see-ming lee (Flickr / Creative commons) 

The Maximum Security Children’s Zoo and Concert Hall

An architectural masterpiece no one is waiting for

[Architect Santiago] Calatrava was paid approximately 94 million euros (about $127 million) for his work [on a riverbed complex of museums and attractions in Valencia, Spain]. How could that be, [Parliament member Ignacio] Blanco asks, when the opera house included 150 seats with obstructed views? Or when the science museum was initially built without fire escapes or elevators for the disabled?
A Star Architect Leaves Some Clients Fuming, New York Times, Sept. 24, 2013

I stand here proud to unveil my latest creation. You asked for an airport. You asked for a concert hall. You asked for a children’s zoo. And, in a separate request, you asked for a maximum security prison. I have done the unthinkable and combined all of your needs into one dynamic and colorful multipurpose space that will revolutionize the world of contemporary architecture.

Hold on a moment: We should move the press conference to the other side of the building, because one of the decorative roof boulders is about to roll off and crush us.

Okay, that’s better. Notice the symbolism in the design. The tusks that frame the entrance are made of glass covered in stone. The wings are made of stone covered in glass. There’s a bunch of extra stone and glass all around the site, so you should probably wear shoes. Symbolic shoes. And also actual shoes. To represent feet. Which is what we measured our floor boards in, when it should have been meters. So part of the floor is uncovered, but let’s ignore that.

If you look at it from one angle, it appears as if airplanes are taking flight every 3-5 minutes. You may think that’s the airport section of the building, but it’s actually the prison, and it symbolizes prisoners roaming free, unshackled from their cells. See, I looked at other prisons, and I didn’t like the vertical lines on all those bars and fences. Instead, I opened things up a bit, adding some curves and natural flow. I turned the barbed wire into a kaleidoscope of fabrics — cotton and linen, in a range of pastels — and replaced the traditional alarm system with wind chimes. It’s so much more pleasing to the ear. As I always say, you don’t just see with your eyes.

On the other side of the complex are a runway that is not just a runway, but is also the entrance hall for the zoo, and a public plaza that can serve as a town square of sorts. Sure, people need to clear out every time a plane is coming in, but that’s a small price to pay to get the ideal angle at which to view the sunset, twice a year, as the mountains in the distance shape a picture-postcard view. What’s a little inconvenience if we can achieve the perfect image?

I can see by the looks on most of your faces that you’re finally smelling the roof. Yes, amid the glass and stone, the naturals and synthetics, the roof is made of cookie dough. We’ve tested it, and — before you ask — each summer you will have more cookies than you know what to do with. It’s like solar energy, only completely different. The animals can eat the cookies. The children can eat the cookies. You can sell the cookies at the airport gift shop. There’s almost an unlimited number of things you can do with the cookies. Although you will have to keep replacing the roof each time you eat it. It’s a trade-off we made in the design, but I think it was well worth it.

The entire complex is handicapped-accessible, aside from the surrounding moat. The acoustics of the concert hall, I must admit, are impaired quite significantly due to the sounds of the airplanes as well as the zoo animals. The dressing room for the performers is also the baboon habitat. We had to find some ways to combine spaces — I’m sorry. But the artists will always have priority access to the tire swing and the bananas. It’s in the contract all the baboons signed.

I know there have been some early concerns about dangerous prisoners wandering around the international terminal, along with the white tigers and a pair of accordion players who were accidentally locked out of the concert hall, but that’s the magic of mixed-use facilities. I didn’t want to make the mistake made by so many other designers, keeping the disparate parts of the complex entirely separated. No, the world is an interconnected, multidimensional place. I envision a community where seals can interact with flight attendants, violent drug offenders can play the harpsichord, and baby pandas can fly the planes. Perhaps I’m living in a dream world, but they say great architecture brings dreams to life.

We should move again. There’s another boulder rolling off the roof. And watch out for the snakes. They seem to have slithered past baggage claim.