Us as VinUnians are no longer strange to Ocean Park mega city, in which our stunning university stands. The Mega City is also promoted as a city within a city, where we seem to get into another Hanoi just kilometers away from the center. On my exchange semester journey in Europe, I got a chance to wander around another version of “city within a city”, where it is not merely a commercial, livable mega city, but rather a marvelous project of architecture and tourism. This article will tour you around this gorgeous city, with a little bit of its establishment history to provide a better overview about such projects.
A month ago, Apple premiered its novel introduction video boasting about the top notch technologies that are embedded in the design of the Iphone 15 Pro. Within a few first seconds of the video, brand lovers witness impressive building blocks that serve as the filming set throughout the video: the parallel curvy lines running down the designs; the grand crystal arch architectures that are surrounded by a pool of blue water; the white, tall bridge masses that look indeed spectacular,... Not the usual Gothic or Baroque styles that can be easily found in European countries, the set offers a look into modernistic design that perfectly fits the characteristics of such commercial technological products.
The chosen destination featured in this video is the City of Arts and Sciences, or “Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias” in its original Spanish language, a city within the city of Valencia - the third largest city in Spain. This unique city consists of 6 grand buildings, each with different establishment stories, functions and designs. The whole complex is the work of the renowned local architect Santiago Calatrava for most of the parts, with collaboration of architect Félix Candela for the roof of the Oceanographic. Santiago Calatrava is widely known for his sculptural bridges and buildings in Spain, he was awarded the gold medal of the American Institute of Architects in 2005 - a prestigious honor in the architect industry.
A center of science, technology, nature and art.
Among the 6 unique buildings, the Hemisfèric was the first to be inaugurated and opened the doors to the public in 1998. Its architecture is also my favorite one in the complex, with an 100-meter-long ovoidal roof on the top that covers a large sphere inside. Thanks to the reflection on the surrounding lake, the whole architecture constitutes a beautiful object that resembles a human’s eye - in which Calatrava called it “the eye of wisdom”. When the sun goes down and the light comes up, the building stands gorgeously in the middle of the city. The Hemisfèric is dedicated for 3D projections and live planetarium, which is also accessible all year round.
Stands right next to the Hemisfèric is the Museum of Science (Museu de les Ciències) that opened to the public 2 years later. It is known for the geometry and structure that resembles that whale’s skeleton. Here inside the building, visitors can observe the exhibition of famous inventions such as the bicycle, a journey into the discovery of astronomy, chemistry and other kinds of science in interactive and experiential classrooms.
Described as the city’s center of emotion, where arts of all kinds are displayed to the audience, ranging from Jazz, Dance, Zarzuela, Flamenco, Recitals, Lied, Symphonic concerts to great Operas, the Queen Sofia Palace of Arts impresses the bypasses by its laminated steel and ceramic shells that cover the exterior of the building. Wandering around the complex for more than an hour, I reserved a ticket to enter the main auditorium and enjoy the renowned opera “The queen of spades”. Virtually most of the audiences of the opera are senior local people who dress formally and usually go in pairs. The opera lasts for 4 hours in total with 2 20-min breaks in between. The orchestra and actors’ voice is mind-blowing, with appropriate combination of stage lighting and well-designed props. I had great experience admiring not just the majestic building, but also the spiritual food of the Valencian.
Its struggling past that most tourists do not know
Though being famous tourist attraction in Valencia in specific and Spain in general in the past decades, the City of Arts and Sciences experienced a turbulent past with conflict of interest regarding how it should be built, which functions should it incorporates and the disputes around Santiago Calatrava was sued because of the quick degradation of the buildings that imposed injury risks to the public.
First proposed by Joan Lerma, who derives the ideas from the influence of Paris's city of Science and Industry, the Valencia’s version was expected to be a global icon of science that attracts tourists coming to the city. Joan Lerma was the first democratically elected Socialist Party President of the autonomous Valencia community, whose original idea was to transform the neglected land into the “City of Sciences and Telecommunications”. The initial design proposal contains a Telecommunication Tower instead of the Queen Sofia Palace of Arts. However, due to the political change in the region in 1995 and the ambition to host the European Euronews TV headquarters, which was later granted to Lyon, the city underwent modifications in design and its initial purpose.
Architect Santiago Calatrava was also criticized because of the increased cost imposed on the Valencia government. The project tripled its initial budget at more than 1 billion Euros after 20 years of construction. In 2014, about 8 years after the opening of the Queen Sofia Palace of Arts, its tiles on the roof had to be removed because some went off in high winds. The government of Valencia had to cancel the presale opera concerts and later sued Calatrava for his flaw in design.
Though undergoing ups and downs throughout its establishment, the City of Arts and Sciences remains a hot attraction when mentioning Valencia. And thanks to its modernist look, Apple chose the city as the protagonist for its product debut. The complex is a good case study for tourism enthusiasts to learn about the architect’s style and how such a city serves as an icon of the city it belongs to.
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