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Ponte della Costituzione (Calatrava)

Venice's new 'Carpet of Light'

The 'Carpet of Light'

This sends out a sign to the world of Venice's versatility and openness to new directions.Paolo Costa, former mayor of Venice

It's not everyday that Venice commissions a new bridge to cross the Grand Canal, so in 1996 when it was decided to link the land transport hub of Piazzale Roma to the train station, the world's top contemporary bridge designer, Salvatore Calatrava, got the job, but only after defeating over 70 other architects in a competition.

Calatrava has over forty bridges to his name around the world, but this 310-ft single arching span 'is my most beautiful bridge' he says. 'A work which is worthy of Venice. It is an act of love to Venice and of love to Italian civilization in general.'

It was also his most controversial. While his admirers have dubbed it a 'carpet of light', others have compared it to a giant lobster. Budgeted at €4 million, the steel, glass and stone structure ended up five years late and costing four or even five times as much. The red 'eggs' designed to transport the disabled were not in place. For the first time ever, a major Italian bridge was opened without a ceremony, a snub that apparently upset the starchitect.

Since it opened in 2008, the controversy has only increased. Annual maintenance costs are said to be €1.8 million. The uneven glass steps (each of which has to be custom-made) are slippery and dangerous when wet or frozen, especially for the elderly (within 20 days of its opening, 10 people twisted their ankles), and the steps have to be constantly replaced due to the damage caused by thousands of wheelie suitcases. These alone cost up to €8000 a piece.

Venice's soggy soil wasn't taken into account, making the bridge unstable, especially because it's much shallower than the typical Venetian bridge, and has more horizontal thrust. A constantly delayed court case seeks to reclaim €1.7 million back from the architect for errors in the design.

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vaporetto Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Paul Barker Hemings, Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls