A real load of old CAC

In the noncommital, typically prevaricating politician’s way, Alberto Fabra, President of the Valencian Community, said that while they haven’t had any concrete offers to buy the City of Arts and Sciences, they will consider serious proposals. You would think that a city as drowning in debt as Valencia is would snatch the hand off anyone even slightly interested in taking control of a  skeletal white elephant that has been haemorrhaging money since the day it was conceived.

There is no doubt that the City of Arts and Sciences is a stunning complex, a series of futuristic buildings, gardens and large pools, but as a science museum it is about as much use as a plastic baking tin, full of tedious and tatty exhibitions that occasionally inform but rarely enthral. (Known by the acronym CACSA these days, it was originally referred to by the more simple CAC, which adequately describes the museum, given that it is a load of shit.) I was asked to write an article about the best places in Valencia about six years ago and tried to get a quote about CAC from a friend in the tourist office. She wouldn’t give me one, and neither would anyone else there because they were all embarrassed about the appalling exhibitions that were the norm, and were receiving increasing volumes of complaints on a daily basis – and nothing has changed.

To be fair, they got one thing right, the catering for private events is some of the best in the city, and until the recent collapse of the economy was about the only thing they made money on. A few years ago I was invited to the launch of Mike Oldfield’s 97th version of Tubular Bells, a major digital release that took you to cartoon worlds where you could navigate your way at the touch of a button, all the while accompanied by the tingly-jangly of digitalised metal tubes. Hundreds of the great and good of the music industry, and, this being Valencia, their brothers, sisters, boyfriends and girlfriends out for a free meal, gathered in the IMAX cinema in the Hemisferic. Seven minutes into the show the modem supplied by the museum feeding the complex mixing desk where Oldfield reigned shut down, and despite the composer’s fuming and blaspheming wouldn’t kick off again. I didn’t care, as far as I was concerned it was a load of CAC anyway.

If the museum was gutted and simply used as a party space (a couple of years ago they gave permission for weddings to be held there) it would be of no great loss to the city, and at least Valencia would still have the emblematic structure that it punts worldwide to show what a funky, hip, now sort of place it is … yay, bro, and all that. But what has been increasingly getting up the nostrils of both locals and opposition politicians alike is the vast losses that we residents are funding, not to mention the catastrophic over-costs that the Town Hall and the regional government and have been playing down for years.

Inevitably, trying to unearth a true cost for the project, which includes the Hemisferic, Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe, l’Umbracle, the, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, and latterly, the Agora and Pont de l’Assut de l’Or bridge, is a bit of a lucky dip, and sources vary, but it is said that the final cost, by the time the Agora is finally, if ever, finished, will be 1,300million euros – thirty times Santiago Calatrava’s original bid.

Okay, I can accept that some of the increase has gone on new projects that Calatrava only had vague ideas about when he first put his designs forward, (and despite public acclaim, he was only one of the designers, the other being Félix Candela from Madrid – it’s like people thinking Raymond Loewy designed the Coca Cola bottle; he didn’t, and despite never actually saying he did himself he never denied it either, and people believed the myth for years). However, in 2008, Jose Luis Villanuevo, Director General of Projects for the Town Hall, claimed that the overpayments were because the architects – without actually mentioning Calatrava by name – had to make modifications to the project. Some modifications! And there’s been a certain reticence until lately to admit that the original agreement gave that nice Sr. Calatrava the right to charge a percentage of the finished costs. He’s already been bunged 94 million euros – more than twice his original bid for the whole project, fees, building and all. How much will his final bill be?

Rumour has it that those long stairways at either end of the science museum were one of those ‘modifications’ because dear old Cally forgot to include fire escapes and slapped them on only after being forced to do so by the fire authorities

Sadly, Calatrava has become a bit of a one-trick pony – and a dangerous one at that. His design for the l’Assut de l’Or bridge that links both sides of the riverbed between the Oceanogràfic and the Agora, has such a severe rake that you can’t see any traffic on the opposite side and whether the traffic lights are on red or green. There has already been one death attributed to this shortcoming. Murcia city council has just had to fork out 60,000 euros to lay a non-slip surface on the Calatrava-designed bridge between the barrios of Vistabella and Infante Juan Manuel, because of the number of people falling on their arses when it rains. Bilbao had to do the same with the Zubi Zuri bridge, also designed by Valencia’s favourite son.

Favourite son of Valencia Santiago Calatrava may be, but he makes sure the city of his birth and the one that has handed him enormous quantities of greenbacks over the years doesn’t see a centimo in return from him. His official residence is in Switzerland therefore denying the Spanish government of millions of euros in IVA, and it might be nice if he handed back the two million he trousered from the farce of the Auditorio in Castellon, where he was granted the contract by Francisco Camps, the disgraced ex-president of the region – without any public competition, and which was canceled before a design was put on paper. And as if the lake of dinero the Town Hall lets him swim in wasn’t enough, they even gave him a ‘thank you’ of a historic building on Plaza de la Virgen in the city centre. They got a poke in the eye when a local newspaper reported that during the building’s restoration some metal beams with the Town Hall’s stamp were found covered over alongside the architect’s new home. And despite protestations and denials all round, there were enough eyebrows raised over the idea that as if it wasn’t enough for the snout to be firmly in the trough it looked as though peelings were being gathered directly from the kitchen as well.

Here’s your chance to have your own private museum, IMAX cinema, water-park and enormous empty shell in the shape of a Grecian helmet – but you will need to be able to throw about 50million euros a year down the toilet if you do. And why not; that’s what the Valencian government’s been doing for years while claiming the place to be one of the world’s greatest tourist venues.

If you would like to know more about Spain, visit my web site, Derek Workman, and Spain Uncovered. Articles and books can also be found at Digital Paparazzi.


One Response to “A real load of old CAC”

  1. John Maher Says:

    One could go on for hours. The flooding of the opera, the hopeless emptiness of the Agora, the fact that though it does get decent numbers of visitors, there’s nothing for them to actually do or spend their money on. Why no bars, restaurants, entertainers, or life. The huge opera house is only open for performances, when it should be teeming with life. When walking dogs in park, I get asked almost every day by sweltering, defeated visitors (Spanish and international) how you actually get in to the Oceanogràfic, which they can see inaccessibly ahead of them. The stories of viciously autocratic, nepotistic management of the Palau de les Arts are legion – Schmidt’s secretaries taking dictation of letters setting out their own sacking (Schmidt doesn’t use a computer)…

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