If you think the bridge to nowhere - northern California's famous span begun in 1938 and abandoned due to flooding - is the ultimate washout, consider a footbridge over the Grand Canal in Venice that isn't good to walk on. This is especially concerning to the thousands of tourists coming from the nearby train station each day and rolling their wheeled baggage across the expanse. Italian authorities say the glass and steel construction of the bridge not only can't take the wear and tear, but it's also too slippery when it rains.

Bridge over troubled waters

The BBC reports that the "gross negligence" alleged by a court in Venice takes in the choice of material for the steps leading to the bridge, which are made of tempered glass. The problem with glass is said to erode too rapidly. What's more, the steps rule out wheelchairs users. So, who's bright idea was it to build such a bridge? An architect who is known for complaints about his work in other cities - Santiago Calatrava - a master builder (and engineer) given to bold, dramatic design and details be damned.

In his own defense, the BBC quotes the architect say, "the bridge was checked with sophisticated methods, which determined that it has a solid structure behaving better than expected."

It looks good but does it work and how much will it cost?

In 2016 New York's $2 billion World Trade Center Transportation Hub designed by Calatrava leaked and ended up costing New York double. And in 2014 legal action was brought against Calatrava from the city of Valencia when tiles popped off the Reina Sofia Opera House.

He also faced charges for a leaky roof on Spain's Ysidos winery. Faulty construction aside, there's Calatrava's track record for cost overrun. When it came to the Ponte della Costituzione in Venice, which was budgeted for $7.7 million rose to $12.8 million and still, problems persist.

Architecture as sculpture without utilityis just a pretty face

But get this: despite Calatrava reputation for poorly functioning and pricey projects, the American Institute of Architects awarded him a Gold Medal for his impact on architecture. As AIA’s vice president, Edward J. Kodet, put it: "His design merges sculptural expression and engineering through architecture...

His architecture expands the vision and expresses the energy of the human spirit, captivating the imagination and delighting us in the wonders of what sculptural form and dynamic structure can accomplish."

The AIA is bedazzled by bold

The fact that the AIA honored Calatrava despite the number of problems with his work is not all that surprise given that the group also deem Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the Pennsylvania vacation home over a waterfall known as Faling Water "the best building of the 20th century." This, even though it leaked from the start and the four iconic concrete floors projected over the waterfall sagged needing major repairs.

That was in 1936. A mere 27 years later, an $8.1 million rehabilitation was needed to rescue it.

The architecture of Calatrava and Wright may look like sculpture, but unlike sculpture, it needs to function. Who doesn't know that? The AIA apparently.

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