Venice to replace glass on Santiago Calatrava’s slippery bridge
VENICE – As tourists unconsciously wandered the glass floor of the walkway, locals proceeded with caution. The Venetians made sure to walk the narrow strip of stone in the center, some lifting fogged up glasses to keep their eyes on the ground. When a visitor tripped, they barely looked up.
“It’s not a bridge,” said Angelo Xalle, 71, a retired port worker who recalled helping people with broken chins or foreheads rise from its smooth ground. “It’s a trap.”
The bridge, Ponte della Costituzione, by star architect Santiago Calatrava, is a multi-million dollar work of glass and steel that opened in 2008. Its gentle curve over the Grand Canal, near the Venice train station, was believed to symbolize the city’s embrace of modernity, but it has come to be known more as a scene of ruinous falls and dangerous slips.
Now, after years of protests and problems, the city has decided to replace translucent glass with a less slippery – and less glamorous – trachyte stone.
“People got injured and they are continuing the administration,” said Francesca Zaccariotto, public works manager in Venice. “We have to intervene.
The city’s decision to allocate 500,000 euros, or around 565,000 dollars, to replace the glazed part of the bridge comes after several unsuccessful attempts to limit slips with resin and non-slip stickers. Last month, as winter cold and rains made the ground particularly dangerous, authorities placed prohibition signs on the glass part of the bridge, which makes up most of it.
Acclaimed around the world for his works, including the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City, Mr. Calatrava was commissioned to design the bridge in 1999. When it opened nine years later, after protests against delays and Soaring costs, complaints about falls started quickly.
Protests intensified in 2013, when the city installed a cable car over the bridge to make it more accessible. The red round cabin – not designed by Mr. Calatrava – costs around €1.5 million, took a long time to cross the bridge and became unbearably hot in the summer. It was then dismantled.
In 2018, the city replaced some of the glass slabs with trachyte, but during the pandemic, when national television filmed people walking on the bridge to illustrate the return to normal after a lockdown, it inevitably caught someone slipping. Last year, the administration raised the funds to replace the glass entirely.
Venice is not the first city to encounter problems with Mr. Calatrava’s plans. In 2011, Bilbao, Spain laid a huge black rubber mat on a glass-tile paved Calatrava walkway as many pedestrians slipped and fell.
While Venice’s plan has yet to undergo structural testing and be approved by the city’s architectural authority, city officials are determined to continue preventing “almost daily” falls, Zaccariotto said.
While appreciating Mr Calatrava’s work, she said aesthetic criteria should not trump security principles and that because the lawsuits were directed at the city and not the architect, Venice would handle the situation.
“We can’t always do poetry,” she said. “We have to give security.
Mr Calatrava has been prosecuted and fined for issues relating to the bridge, but has defended himself against his critics. “The bridge was checked with sophisticated methods,” he said in 2008, “which determined that it had a solid structure that performed better than expected.”
Mr Calatrava’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the new security plan or criticism of the bridge.
One of the plaintiffs, Mariarosaria Colucci, a retired Roman teacher, was heading to the theater to watch her son perform in 2011 when she broke the humerus – “into five parts like an artichoke” – while falling on the Calatrava Bridge. She sued the city and initially received compensation of about €80,000, but she lost on appeal and is awaiting a decision from the Italian Supreme Court.
“This bridge is beautiful for an architecture magazine,” said Ms. Colucci, 76, “but you have to be good not to fall.”
Anna Maria Stevanato, who took a bus to town for a burraco tournament that year, broke her shoulder on the bridge.
“I fell like a sack of potatoes,” she said, adding that Mr. Calatrava “ruined the best years of my old age”.
For Ms. Stevanato, 80, the problem is that Mr. Calatrava, of Spanish origin, does not master the art of building safe bridges like the locals. Venice has some 400 bridges, and Ms. Stevanato and many Venetians pride themselves on being able to cross them while reading books or with their eyes closed. On the Calatrava Bridge, however, the Venetians say the mixed dimensions of the steps and the color of the tiles leave them confused and their feet adrift.
“A Venetian would never have built such nonsense,” Ms. Stevanato said.
Some welcomed the new change of the catwalk. “It’s going to be uglier,” said Leonardo Pilat, 19, whose mother fell on the bridge, “but it’s necessary.”
Not everyone agreed.
“It’s an exceptional bridge, and they should keep it that way,” said Demetrio Corazza, 85, a retired teacher who frequently crossed the bridge with his wife to shop. “Beauty must save the world. “