava himself hints – repeats the trademark look of the other 50 he has built elsewhere. Here it takes the form of a latticework tube, suspended from a curving mast shaped like a scorpion’s tail, poised ready to strike. […]

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