Redefining Design, Redesigning the Fine

Form follows function. This is one of the major principles emphasized in modern architecture. Essentially, it means that gone are the days of the overly ornamented buildings as architects now construct structures that are more purposive in design. The new name of the game is profit and space maximization. Examples of space-maximizing buildings can be found in urban cities all over the world. But although modern architecture has shied away from overly ornamented buildings, beauty can still be found in these structures. So I guess that form is still somewhat important even in today’s day and age wherein amassing wealth, despite it’s malignity, is considered as an end of man. However, beauty no longer lies solely on the form but also in the function. Some even see beauty entirely in the function of the piece of architecture. However there are certain instances wherein form apparently supersedes function and beauty is restored to its rightful place. A kind of throwback to the Renaissance Era, if you may. Works like these are made by visionary architects whose main purpose in designing buildings is to make landmarks to be remembered by people. Case in point is Santiago Calatrava’s Satolas TGV Station.

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A railway station near Lyon, France, the Satolas TGV Station was designed by world-renowned architect and sculptor, Santiago Calatrava. He is known for making sculptures, bridges and buildings that are aesthetically attractive, uniquely designed and symbolical in form. The Satolas TGV Station is one such structure. The said station has two wing-like structures that span out of a central arch with a smaller one at the back making the whole station appear like a bird. These arches connect to a central point at the entrance of the station, which resembles the beak of the bird. Located under the main bird-like building concourse are the actual train tracks and platforms of the station. Another structure that makes the Satolas TGV Station distinct is the design of the tunnel, which protects the station from shockwaves of speeding trains passing through it. Santiago Calatrava intended the tunnel to resemble an interlocking chain of people. Because of this, he was able to give emphasis to the free space between the human replica’s limbs. The whole Satolas TGV Station is then located near an airport, which the station used as a model where it copied the roofing design. Situated in the middle of the Lyon countryside, the Santiago Calatrava meant for the Satolas TGV Station to be a symbol of Lyon just like how the Eiffel Tower symbolizes Paris.

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Men have a fascination of the unknown and that is what the Satolas TGV Station exploits – the natural inclination of man to decipher symbols.

The Satolas TGV Station is completely radical but what makes it stand out even more is the fact that it still remains stable and solid construction-wise. The unique design distinguishes it from other train stations. Furthermore, unlike other TGV stations or any other train station for that matter the one near Lyon is meant to symbolize something. But what it represented, I’m not really sure of. Admittedly, I first thought of the structure as a bird but upon being interviewed Santiago Calatrava said that he got his inspiration from a smaller work he did, which represented the human eye. The symbolism of the eye that seems like a bird certainly adds a certain mystique to the Satolas TGV Station. Whilst the symbolism of the station is alluring, I find it a bit lacking because I don’t know why it’s in the shape of an eye, why it looks like a bird or why the tunnel looks like interlocking men. To me it doesn’t make much sense. A kind of structural and symbolic unity is missing. But maybe that is exactly what makes it more intriguing and more fascinating to look at. Men have a fascination of the unknown and that is what the Satolas TGV Station exploits – the natural inclination of man to decipher symbols.

Aside from the mental challenge of trying to demystify the symbolism intended by Santiago Calatrava, there are other factors that add to its beauty. Structurally sound and unusually designed, the Satolas TGV Station is a unique landmark of the Lyon countryside – unique, in a sense that, it is not just a piece of architecture but also a sculpture at the same time. In my opinion, Santiago Calatrava tried to mix his two passions upon designing the whole thing. In trying to make the Satolas TGV Station like a sculpture, he was able to make it absolutely beautiful from the outside. I could imagine myself walking on the grassy plains of Lyon and simply being awestruck with the piece of architecture before my eyes. The unique design would draw me closer and closer to it until I enter the said structure. This is where the Satolas TGV Station ceases to be a sculpture as one can see it from – a perspective totally impossible for sculptures – the inside looking out. From this point of view is where one can truly appreciate the Satolas TGV for what it functionally is. It no longer seems like the bird or the eye that Santiago Calatrava wanted to depict. It is now a train station similar to all other train stations but not quite the same.

After all is said and done, the question still remains: Which brings rise to the other: form or function? After “seeing” the Satolas TGV Station, it made me reconsider what I said earlier that form follows function. In a way, I no longer quite agree with the statement. Rather than form emanating off of function, I feel that form and function feed of each other in a kind of symbiotic relationship. They are like yin and yang. One cannot exist without the other. More importantly they go hand in hand because when structures, such as Satolas TGV Station, are built both form and function are constructed at the same time. Come to think of it, no building exists without a function. The same goes for form. They are like height and weight. Everyone has them but they cannot exist by themselves. But in order to make a work of art beautiful, one must be able to balance the two. This is what Santiago Calatrava did. He was able to design and construct an aesthetically appealing building without sacrificing the structural integrity of the piece of architecture. The only sad thing about the Satolas TGV Station is that not a lot of people get to appreciate its beauty because of the remoteness of its location and the impracticality of riding these trains. Nevertheless, beautiful things still remain beautiful even if there is no one to appreciate it. Quite simply, Santiago Calatrava’s Satolas TGV Station is beautiful because it contains a unique blend of form and function, sculpture and architecture, technical brilliance and artistic vision that will surely captivate passengers and art critics alike.

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