ÁLVARO SIZA - IN/DISCIPLINE. Exhibition statement.
1954–1979 The first decades of Álvaro Siza’s professional trajectory were crucial to his understanding of the discipline of architecture in historical, cultural, social and political terms. This trajectory began with the collaboration with his mentor and friend Fernando Távora (from 1955 to 1958) and the sharing of a studio with his colleagues at the Porto School of Fine Arts, where he would eventually graduate in 1965.
Matosinhos, his hometown, became his first great ‘disciplinary laboratory’, in which he strengthened the relationship between architecture and context that he had learnt from Távora, during a turbulent moment of crisis and critique of Modern Architecture. This exhibition highlights the first and last works from that first decade of maturation: Four Dwellings on Avenida D. Afonso Henriques, in Matosinhos, and the Ocean Swimming Pool, in Leça da Palmeira.
In the transition to the 1970s, now free from previous ‘regionalist’ tendencies, Siza looks at modernity as an ‘open work’ to invent his own post-modernity. Three works from that period are brought to the fore here — the Pinto & Sotto Mayor Bank in Oliveira de Azeméis, the Beires House in Póvoa de Varzim, and the António Carlos Siza House in Santo Tirso —, in which the architect explored complex and contradictory geometrical and formal compositions in conceiving the various spaces, particularly interior spaces.
With the 25 April 1974 Revolution, Siza participated in the SAAL process (Local Ambulatory Support Service), seeking to solve the precarious housing conditions of central Porto’s workers’ districts — the socalled ‘ilhas’ —, which became his second great ‘disciplinary laboratory’. That experience, gained at the São Victor and Bouça housing projects, allowed him to move from the scale of the building to that of the city — as in the case of the Malagueira project, in Évora, launched in 1977 —, which prepared him for the architectural and urban challenges of the following years.
1980–1988 The early 1980s marked Álvaro Siza’s first internationalization, at a moment when he had few commissions in Portugal. His prior involvement with SAAL would lead, on the one hand, to an invitation by The Hague City Council to design new social housing projects and, on the other, to his participation in major competitions for infrastructural intervention and requalification of two blocks in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. Siza’s relationship with that city intensified throughout the decade, to the extent that it became his third great ‘disciplinary laboratory’. The exhibition features the competition entry for Berlin’s Kulturforum, and the project for a corner building in Kreuzberg — the so-called ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ —, an homage as much to the city’s historic melancholy as to Modern Berlin architects.
In the course of that decade Siza also developed a few works in Portugal, from private residences to public facilities, always establishing an intriguing conceptual play between the ‘domestic’ and the ‘monumental’. Such is the case of the Avelino Duarte House and the Mário Bahia House (two examples of the monumentalization of domesticity), but also of the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto (a case, instead, of the domesticizing of monumentality). Siza extended this play to the history of architecture itself, manipulating different architectural references in the composition of volumes and façades, as in the project for two houses in The Hague (one expressionist, the other rationalist).
The decade would also be marked by the attribution of the first ever European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture — Mies van der Rohe Award, in 1988, to one of his works: the Borges & Irmão Bank in Vila do Conde, an outstanding example of the critical intersection between architecture and the city, modernity and context, rupture and continuity. The award meant the recognition of Álvaro Siza as one of the most genuine European architects and boosted the growing international notoriety that his own country still failed to grant him at the time.
1988–1999 The year 1988 was the stage for a new event in Álvaro Siza’s career: following the tragic fire in Lisbon’s Chiado district, the city’s Mayor addressed a personal invitation to the Porto architect to judiciously rehabilitate the Pombaline heart of the Portuguese capital. The notoriety of his works in Berlin and The Hague, and the European prize he had been awarded only a few months before, brought him definitive political and public recognition in Portugal. Four years later Siza was also awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, which inspired a period of intense work on new public facilities.
He completed the Setúbal Teacher Training College while preparing the detailed programme for the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, in Santiago de Compostela, and began working on the project for the Serralves Museum, in Porto, exploring similar solutions both in terms of the relationship between the building and the natural environment and interior circulation and lighting. Two remarkable projects from that period were left unbuilt: the extension of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, and the Museum for two Picassos, in Madrid — which would be somehow resumed, twenty-five years later, with the recently completed art pavilion at Saya Park, South Korea.
The decade ended with the construction of two highly symbolic works: Santa Maria Church, in Marco de Canaveses, and the Portuguese Pavilion for the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition.
In both cases, Siza returned to his typical play of times and scales — between historic memory and contemporaneity, between domesticity and monumentality —, reinventing both the place for Catholic worship in rural Portugal, and the grand building over the Tagus River. From Chiado to Expo’98, Lisbon became his fourth great ‘disciplinary laboratory’.
2000–2019 The new millennium afforded Álvaro Siza the possibility to expand his activity beyond the European space towards South America (Argentina and Brazil) and East Asia (South Korea and China). In those new latitudes, the architect demonstrated a unique ability to reinterpret local geography and culture, either by ‘anchoring’ himself to local references or by ‘releasing’ himself in search of freer, more sinuous or even self-referential forms. Such are the cases of the Iberê Camargo Foundation, in Porto Alegre (Brazil), the Mimesis Museum, in Paju Book City (South Korea), and the China Design Museum, in Hangzhou (China).
