*Siza, Alvaro


Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza

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see also:Iberê Camargo in Porto Alegre, Brazil / Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza

Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza (Alvaro Joaquim Melo Siza Viera), is one of the best-known Portuguese architects of the 20th century. Although Alvaro Siza produced numerous projects for clients in Portugal (houses, schools, and other instututions), it was not until the 1980s that Alvaro Siza began to recieve recognition through exhibitions and commissions in other European countries.

Alvaro Siza’s architecture is strongly rooted in the Modern movement, but incorporates a subjective approach to concept and design, seeking alternative interpretations of modernism. Alvaro Siza has stated, “Architecture is increasingly a problem of use and reference to models… My architecture does not have a pre-established language and does not establish a language. It is a response to a concrete problem, a situation in transformation in which I participate.”
The geographic and climatic contitions of the place of Alvaro Siza’s architecture are of profound importance to this thinking in addition to cultural and social concerns. In Alvaro Siza’s oeuvre sensitivity to context does not result in nostalgic historicism or critical regionalism. It is rather a unique approach to a universal language transformed to respond to a local situation. Alvaro Siza’s built works strive to integrate conflicting demands and affinities, often embodying poins of tension that exist in a delicate balance.
For Alvaro Siza, a building is a. the same lime autonomous and responsive, unified and diversified. Alvaro Siza eschews using technology for technology’s sake and employs local materials such as stucco, brick, and stone – all traditional building materials that Alvaro Siza uses to create abstract compositions.
Alvaro Siza’s swimming pools (1966) located in Leca de Palmeira, a small town near Porto, were his first projects to receive acclaim outside Portugal. These seaside pools easily make the transition from man-made concrete to the natural rock formations, creating sublime bathing pools. The changing rooms are in an unobtrusive pavilion of concrete with wood roofs that guide the visitor through a corridor-like space before opening on to the expansive sea.
The Pinto e Sotto Maior Bank (1974) in Oliveira de Azmeis, a small town in northern Portugal, is very representative of Alvaro Siza’s early work. This small building does not adopt the formal architectural vocabulary of the place but rather creates a dialogue with its surroundings. The curved, glass facade looks out on to the square, however, creating a formal juxtaposition with the traditional forms of the square. Another bank building, the Borges and Irmao Bank (1986) in Vila do Conde, Portugal, takes a similar approach. It is both a separate entity and a participant in the townscape, respecing the scale of its surroundings. From the outside little is revealed of the character of the interior. However, the space flows because of the visual connection between floors.
In 1977 following the revolution in Portugal, the local government of Evora commissioned Alvaro Siza to plan a housing project in the rural outskirts of the town. It was to be one of several that Alvaro Siza would do for the national housing association, consisting of 1,200 low-cost, row houses, some one-story and some twostory units, all with courtyards. The layout, of the new section gave order to an area at the periphery of the town while connecting it with existing housing areas.
During the 1980s, Alvaro Siza asked to undertake increasingly larger institutional projects, such as the School of Architecture (1992) at Porto University in Porto, the Teachers Training College (1991) at Setubal, and the Centro Galiziano (Museum of Modern Art, 1994) in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, located within the historical city.
This Centro Galiziano building fots into a complicated and historic site employing concepts of integration and contrast. The reductive elongated form of the museum – produced by two adjacent wings – seeks to create classical order in an area that had suffered decline. The granite exterior contrasts with the stark white interior. Once again, Alvaro Siza has approached the work with sensitivity to context without relinquishing the autonomy and strength of the new construction. Other notable museum projects include the addition to the Serralves Foundation and Museum in Porto (1999), the renovation and extension to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1997), and the Manzana del Revellin Cultural Centre in Ceuta, Portugal (1997).
Other outstanding, widely published projects of Alvaro Siza’s include die Aveiro University Library a. Aveiro, Portugal (1994); the Vitra factory at Weil-am-Rein, Germany (1994); Schlesisches Tor Apartments at Kreuzberg, Germany (1983); the Portuguese Pavilion at Expo ’98 in Lisbon, Portugal (1998); the Santa Maria Church in Marco de Canavezes, Portugal (1997).

Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza

Biography
Born in 25 June 1933 in Matosinhos, just north of Porto in Portugal. Studied architecture at University of Porto, School of Architecture (1949-55). Opened his own atelier in Porto (1954) and began Alvaro Siza’s career by designing smaller works, mainly residences in the late 1950s-1960s. Collaborated will) Portuguese architect Fernando Tavora (1955-58); began leaching at University of Porto (1966); became full professor (1976-present); has taught and lectured outside Portugal at Harvard University, the Ecole Poytechniquc of Lausanne, Switzerland, and Los Andes University of Bogota. Awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1992).
________________________________________
Major works:
Swimming pools, Leca de Palmeira, Poriugal, 1966
Alves Santos House, Povoa do Varzim, Portugal, 1969
Pinto e Sotto Maior Bank, Oliveira de Azmeis, Poriugal, 1974
J.M. Teixeira House, Taipas Guimaraes, Portugal, 1980
Borges and Irmao Hank, Vila do Conde, Portugal, 1986
“Joao de Deus” Kindergarten, Penafiel, Portugal, 1988
Residential complex Schilderswijk West, The Hague. Netherlands, 1988
School of Architecture, Porto University in Porto, 1992
Teachers Training College, Setubal, Portugal, 1991
Vitra Factory, Weil-am-Rein, Germany, 1994
Centro Galiziano (Museum of Modern Art), Santiago de Compostela, Spain 1994
Manzana del Revellin Cultural Centre, Ceuta, Portugal, 1997
Architect’s Office, Porto, 1998
Boavista Residential Complex, Porto, 1998
Serrakves Museum and Foundation, Porto, 1999
________________________________________
Bibliography:
1. Alvaro Siza 1954-1988.
2. A+U Extra Edition Tokyo: A+U, (June 1989).
3. Angelillo, Antonio (editor), Alvaro Siza: Writings on Architecture, Milan Skira, 1997
4. Dos Santos, Jose Paolo, (editors). Alvaro Siza: Works and Projects, 1954-1992,
5. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 1994 Fleck Brigitte, Alvaro Siza, Basel and Boston: Birkhauser, 1992
6. Frampton Kenneth, Alvaro Siza: Tutte le Opere, Milan Electa, 1999
7. Jodidio Philip, Alvaro Siza (Architecture & Design Series), Koln and London, Taschen, 1999
8. De Llano, Pedro and Carlos Castanheira, Alvaro Siza, Madrid, Sociedad Editorial Electa Espana, 1995
9. Siza, Alvaro, Alvaro Siza, Arquiucto: Centro de Art Contemporanea de Galicia, Galicia, Spain, Xunta de Galicia, 1993
10. Testa Peter, The Architecture of Alvaro Siza, Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T., 1984
11. Testa, Peter, Alvaro Siza, Basel and Boston, Birkhauser, 1996
12. Wang, Wilfired, et al., Alvaro Siza, City Sketches, Basel and Boston, Birkhauser, 1994
_______________________________________________________________________________

Alvaro Siza 1

THOUGHTS ON SIZA

Álvaro SIZA VIEIRA
I am not sure whether the work of Álvaro Siza has ever received the attention it deserves in Portugal. This reticence on the part of national critics is perhaps due to the sheer difficulty of the undertaking, a veritable challenge in itself. It may also be that the fairly sparse ranks of Portuguese critics were and are still not prepared to handle such a task.
My aim here is certainly not to correct these shortcomings, but rather to set down a few thoughts of my own that provide what I consider to be a necessary interpretation of Siza’s work.
First:
Having had the opportunity to follow the career of Siza Vieira very closely – I recall excursions to see his first works when we were all still at the Beaux Arts – has been a particularly gratifying experience for me (although I must confess that this was perhaps tinged with a certain natural envy) and gratifying for a whole generation of architects. The latter, certainly with more involvement than I, have witnessed the development of an architect whose works over the years have proven to be amongst the most coherent and complete of all architectural works this century.
This point of view should be made clear from the outset so as to avoid any ambiguity regarding what I think and say or may say further on.
This coherence, which I believe is evident, is not based on self-proclamation or stylistic repetition: it lies in the progressive evolution of the act of designing. Siza’s work is thus immediately recognisable, no matter where we find it.
For this very reason, it is easy to detect fakes, easy to spot imitations by those who think they understand Siza, copying his gestures, repeating his “way of doing things”.
It should be pointed out that the permanent quality that characterises the work of Siza Vieira cannot be achieved by mere capriciousness of form, however elegant this may be.
And if there are architects that can be called elegant, Siza Vieira is one of them. This elegance, however, is not the same type of elegance that characterises a beautiful outfit in a fashion show, but rather the kind of elegance that mathematicians find in a correct mathematical formula.
The elegance is inner, not exterior, its seduction lying in the fact that it is truly structural. For this reason it cannot be achieved with simple strokes of intuition, however brilliant these may be, but rather through the lucid exercise of critical intelligence.
This needs mentioning since one of the shrewdest ways of removing someone from competition, disquieting affairs that they are, is to proclaim that person’s genius, his quasi enlightenment, thereby putting him on some kind of pedestal. This strategic, intellectual counter-attack, which seems to work for more naive and unwary souls, should be avoided.
Second:
I have on various occasions stressed what I consider to be Álvaro Siza’s greatest contribution to Portuguese architecture in general, apart from the obvious quality of his work.
Perhaps I am mistaken, but I should like to emphasise once more his ability to re-create history – our history – to revive it, freeing Portuguese architecture from a complex with no critical sense to it which has dragged on for generations.
And this was done inevitably – returning to the previous point – in the manner of a cultural conquest, certainly intuitive, yet discursive also.
I am reminded of a phrase by Antonio Sergio that I once quoted in respect of Raúl Lino: “…I beseech my compatriots to rid themselves of this division of humankind into two completely distinct, incompatible, incommunicable, pure classes, to wit: Emotional and Intellectual, Sensitive men, Intelligent men.”
Álvaro Siza is a fine example of this: acute sensitivity, acute intelligence.

Alvaro Siza 2

Third:
Siza has frequently been linked to Minimalism, as if he were in fact a Minimalist architect.
I do not think so. This strikes me as a rather superficial idea.
Siza is not – not even labelling someone, whatever that label may be, has ever posed such a problem – an architect that at the merely formal level of architectural understanding can be defined and labelled…
Nevertheless, I suppose that if you have to mention an artistic attitude that does seem to fit him, if the subliminal structure of his work is in keeping with a particular movement, then that is the expressionism that is latent in his work. And I believe that expressionist roots are revealed in all his works, precisely because this expressionism is revealed at a deeper level in the formal structures.
More immediately patent in the forms of the Tea House, more elaborate and subterranean in the Setubal College or the Santiago Museum, expressionist underlies his work.
In these last two examples, this attitude defines not so much the concrete forms, the formal forms, but rather the quality of the light and the way in which it is manipulated.
Here, Álvaro Siza gets to the bottom of the very arguments that shape architecture.
One need merely analyse his projects from this point of view to find the common thread running through them: light that has nothing cold about it, abstract light that is purely rationalist.
I recall many years ago drawing attention to the quality of the light in the Leca swimming pool.
Today I would say that the quality and control of light are a constant in his work.
The markedly plastic tactile light – not passive light, in the sense that it provides a service (the light that illuminates the “simple volumes” of a Le Corbusier) but light dealt with as an expressive object – remains, perhaps, the very stuff of architecture. And in Siza it is conceived as being rooted in expressionism.
Perhaps the Chiado experience, the contact with windows and the thickness of the walls, will result in a certain hardening of light. By this I do not mean a loss of quality, but rather an alteration to this quality.
Fourth:
Another characteristic of Siza’s works is the permanent absence of inflated rhetoric. One of the reasons for this – there are others – is the scale he always introduces, regardless of the size of the project.
Without wanting to go into the subject in too much detail, it is interesting to note how there has always been an attempt to incorporate a German influence into Portuguese architecture. It seems to me that the Austrian influence is far greater than the German, and that control of scale is one of the aspects of this influence, on the one hand patent and on the other long-lasting.
In Siza’s case (which is just one of the cases in which it is noticeable) the influence is a recollection that has been absorbed in refined style, but it is present nonetheless.
I believe that this precision of scale is contributed to by the subtle understanding of the surroundings, and the recent project for the Faculty of Architecture in Oporto, in which he rejects a large-scale solution, seems to me to be a fine example of this.
Fifth:
Unlike a certain consensus that seems to have been established around his work, I find the effective participation of the population in solving their problems to be of only relative importance.
Firstly, because I think that this participation is extremely ambiguous, and is in urgent need of re-evaluation.
Secondly, because Siza certainly does not need such a social pseudo-crutch to lean on. As far as I’m concerned, this participation is nothing more than – in Siza’s and not only Siza’s case – a pious myth, only aggravated here by the importance that is given it.
It’s worth looking at and briefly commenting on an article by Hans van Dijk, who dedicated part of an essay on the work of Siza to this very topic after gathering together various bits and pieces of information, including numerous interviews with Siza himself. Van Dijk states that Siza believes that participation leads to conflict and that (and here he is not concurring with the above statement) the absence of conflict can only signify insufficient or even non-existent participation.
Accepting for now, then, that participation implies conflict and that the absence of conflict thus denotes the absence of participation, this does not necessarily mean that conflict implies participation. In other words, conflict may be a necessary condition for participation, but is not sufficient on its own.
Van Dijk points out, however, with reference to an occasion on which there was a certain negative reaction from the population, that this was based on “class arrogance, populism, misunderstanding of the context and excessive romanticism and nostalgia for the past.”
Even when the population’s point of view coincided with that of the project, it was “full of contradictions” and their points of reference were based on misrepresentative television pictures.
Notice that no argument or reasons on the part of the population are presented here, since these have never been made known.
Throughout Van Dijk’s description, the whole affair seems almost artificially created, with one of the sides getting caught up in personal arguments that have little or no sense to them.
I do not believe in the method of participation. More importantly, I do not believe that the architecture of Álvaro Siza is in need of it.
What does count at the critical level, however, is that the preoccupation with this aspect (misleading, as far as I’m concerned) of his work conceals a need to confer a social worth on Siza, as if this were lacking. The work of Álvaro Siza has poetic worth in itself, displays inventiveness, formal reliability, theoretical richness and a prodigious linguistic assurance, with nothing to be gained by attributing marginal validation values to it, which merely bear witness to the mental frameworks we were forced to develop in decades that have thankfully gone by.
Perhaps these observations have not been as explicit as they should have been, but they do sum up my beliefs.
I believe that only through a mutual effort, a continual exercise of lucidity, which Siza’s work prepares us for, will we be able to put it into its proper critical perspective.

Pedro Vieira de Almeida, July 1995

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1 Comment

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