Successful careers trace an upward trajectory, but rarely without a bump along the way. So it is with the architect Santiago Calatrava. His ethereal edifices on two continents are widely admired for their splendor and grace. But some substantial budget overruns, delays in completion, and flaws in construction have landed the Spanish visionary in a swirl of controversy.
Nonetheless, Calatrava was fresco as a pepino last week in the Grand Ballroom of The Plaza when he received an award from Casita Maria for his contributions to the 80-year-old arts and education institution that serves Latino youth in the South Bronx.
His fellow honorees, society grandee Lynn Wyatt and investment banker Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg, were also serene, but then they aren’t being pummeled by darts from disgruntled officials and media complainers. We’ll get back to that later.
The gala was lovely, as all of them have been since the writer and philanthropist Jacqueline Weld Drake became chairman of Casita’s trustees twenty years ago. She works year-round to assure that every detail is perfect. This year was tremendously challenging, as her beloved husband Rodman Drake died in June after a brief illness. A lesser soul would have faltered; Jackie forged ahead. She couldn’t let down the children of Casita Maria and she didn’t. No one onstage made mention of Mr. Drake’s absence, but all were aware and all felt the loss.
Christopher Mason acted as emcee, filling in for the usual host, Mario Buatta, who took the night off because it was his birthday and he didn’t feel like working. Mason is, in my view, an underrated talent. He first made a name for himself as a composer (lyrics plus music) of original songs about New York and New Yorkers that he then performed at high-tone parties, accompanying himself on the piano. They were hysterically funny and right on target and he still composes them, when asked. After that he wrote probing articles in The Times and New York magazine, often about art world shenanigans.
When Mason presented the award to Lynn Sakowitz Wyatt, he noted her wide connections: “Before there was such a thing as social media, Facebook etcetera, we had Lynn. She is a powerhouse who lends her skills and her platinum-plated name”. He also lauded Madame Brillembourg for extending her business expertise and gravitas to many charities.
After reeling off the many important buildings designed by Calatrava, Mason remarked, “Clearly he’s no slouch.” Indeed he isn’t. We’ll get back to that later.
Around the room I spotted the elegant Sila Calderon, a former governor of Puerto Rico who is a trustee of the New York Public Library; Teresa Bulgheroni, known as “the Brooke Astor of Buenos Aires” (who endeared herself forever by saying, “I am a big fan of Orbmagazine”); Prince Dimitri, a dinner chairman; Francesco and Marina Galesi; spark plugs Rick and Leticia Presutti; Bill and Maria-Eugenia Haseltine; p.r. man Gabriel Rivera-Barraza; and El Museo chairman Tony Bechara with Yolanda Santos, who, disappointingly, seems to have partially deflated her signature bouffant.
My table was great fun: The sophisticated artist Andres Serrano and his jewelry-designing wife, Irina Movmyga. Sotheby’s head of Latin American art, Axel Stein, who is Venezuelan and Polish. He is a riveting raconteur — his analysis of Putin’s motivations was worthy of Cardinal Richelieu.
On my right was Kristi Witker, the television personality with a droll point of view. Just across was Ann Dexter-Jones, who knows everybody and everything. When the music of the Bob Hardwick orchestra, which had started delightfully in a Lester Lanin/Cole Porter vein, became more and more insistent, to the point that conversation became impossible (we were next to a blasting speaker—why does an orchestra need amplifiers?) Ann deputized herself to get the volume of the noise decreased. She did. Bless her heart.
Let’s finish with Calatrava. He designed the Path station at ground zero, which will be finished next year, six years behind schedule, and which cost $4 billion, instead of the estimated 2 billion. It is extravagantly beautiful (the concourse under the West Side Highway is already open) but when things go wrong, the architect gets the blame, especially an architect who thinks big.
In September, The Times and NPR both went after Calatrava. Suzanne Daley wrote “he is often cast as a villain here in Valencia” [his place of birth]. He designed an 86-acre complex in a riverbed called the City of Arts and Sciences [a performance hall, a planetarium, an opera house, a science museum, etc.] “It was originally budgeted at $405 million but has cost nearly three times that much, money the region never had.” Valencia still owes 944 million.
Then she lists Calatrava’s current disputes and lawsuits, and they are numerous. Facades crumbling and “wrinkling”. Tiles flying off buildings. Roofs collapsing. Bridges built of glass bricks so slick there was an epidemic of broken legs.
The NPR story was even tougher. They alleged “a Spanish court named Calatrava a suspect in alleged contract fraud. Prosecutors say he got $3.6 million for a convention center that wasn’t built.”
All this sounds worse than it is. Architects with big ideas and grand ambitions have always found detractors. Frank Lloyd Wright was invariably in controversies and disputes. Calatrava swept to prominence in an era of showstopping architecture. His magnificent buildings are like giant sculptures. Some people think small and point fingers.
Calatrava is not intimidated. In an interview last year in Architectural Record magazine, he called the uproar over his work in Valencia “a political maneuver by the Communists.”
At the gala for Casita Maria, Santiago Calatrava was a study in sang-froid. That’s what gentlemen do. They bite their lip and get on with it.
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WSJ Offers a Snapshot of Patrick McMullan
by Eric Newill, Orbmagazine National Editor
“I’m an attention giver in a world of attention seekers,” says master social photographer Patrick McMullan in The Wall Street Journal this week. Coinciding with a six-month exhibition of his images at the Hearst Tower that opened last evening, the profile lightly traces the highlights of the peripatetic shutterbug’s life and career.
Readers glimpse Long Island in the ’60s, when McMullan first gained a love of photography (but lost a shot of Richard Nixon campaigning at a local mall when there was no film in his camera). Nights at Studio 54, struggles with cancer, and early success in the pages of the SoHo Weekly News, Interview and New York magazine follow.
Today, McMullan and his team of 16 photographers cover multiple galas, parties and premieres throughout the city every night, documenting the dazzle for myriad publications including Orbmagazine. Evidence of last night’s revelry draws a morning crowd of vicarious viewers to www.patrickmcmullan.com.
WSJ writer Ralph Gardner, Jr., truly captures McMullan’s personality in a few details and observations, such as the fact that he eats his first meal—consisting of a blueberry muffin and a brownie—at 5 p.m. (longtime associates know he rises as Manhattan’s afternoon shadows lengthen). More telling, however, is Gardner’s grasp of McMullan’s “working-class mien” that makes his body of work so democratic, equating a megawatt star with a comely caterer. “The most elegant thing is people who are consistent,” McMullan says in the piece. “You treat people the same all the time.” A revolutionary concept for a constantly revolving town.