Liège Guillemins is the high-speed train station that the well-known Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed for the city of Liège in Belgium. Opened in 2009 the new train station it is without any doubt majestic and a travel destination itself. In fact I considered a stop in Liège just to admire and wander around this station.
Either if you are aware or not of this engineering marvel it goes without saying that it’s “a Calatrava”. For those who don’t know Santiago Calatrava, the controversial neofuturistic architect, has a very distinct style recognisable for his use of arching white rib-like beams and columns and the frequent recall of nature with organic structures and motifs.
Take a look at Valencia’s City of Arts & Sciences and see if you can recognise any features of his signature style.
Calatrava’s educational background is primarily artistic and then architectural therefore his work is a celebration of art and aesthetics that he combines with his engineering expertise to create striking, distinctive architectural statues. I see both the good and the bad in this approach, which is common among the so-called “starchitects”.
Architecture cannot be interpreted as a synonym of art. A building is not a decorative ornament or furnishings of a city but it primarily exists to fulfill a urban, social, housing need. Following aesthetic values is also fundamental during the designing process and this is the thorny problem of architecture as the aesthetic expression it conveys it’s not established by universal values anymore (as it used to be for the Classical or the Renaissance periods) but it can also be a reflection of the designer himself which is based on the architect’s tendency to experiment with different and unusual forms, materials combinations or the desire to challenge structural boundaries to create a new a place that is unique and memorable.
This is the main reason why municipalities are willing to pay a fortune for an iconic architecture. Because despite all the critics and controversy starchitects are known to create something that is distinctive and recognizable, something that can transform the status of a city by attracting people from around the globe.
In fact it’s not just world capitals that crave a Calatrava architecture but even emerging urban areas have looked to the architect for one of his signature structures.
The City of Arts and Sciences, one of Calatrava’s best known works, despite the controversy of the construction budget and technical problems, is considered the engine of the transformation Valencia is living, seen more and more as a European city of art and culture.
“Turning Torso has since its inauguration in autumn 2005 symbolized Malmö’s transformation from a Swedish industrial society to an international knowledge society.” [Danish Architecture Centre]
Liège Guillemins train station is an architectural vision that, as a commuter passing through Liège, will grab your attention and make you stop or willing to visit this city on your next travel.
Not surprisingly the Belgian town of Mons, close to Liège, will host the next Calatrava train station, which is due to open in 2018.
All photos and words by Nancy Da Campo