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BOOKS Prolific Calatrava in the public realm NICK HANIKA Calatrava: Public Buildings Edited by Anthony Tischhauser and Stanislaus von Moos. Birkhauser, 1998. 392pp. £74. (Distributor 0181 542 246

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In his own introduction to this book Calatrava refers in a simple and modest manner to the influences on his work. He mentions geometry, materials, nature and the human body, sculpture and context. In particular he stresses the need for designers to understand materials, their character, and the way they are processed.

In contrast, Stanislaus von Moos, in a very readable essay entitled 'Structure, empathy and civic art', ranges from Gothicism, Calatrava's Catalan roots and the effect of a Swiss engineering education, through to the Modern Movement and links that were explored in the 1930s between engineering and Modern art. Whatever the influences, and whether they are direct or subconscious, seems almost irrelevant when you look at the work laid out in such detail on these pages.

This is the companion to an earlier volume on Calatrava's bridges (aj 22.9.93) and the quality and level of detail are consistent. 44 projects, for the most part beautifully presented, are split into eight categories - roofs and canopies, stations and airports, towers, exhibition and cultural spaces, transformations, public spaces, working and living, and sport.

Most of the projects are familiar from previous publications, exhibitions and lectures, but the clarity of the images, both drawings and construction photographs, makes you look again at the way these buildings have been conceived and constructed. The text has been set out in broader sections than in the volume on bridges and is consequently clearer and easier to follow. The graphic designer has, however, decided to run the title text for each project, in a small font, in-between two lines of the main text. This is an irritating but minor fault in the otherwise excellent layout.

Calatrava claims to prefer working with concrete. Apparently, in the Valencian language the word for concrete is formigo which, as you might guess, means something that can be given a form. The forms he creates in both precast and in-situ concrete for these projects vary enormously in their scale and detail. Delicate expressive columns supporting lattice timber arches at Wohlen high school contrast with the heavy sweeping curves of the undercroft space at Stadelhofen station. The latter appears rather intimidating in some of these photographs but this may be due to lack of people rather than the space itself. Similarly the rounded and bulbous forms of his kinetic sculptural piece for the Swissbau pavilion and the precast housing at Buchen (built for a real-estate subsidiary of Portland Cement) are technically fascinating but have none of the drama of the ribbed hall at Alcoy municipal centre.

Working with steel, on the other hand, seems to suit the skeletal references in his work far better than concrete, and the individual members give a lightness and rhythm to the sculptural forms. The segmented Ernstings warehouse door, the canopies at Wohlen high school and Orient station, Lisbon, and the cathedral-like quality of bce Place in Toronto all stand out.

Calatrava has been incredibly prolific since the start of his practice in 1981. As he approaches the age of 50, what is next? The last section of the book, with competition entries for sports stadia in Calabria, Berlin, Marseilles and Stockholm, is at least part of the answer. This building type, with its combination of concrete terracing and long-span or cantilever steel roofing, would seem to be tailor-made for him.

This book will undoubtedly be pored over by architects and engineers alike and I'm sure Calatrava's next completed commissions will be awaited eagerly. Nick Hanika is a partner in Price & Myers

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