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Santiago Calatrava’s Riverfront Sculpture Delayed By Faulty Weld And NASA Rocket

The spiraling installation builds on Chicago’s “extraordinary tradition of urban art and architecture,” says its creator

Crews installed a number of steel pieces atop a circular base before removing most to address a faulty weld.
JAY KOZIARZ/BLOCK CLUB CHICAGO
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DOWNTOWN — A highly anticipated sculpture from famed architect Santiago Calatrava stands partly assembled along the Chicago River as crews work to correct a manufacturing defect which has complicated the already delayed project.

Dubbed “Constellation,” the 29-foot-tall artwork features a series of overlapping leaflike elements arranged in a three-dimensional spiral. While the sculpture’s steel construction allows for the complex shape, the material was partly responsible for the slow installation. 

Calatrava’s crimson creation was revealed in 2018. It was supposed to take roughly 14 months to fabricate and install at the center of the elevated waterfront plaza at River Point, a 52-story office tower at 444 W. Lake St. 

The announced summer 2019 completion date slipped after the Cleveland-based company in charge of manufacturing the sculpture was forced to prioritize repairs to faulty fuel tanks developed for a NASA rocket, the Sun-Times reported last year. 

Assembly work on “Constellation” began this summer and was expected to “continue for several weeks,” River Point developer Hines Interests announced in July. Though crews managed to install most of the pieces, a cracked weld led to a partial disassembly, and steel specialists were brought in to correct the issue. 

Last week, workers on-site confirmed ongoing efforts to repair the defect but offered no estimate for when the work on “Constellation” will actually be done. Representatives of both Hines and Calatrava’s firm declined to respond to questions regarding the delay or provide a timeline for the artwork’s completion.

Credit: SANTIAGO CALATRAVA LLC
A rendering shows the completed sculpture overlooking the Chicago River atop River Point Park.

Calatrava is known for high-profile projects around the globe, including the Milwaukee Art Museum and World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York. Still, the Spanish-Swiss architect has yet to leave a lasting mark on the Windy City.

The designer came close with the 2,000-foot-tall Chicago Spire skyscraper, but it stalled amid 2008’s Great Recession, leaving an unsightly water-filled hole at 400 N. Lake Shore Dr. Two shorter towers designed by Skidmore, Ownings & Merril are now planned for the site.

Calatrava’s firm was also among five finalists vying to design the upcoming O’Hare Global Terminal at Chicago’s busiest airport. City officials ultimately awarded the contract to a competing team of architects led by local firm Studio Gang.

“I feel very honored that my work was chosen to be integrated in the streetscape of Chicago, a city with such an extraordinary tradition of urban art and architecture,” Santiago Calatrava said in a press release about the upcoming sculpture at River Point.

A similar sentiment is echoed by neighbor Matthew Miller, a resident at the nearby Randolph Place condominium building.

“It’s exciting to have something by Calatrava come to the city, since we’re not getting the Spire,” said Miller, whose rooftop overlooks the plaza at River Point. “It’s culturally significant and a great addition to the Chicago River, which is known for its architecture.”

Calatrava’s creation looks to be a clear hit among design buffs and architectural cruise guides, but the timeline for its completion remains as murky as the river itself. 

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