Awarded with the National Architecture Prize “for what he has contributed to Spanish architecture and cities,” Alvaro Siza Vieira is one of the most important contemporary Portuguese architects, and the first non-Spanish architect to win this prize, during its almost 90 years of history. He is the author of reference buildings in Spain such as the Zaida Building in Granada, the Meteorological Center in the Olympic Village in Barcelona, the Rectorate of the AU in Alicante, and Social Housing in Cádiz. In Spain, Portugal or anywhere else, Siza projects his poetic vision of architecture through buildings that dialogue with the landscape in an immaculate white. In 1992, he was also the subject of an important recognition, the Pritzker Prize.
Some of Siza’s most notable work
Marked mainly by modernist and minimalist influences, Álvaro Siza’s work is based on an intense, permanent and deep dialogue with the environment that surrounds him. The search for the end of excess, the need to thoroughly explore materials and elements and simplicity in design are some of the main characteristics of the architect’s work style. According to one of Álvaro Siza’s phrases:
It is necessary to find the right balance between the control of the spatial experience and freedom to allow things to happen.
Another very common point in his works is the expressionist style since the artist always looks for a way to show emotions.
It is true that Siza has focused a consistent part of his practice on the design of social housing. This was the case of one of his first projects outside Portugal, the Schlesisches Tor residence (known as Bonjour Tristesse by legend on its main facade) in the Berlin neighbourhood of Kreuzberg, signed in 1983 with Peter Brinkert.
During the previous decade – immediately after the fall of the military regime in his country – he had made the housing complexes of Bouça and São Víctor, in Porto, and then embarked on the Quinta da Malagueira, on the outskirts of Évora.
But he also accepted other jobs of a very diverse typology, with results as austere as they are refined: this is the case of the Boa Nova tea house in his native Matosinhos, a few kilometres north of Porto, which is resolved as a modest establishment rightly converted into a pilgrimage destination for architecture enthusiasts around the world.
Or the Borges e Irmão Bank in Vila do Conde (first Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies van der Rohe of the European Union, in 1988), the Faculty of Architecture of Porto, the Library of the University of Aveiro and the church of Santa María in Marco de Canaveses, in the interior of the Porto region.
At the Tagus River’s mouth, a wonder of contemporary architecture can be found, the Expo’98 Pavilion of Portugal, which shows that concrete can give rise to sophisticated and delicate works. The theme of the Expo, “Oceans: a heritage for the future,” demanded from the architect an interaction between the pavilion and the port that the creator masterfully solved, perhaps because he had spent his childhood in a fishing village. With the help of his compatriot, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Siza created a visually striking space, a refuge for the soul that, in addition, met the needs of the festival and the specific requirements of the site. The heart of the project is a large public square, open in the shade of a suspended ceiling.
Minimalist, contextualist, rationalist… Alvaro Siza is a devotee of Mies van der Rohe, Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, as we can see in the clean and white structures of his designs. The Portuguese architect sublimates the traditional architecture of his home country, providing it with a trail of modernity. For the Iberê Camargo Foundation, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, he designed a white concrete building with five floors and large exhibition spaces.
L-shaped galleries that connect to its ramps at the ends. It is the first Siza museum in Brazil and probably the most emblematic. As historian William Curtis said, “Siza is one of the few modern architects capable of creating a pure architectural place.”
The Anyang pavilion, in South Korea, is one of his latest constructions. An urgent and unexpected invitation to the cultural centre of a small town of 30,000 inhabitants has ended with extraordinary results.
When Siza “met” Gaudí
A noticeable piece of his work is the Serralves Museum in Porto, where the use of natural light, the configuration of the interior space and its dialogue with the surrounding nature promote in the visitor the ineffable feeling of being inside a large minimalist sculpture. This perception is present to a greater or lesser extent in many of his projects, something that can be attributed to a frustrated youth vocation: as he has once stated, he had wanted to be a sculptor, and he only gave in to his father’s deterrent efforts when discovering Gaudí’s architecture in Barcelona.
It is difficult to imagine a style further away from Siza – which rather connects with the Scandinavian tradition of Aalto and Asplund or at times with Le Corbusier, and even with German expressionism, more than the modernist variegation of the Catalan architect, and yet there we would have the first point of connection with Spain.
The list of works he has made is endless as we have seen above. The Faculty of Architecture in Porto, the Parish Center of Marco de Canavezes, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Naples… This last recognition, the National Architecture Prize, adds to a long list of awards, among which the Architecture Prize of the International Association of Art Critics, the Architecture Prize of the Association of Portuguese Architects, the Gold Medal of Architecture of the Superior Council of the Colleges of Architects of Spain and the Mies van der Rohe Prize, in addition to the aforementioned Pritzker, stand out. All in all, this versatile architect has achieved what every artist dreams to achieve; leave a positive impact on the world, manage to trigger certain emotions in people with his pieces, and get the recognition deserved for it.
- Griffiths, A. and Griffiths, A., 2015. Serralves Museum: Álvaro Siza Vieira. [online] https://www.port-magazine.com. Available at: <https://www.port-magazine.com/architecture/serralves-museum-alvaro-siza-vieira/> [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- Souza, E., 2018. Alvaro Siza’s Iberê Camargo Foundation Through the Lens of Ronaldo Azambuja. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/907089/alvaro-sizas-ibere-camargo-foundation-through-the-lens-of-ronaldo-azambuja> [Accessed 19 May 2022].
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- Frearson, A., 2014. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2014/07/21/boa-nova-tea-house-renovation-porto-alvaro-siza/> [Accessed 18 May 2022].
- Serralves.pt. 2022. Visiting the Museum. [online] Available at: <https://www.serralves.pt/en/institucional-serralves/visitar-o-museu/> [Accessed 20 May 2022].
- Encyclopedia Britannica. 2022. Alvaro Siza | Biography, Architecture, Style, Buildings, & Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alvaro-Siza> [Accessed 20 May 2022].