The performing arts center and opera house of Valencia was designed by the prominent architect Santiago Calatrava, who also created New York's World Trade Center Transportation Hub, scheduled to open in 2015, as well as many other international projects. His work is known for its airy, curved designs that suggest a symbiosis between architecture and sculpture. It has also proven controversial in recent years because of ballooning budgets and technical glitches.
The Palau, which cost 478 million euros to build, opened eight years ago. A recent analysis by the Construction Technology Institute (Aidico) concluded that there is a "generalized failure of the ceramic covering's adherence" on 60 percent of the surface. The Valencian government commissioned this report after a section of the mosaic fell off on December 26, forcing the opera house to shut down and cancel performances.
When all the tiles are pulled off the Palau, which is part of the landmark City of Arts and Sciences complex, the exposed steel dome will be painted white, making it look like a ship that ran aground, to borrow the nautical simile from Máximo Buch, the Valencian economy commissioner who described the building's problems.
The problem is caused by a "faulty design and selection of materials, or a faulty execution, or both," reads the preliminary report. To complicate matters further, the metal dome and the ceramic covering have different coefficients of thermal expansion and they are subjected to notable temperature changes, all of which has resulted in lumps and wrinkles forming visibly on the façade.
The Aidico report notes that the same trencadís that covers concrete surfaces inside the Palau "does not present any problems." But the experts conclude that the outer damage is "irreversible" and that immediate action must be taken.
Ripping off the tiles will cost an estimated three million euros.
Commissioner Buch said that the Valencian government will advance the money for the repair work, then claim it back from the architect Calatrava, the builders Dragados and Acciona, and the engineering consultancy Intemac. The Valencian attorney's office is already working on official complaints against all parties involved.
This is the third major crisis at the Palau de les Arts. First the performing stage caved in, then the entire premises were flooded below the level of the former riverbed of the Turia river, where it is located.
Even its construction was controversial because of the ballooning costs. Calatrava's studio charged 44 million euros for designing and directing the building work. When the center was inaugurated, it turned out that dozens of seats had obstructed views of the stage.