Santiago Calatrava, Architect Pushing the limits

Perhaps more than any other person in the world today, Santiago Calatrava is pushing the limits of architecture, using mostly concrete to build the world's most daring structures.

With an architecture degree and a Ph.D. in civil engineering, Calatrava is also an artist. His sculptures, drawings, watercolors, and ceramics have appeared in museum exhibitions in Athens, Dallas, Florence, London, New York City, Vienna, and Zurich. The relationship between artist and architect is very important to him.

His building designs often start out as artistic sketches, many having to do with the human form. For instance, his inspiration for the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub came from a sketch he did of a child's hands opening to allow a dove to take flight.

Calatrava doesn't limit himself in the use of materials for his buildings, making use of concrete, steel, wood, and glass. His use of concrete as an architectural medium is spectacular but extraordinarily difficult in the demands it places on structural engineers and contractors to build the formwork to produce the graceful, curved shapes. The June 2004 cover of CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION magazine featured his concert hall in the Canary Islands at Tenerife, a blending of sculpture and architecture that produced stunning giant curvilinear waves of structurally reinforced concrete.

Calatrava has two completed structures in the United States: the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay in Redding, Calif., and the expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Current commissions include the Symphony Center for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Atlanta, a series of bridges in Dallas, and a high-rise residential building in New York. But it's his commission to design the permanent World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City that has captured the most attention. The graceful architectural concrete columns that will support the building requires concrete work at the highest levels.

Calatrava was born and raised in Valencia, Spain and now is based there, in New York City, and in Zurich, Switzerland.

L. Michael Shydlowski, BASF Admixtures Innovation is key

“Look at the events that have driven changes,” says Mike Shydlowski, president of BASF Admixtures. “Why do they have to be disasters? Hurricanes, earthquakes, 9-11. Why can't we anticipate these things? We are changing far too slowly.” After more than 40 years in the concrete industry, he is certainly not a man who is moving slowly.

After working on a concrete crew while getting his engineering degree from Marquette University, Shydlowski joined a cement company in 1969 and soon ended up in the chemical admixtures business. In 1986, Sandos, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, acquired Master Builders and shortly after acquired Shydlowski's current employer, Mac USA. “So we were merged into Master Builders, with whom I had competed with for 17 years,” he says. “After about six months I left and went into the ready-mix business where I had the chance to see if this stuff I had been preaching actually worked.” But he returned to Master Builders after three years, in 1989, and has been there ever since.

In 1996, Shydlowski was named the founding chairman of the Strategic Development Council (SDC), set up in conjunction with the American Concrete Institute (ACI) to accelerate the adoption of new technology. Being president of Master Builders gave him the opportunity to pull the top people from across the industry into this effort. “During the commercial construction downturn in 2002 and 2003,” he says, “we went through a re-engineering exercise at Master Builders and realized that innovation and accelerating the rate of innovation, was the key to our success and that's exactly what SDC is trying to do for the entire industry.”

One key to the success of the concrete industry, says Shydlowski, is solving the problem of durable concrete. “It's the holy grail of admixture development, but it will take a paradigm shift in thinking.” He feels that part of the solution is the P2P initiative (prescriptive to performance-based ready-mix specifications). “It's not a way for the ready-mix producer to cut costs by taking something out of the mix, rather it's having the authority and ability to do the things that you already have responsibility for and it's one of the ways we'll differentiate the good producers from the mediocre. As long as we continue to do things on a prescriptive basis, not much changes.”

“This is a fascinating industry,” he says. “I can honestly say that I can't remember five days in my entire career when I woke up and didn't want to go to work. It's always been exciting and there have always been new opportunities and new challenges. It's been a wonderful ride.” And he's not hanging up his saddle yet.