Life and Early works: Portuguese Architect and Educator, Alvaro Siza was born and raised in a small town near Porto and graduated from the School of Fine Arts of the University of Porto, currently known as the Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto (FAUP). He completed his first project of designing and building 4 houses in his hometown before graduating from college. Siza’s early years saw him collaborating with multiple designers on various expos and pavilions that showcased his style of ‘Poetic Modernism’. He was also known to teach at his alma mater along with fellow architect Fernando Tavora and went on to contribute to the publications on the acclaimed architect Luis Barragan. Piscinas de Marés, a public pool complex built in the fishing town of Leca De Palmeira was one of his first few works to gain recognition. Boa Nova Teahouse and Restaurant designed by Siza on the coast of the same town was known for its diverse use of materials and its interplay with the surrounding rocky landscape. Siza eventually proceeded to build housing projects, after Portugal’s Revolution of the Carnation in 1974. Servicio de Apoio Ambulatório Local (SAAL), a government-supported organization commissioned him to design several housing schemes that eventually brought him international acclaim. The Bouça and São Victor housing projects in Porto, built to improve the urban slum conditions and Evora’s Quinta da Malagueira development were some of his well-known socio-political work, with the latter project running in phases over a span of 20 years. His works spanned mostly in his country and around Western Europe. Alvaro Siza continues to build his legacy through his work and donated a great portion of his architectural archive to the Canadian Centre of Architecture (CCA) in 2014, to make his designs and methodology accessible to the future architects. Apart from winning the Pritzker Prize in 1992, he has been awarded the Alvar Aalto Medal in 1988, RIBA’s 2009 Royal Gold Medal, the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and various other awards and accolades for his works and contribution to the field.
“Architects don’t invent anything; they transform reality”
Alvaro Siza’s works are described by the Pritzker jury members as a product of modernism, structures that unveil their form and beauty with the interplay of light and emanate a sense of simplicity and honesty. He insists that emotion plays an important role in Architecture, without which we would be left with a feeling of incompleteness. Siza’s design process begins with sketching out plausible solutions for the project even with the limited information he receives. He admits that the concepts could change completely by the end of the process, but the need to generate ideas at every stage is an essential step for the creative process. It promotes innovation that is necessary for the design. He believes that tradition is a challenge to design. “Tradition is important when it contains moments of change, when it is not just outward form and when it also implies an idea of what goes on inside a building, of conflicts and potential for innovation. Otherwise, tradition just means being stuck in a rut”. Generating models and photographs of the site and structure simultaneously gives him a clearer picture of the problems that need to be solved while designing, but the input of ideas that may or maybe not be feasible are all tried and tested to achieve the optimum output. “You have to feel what you are doing, and not be so rational that you just solve the problems, like material and space and so on, because emotion is very important. Without it, something is missing.” The need to know how much time is available for design and construction is essential to an architect. For Siza, time is never enough because a building is never finished. He believes that an individual changes with time and experience and so does his perspective to design. A designer’s style may differ in the future, not because he was unhappy with his process in the past, but because he is a different person today. His work reflects this philosophy and has constantly evolved with time and change.
Leca Swimming Pools (1958-1966)
Located between the Atlantic Ocean and the coastal roads of Matosinhos, the Leca Swimming Pool complex rests among the rocky coastline of a small town in Porto, Portugal. Sunk behind the roads, Siza ensures complete privacy for the complex from the Urban sprawl and places it almost out of sight. The structure merges with its rocky landscape and consists of a children’s pool and an adult’s pool along with changing rooms and a cafe all made in concrete and accessed by a ramp. The adult’s pool seems to be nestled within the ocean, with its low concrete walls and its rugged rocks along the borders. The water levels, when seen from any angle, seem to be equal to that of the ocean which blurs the boundary between the two water bodies. The children’s pool is located further inland is bound by a bridge, a large curved concrete wall and rocks from all directions. Siza designed this brilliant structure keeping in mind the changing tide levels and creates an important milestone in the history of architecture.
The Building on the Water (2014)
Siza’s first project in China, The Shihlien Chemical Industrial Jiangsu Co. is a soda ash and ammonium chloride production plant, one of the largest of its kind in the world, and is built with the latest building technologies and manufacturing processes. Constructed on an artificial lake and water reservoir in the New Salt Lake Industrial Park, this 2 storeyed elegant building made of exposed white concrete curves smoothly over the island and is of a length of 300m and 11,000 sq.m area. The building designed with various bridges and curving geometrical volumes utilizes the light to create beautiful reflections on the water and shadows that unveil the hidden hues of the building.