The cost of beauty
Ranjita Biswas | @twfindia | 22 Sep 2019
The cost of beauty
A few days back a small news item caught my eye: ‘Star architect to pay Venice Euro 78,000 over bridge too fragile for tourists’. Apparently the glass and steel bridge that was opened to the public in 2008 is facing multiple problems. The architect , an Italian court said, did not foresee or ‘neglected’ to take note of, that Venice’s great tourist explosion and their luggage needed a sturdier design for the bridge. Should he have taken advice of local people who were familiar with this problem?

Curious, I scanned for the architect’s name. Santiago Calatrava, the high profile Spanish architect. I scratched my head; the name seemed familiar. Oh, where did I come across  this name and saw another of his signature works? Then I remembered. In Bilbao city in Spain: a graceful and curving  white bridge called Zubizuri  that connects the two promenades on the sides of  the Nervion river that runs through Bilbao. But here too it got the sobriquest ‘bridge of controversy’.


Bilbao is known for its frequent light showers called sirimiriby the locals. Calatrava’s glass bottomed bridge was picturesque; at night you could see the river below with twinkling lights. But romanticism had to take a back seat as the showers often made the glass bottom slippery and there were frequent accidents. So the city fathers had to but a carpet to cover it. Locals often wondered why the architect, a Spaniard himself, did not foresee that such a  problem could arise in Bilbao.


That brings into mind whether local/traditional wisdom is often ignored  to create so-called ‘beauty’. Look at the promenade along the Eastern ByPass in Kolkata skirting the bheris – wetlands a rich source of biodiversity. A promenade along the bheriswas built with nice tiles and benches to sit down to admire the scenary . To add to the beauty palm trees were also planted (transplanted). At first they looked very nice but now you see them dying looking woebegone with drooping brown leaves. Horticulturists say that they were too big to be planted and the base getting cemented meant the roots did not have  space to breathe either. Were they consulted before the beautification palns?


The same thing is happening in many localities in Kolkata. The footpathsare being tiled/ cemented end to end with big trees getting imprisoned; the roots are failing to absorb moisture and getting weaker. As a result at the slightest sign of a squall or thunderstorm, which is getting more frequent the scientists say due to pollution and climate change, they crush. Now the city fathers are going in for ‘freeing’ the base of these old trees. Who cares for so much public money going to waste for ideas that don’t work because some people know more than others .


To repeat a cliché, ‘What cost beauty?’