Siza is cyclically called in to design new museums. A programme which, in his recent trajectory, is only paralleled by commissions for liturgical spaces. In both cases, his approach is always rooted in the search for a certain formal and spatial ‘essentialness’, which he immediately intersects with unexpected contradictions in a gesture that turns each of his works into a unique oeuvre. In this regard, the exhibition features the Nadir Afonso Museum, in Chaves, but also the Anastasis Church, in Saint-Jacques-de-laLande (Rennes), France, or the Hillside Chapel, in Lagos, Portugal.
Siza has also taken on challenges of greater (infra)structural complexity, such as subway stations, bridges and pedestrian flyovers, in an intimate interdisciplinary collaboration with engineers. The exhibition features a remarkable case: the project of two bridges for Porto — one for road traffic, the other for high-speed rail — that establish a dialogue with the other existing Douro-crossing infrastructures. The most recent challenge is the construction of a new skyscraper in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, which intersects innumerable references from European and American architecture.
In his relentless search to understand and intersect the cultures and geographies of the ‘Other’ (European and non-European), Álvaro Siza takes the whole world as his decisive ‘disciplinary laboratory’, achieving a unique condition within it: neither local, nor global, but rather universal.
Álvaro Siza’s oeuvre cannot be understood without reference to the ‘elective affinities’ that the architect established throughout his formative and professional trajectory, which this exhibition explores through images, magazines, books, songs, texts and travel sketches that help define a potential ‘Siza universe’.
While Matosinhos marked his childhood and youth, Porto and its School of Fine Arts (ESBAP) introduced him to the milieu of the arts and architecture within which he forged lasting complicities. As a student, Siza met two fundamental ‘masters’: Fernando Távora, with whom he maintained a professional collaboration, and Carlos Ramos, who spurred him to obtain the first architecture books and magazines in which he would discover his seminal references: Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn, among others; and, later on, Bruno Taut and Adolf Loos.
Between the careful reading of the ESBAP publications, the intersecting of history books and the simultaneous fascination with expressionist, organicist and rationalist architectures, Siza consolidated his conceptual ‘tool-box’. His travels, almost always in the company of friends and colleagues, were also essential to understand and record the memory of the world in successive sketchbooks or small loose drawings, some of which are also shown in this exhibition.
After his initial works, it was the turn of other authors to ‘discover’ Álvaro Siza. On show are the first magazines that published essays on his work outside of Portugal — Hogar y Arquitectura, Controspazio, L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Arquitecturas Bis, Quaderns, 9H —, featuring texts by Nuno Portas, Vittorio Gregotti, Oriol Bohigas, Bernard Huet, Kenneth Frampton — as well as by some of Siza’s disciples: Eduardo Souto de Moura and José Paulo dos Santos. Álvaro Siza wrote and spoke about all those trajectories in his 1992 speech upon receiving the prestigious Pritzker Prize, in Chicago.
While preparing this exhibition, during 2018 and 2019, several personalities were invited to make a statement on Álvaro Siza by answering two questions: the first on their biographical intersection with the Portuguese architect; the second on an individual project that for them would materialize the personal admiration for his figure and his work. Between architects, journalists and architecture critics and historians we have recorded twenty-six video statements from different corners of the world — from Chile to Japan, from Canada to Burkina Faso, from the United States to Portugal —, which give witness to Álvaro Siza’s unique universal reach.
Statements by: Manuel Aires Mateus (Lisbon); Alexandre Alves Costa (Porto); Alejandro Aravena (Santiago de Chile); Ricardo Bak Gordon (Lisbon); Laurent Beaudouin (Paris); Gonçalo Byrne (Lisbon); João Luís Carrilho da Graça (Lisbon); Carlos Castanheira (Porto); Jean-Louis Cohen (Paris, New York); Roberto Cremascoli (Porto); Francesco Dal Co (Milan); Marc Dubois (Ghent); Tom Emerson (London); Jorge Figueira (Coimbra); Brigitte Fleck (Berlin); Tony Fretton (London); Kersten Geers (Brussels); Go Hasegawa (Tokyo); Francis Kéré (Berlin, Ouagadougou); Inês Lobo (Lisbon); Dominique Machabert (Clermont-Ferrand); Yehuda Safran (New York); Kazuyo Sejima (Tokyo); Eduardo Souto de Moura (Porto); Georges Teyssot (Quebec City); David Van Severen (Brussels).
Among other factors, the international recognition of an architect is contingent upon how his or her work is recorded and published in books, magazines and other media. Álvaro Siza is not an exception. From very early on, his work has been photographed and published. First within the context of the Iberian Peninsula, then in the Central-European scene, and finally at a global level.
The final part of the exhibition is a tribute to the main photographers (some of whom are also architects) who recorded Siza’s trajectory, from the 1960s to the present; and it also showcases how architecture publications changed through time in terms of size, layout, printing and sophistication in order to compete in an increasingly globalized world. Just like architecture.