Calatrava in Athens. The architect as financier and the iconic city
Today, iconic architecture is the dominant mode of contemporary public life, but the wishes of the European city and role of public space are based on financial emergencies—even if the term ‘financial’ is screened out by the mesmeric distraction of such spectral, prodigal buildings. While iconic architecture parades as visual stunt—an “avant garde” project of the digital image that violently pushes physics and engineering to its limits—such projects are only made possible by giant debt arrangements; and, as I will argue, their primary agenda is to solve serious financial problems. Yet, not only do these projects often fail to generate the future income (fictitious capital) promised and thus leave the town with an impossible 30-year mortgage that might never be repaid, iconic developments also have the power to contribute to distortions of capital (economic crises) beyond the project and the city itself. This essay will examine the Olympic development and iconic objects designed by Santiago Calatrava for the Athens Summer Games in 2004, and the dual Olympic-budget crisis and national crisis that converged on Calatrava’s project. After the games, the Greek Olympic development attracted considerable financial critique from outside the architectural discipline: economists debated how the Olympic development was implicated in the Greek crisis, and a parallel Left protest-movement against Calatrava, the public figure, for financial corruption through iconic projects gained traction. Regardless of the veracity of these arraignments; in Greece, I propose the Olympic development became a visual cipher for the ongoing Greek crisis. Calatrava’s project illustrates the ways in which National crises in Europe today are played out via architectural icons, and the transformation of public space into both a financial medium and narrator of financial crisis.
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