Just seven years after it was completed at a cost of 478 million euros, what appear to be cracks are emerging in the mosaic façade of the centerpiece building of Valencia's dazzling Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias.
The facade of the Palau de las Artes, one of seven futuristic buildings designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava on reclaimed land in the city's former port area, is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny white ceramic fragments set into cement, the surface of which is now marked by "wrinkles" visible from street level.
Vicente Blasco, an expert in building construction at Valencia's School of Architecture, visited the building last week, describing what he saw as: "wrinkles that could be caused by the lack of expansion joints and by the incompatibility of the dilation ratio of the steel and the mosaic. It's like when you push a piece of paper from its edges: it contracts and wrinkles."
Blasco says that on days with a rapid change in temperature, materials contract and dilate. "Sooner or later, the coating gives, and begins to chip. Then water gets in and the steel rusts. You can already see the rust stains," he says, adding that "such problems should not be evident in such a short period of time, particularly bearing in mind the cost of the building."
It's like when you push a piece of paper from its edges: it contracts and wrinkles."
A local opposition politician, Mónica Oltra, has raised the issue in the Popular Party-controlled regional parliament. The regional government explained the appearance of wrinkles and cracks in the surface of the Palau de las Artes as "a trick of the light."
The regional authority added in a statement that the building was regularly checked.
Santiago Calatrava's studio in Zurich ignored questions EL PAÍS sent by email. The architect no longer has offices in Spain after transferring his fortune to Switzerland. Calatrava has come under fire for the cost of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The architect invoiced the Valencia regional government around 100 million euros for the building, according to a website set up by the left wing Esquerra Unida (EUPV). The party says it has had access to copies of bills paid by the regional government to the architect.
EUPV says contracts were handed to Calatrava via "an unpublicized negotiating system establishing his payments as a percentage of the final cost of each project, which doubled or tripled in respect to the original budgets." The criticism comes as Spain's regional governments struggle to justify a series of architectural white elephants built during a decade-long economic boom.
The Palau de los Artes, which ran 300 million euros over budget, was flooded in 2007 during heavy rains, causing damage to its stage and cellars. Last year, Calatrava and partners were forced to pay 3.5 million euros in compensation to the insurer Allianz after the partial collapse during reconstruction work in 2006 of the Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones in Oviedo.