When the 1990 Architectural Works Protection Act was being drafted, the question of what constituted an architectural work was an important one. I had become infatuated with bridge designs, from the great Swiss Christian Menn to the contemporary Spanish designer, Santiago Calatrava (see this wonderful wikipedia entry on him). I bought books on both for the study I did on architecture as a Policy Planning Advisor in the Copyright Office. To me the works of these designers and others were not only art, but great art. Calatrava's bridge at Bilbao (see here) is art by anyone's definition. In New York City, he designed the new Path transportation Station at the World Trade Center, and has designed a wild apartment building at 80 South Street consisting of stacked cubes. (See here). Despite his training as an engineer, Mr. Calatrava asserts that function follows form, and there can be no doubt that his works are sculptural.
Like Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects, there is also no doubt Mr. Calatrava's works suffer from defects in practicality, and tend to need a lot of repairing. Calatrava has recently sued Bilbao over changes to his bridge, including an extension by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. An article in the UK newspaper The Independent spells out the dispute. Here is a link to the full article, and here is a relevant excerpt:
Calatrava is renowned worldwide for his soaring, airy bridges, and, in the case presented by lawyers in Bilbao's law courts yesterday, he claims that the new link "breaks the symmetry of the bridge, clumsily distorts the design... and damages the integrity of his work". He is demanding €250,000 compensation and the dismantling of Isozaki's extension, or, if the new link remains, - €3m for "moral damages". Initially ridiculed for "leading from nowhere to nowhere", Calatrava's footbridge is beautiful, but not exactly user-friendly. Its limpid glass floor tiles, designed to reflect the grey-green waters of the river Nervion that flow beneath, are notoriously slippery when wet. For 10 years residents and visitors have complained of skidding and tumbling. The city authorities who approved Isozaki's housing complex and his bridge link vigorously disagree. "The paintings of Goya are works of art; a bridge is for people to walk on," insisted Bilbao's mayor, Iñaki Azkuna. Without the bridge link, pedestrians would have to walk down to the old riverside jetty, then up two flights of steps. Mr Askuna concedes that a metre of banister was removed from Calatrava's bridge to accommodate Isozaki's extension, but reckons "this has no negative impactwhatsoever upon Calatrava's work", and that the structures co-exist harmoniously. Calatrava's lawyer, Fernando Villalonga, thinks otherwise. "This mustn't happen, because in this country, architecture, like other arts, is protected by intellectual property rights," he said. Mr Villalonga accused the town hall of "cheek, arrogance and ignorance". To which Mr Azkuna countered that all 560 glass tiles of Calatrava's bridge have cracked over the years, ravaged by the extremes of climate, and had to be replaced at the cost to taxpayers of €200,000. "If it's his intellectual property, let him take his intellectual property," fumed Mr Azkuna in the spring, when Calatrava launched his suit. "We've had enough of the dictatorship of Calatrava saying we can't touch his little bridge. We've had enough of this superstar."
As an American, I confess to feeling amused by the decidedly un-natural rights attitude expressed in the final quote. In the U.S., bridges were excluded from protection under the 1990 Act despite my love for them based on a concern that they and related transportation structures were too essential to the public to be tied up in copyright disputes. Moreover, even those works of architecture that were included were denied moral rights. Maybe we got things right for once.