By  on January 27, 2006

NEW YORK — Architect Santiago Calatrava is a man in demand.

This year alone, construction is set to begin on his cube-like South Street Tower and the new PATH rail terminal at the World Trade Center site here, Fordham Tower in Chicago and three Trinity Bridges in Dallas. And an exhibition of his work is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Calatrava said during an interview Thursday that he spent 14 years honing his skills — graduating from the Institute of Architecture in Valencia, Spain, and from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich — before starting to work in architecture. Art, architecture, urban studies and civil engineering were among the subjects he explored in depth. He also picked up a postgraduate degree in mechanics, and has always been interested in mathematics.

"You have to build up your mind, but when I try to work, I want to be very free," he said. "It's not my mind working. It's my heart. It's like playing the piano. You have to exercise, exercise, exercise until you get to the degree of freedom where you can let yourself go."

Having rarely designed completely enclosed buildings, Calatrava embraces the idea of architecture that encompasses the outdoors, whether that be by offering views or providing outdoor spaces. Calatrava pointed to Florence, where visitors can actually touch Benvenuto Cellini's sculptures in public spaces, or in Rome's Fountain of Turtles.

"A public building has to be accessible," he said. "Accessibility is almost everything. Transportation stations are getting more and more open. You can see here and there and everywhere. That idea is very different from the station buildings of the last century. They were enclosed buildings that were more like cathedrals, just as museums were temples of wisdom. Now they are places to go to get a coffee or buy a book, because they are pleasant. And they should be. It should be a place to go to have some fun."

More than anything, advances in technology, especially in terms of computers and graphics, are enabling architects to design complex buildings and projects, Calatrava said. Given the amount of information and many details that an architect must consider before starting a project, it makes sense that the architectural process is under closer scrutiny. Calatrava said, for example, the automobile and chemical industries are trying to tap into an architect's design process to determine a more cost-effective way of doing business."We work in design, deal with costs, timing, production, deliveries and intuition," he said. "They are interested in the way architectures arrive and succeed in this business."

Calatrava is intrigued by how fashion designers come up with ideas. There is a close correlation between architecture and fashion, he said. Calatrava said the clothes on our bodies are the things closest to us, but architecture is the next closest thing that surrounds us. Cristóbal Balenciaga said it is always possible to build something around a woman's individual body type, and did so beautifully, Calatrava said.

"Fashion is something that has always fascinated me," said Calatrava, whose mother made and sold clothing. "It was great how Coco Chanel or Balenciaga used to design a coat for a particular woman. They would have known the person, known their particular look, known they look very well in pink or silk. Or maybe they had a very warm personality and needed to be cooled down with blue."

In more mild weather, Calatrava said he likes to stroll through Central Park to check out the latest fashions. "There is unbelievable fashion and unrelated combinations. A person may put an iPod on the leg or on an arm. You can discover unbelievable styling. It's the small details that are very important."

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