INDEX Made for Juan Rodriguez & Carlos Seoane In the Garden David Cohn The Flittering Image of Reality Kenneth Frampton The Riches of Restraint Juhani Pallasmaa The Craft of the Poet Carlos Seoane Interview of Souto de Moura by Juan Rodriguez Inverview of Ă lvaro Siza by Juan Rodriguez & Carlos Seoane
Made for Juan Rodriguez & Carlos Seoane The book “Siza by Siza” was borne out of the intention to acknowledge the less known aspects of Álvaro Siza’s work. As dear connoisseurs of his labor and his person, we felt the obligation to conceive a book on the relevant, but almost never published features related to his opus. Still, it was during the time when we were preparing this book that we also came across other unsuspected dimensions of his oeuvre. It was during the multiple interviews that we had with him that we met a tireless Siza as he was always willing to work and talk about architecture. Notwithstanding, it was mostly in his archives where we came across a magical and infinite universe of drawings and proposals. They were and still are all amazing for their visual quality, but even more so, because they illustrate the constant search of his untiring desire for excellence. Just with the Leça de Palmeira pools project alone, we were able to go over more than 1,000 sketches and hundreds of drawings in his archive. They were hand drawn and related with both the variations of volumetry and studies on the different construction details. To our surprise, Siza justified such workload with the fact that at the beginning of his professional career he had few commissions and plenty of time. Still, one can only understand such an enterprise if we consider his superlative creativity as well as an overflowing generosity with architecture. As a result of our yearning to produce a singular book, we wanted to document each of the five elected projects by Siza in its current state past many years since its construction; hence the title “Siza x Siza". Nevertheless, they have been recreated with the best technical means that have allowed the highest possible accuracy from the originally conceived geometries. This has given us the opportunity to travel from Southern Portugal to the North of Galicia, and at each site we have found a different Siza. However, there was always a concerned architect in terms of understanding the territory and tending to the culture of the place. As David Cohn states, Siza is a gentle architect who, in addition to his attentiveness towards the environment and the individual, he has always been willing to contribute proposals that are committed to the community for which the projects were built, yet concurrent with the history of architecture. During a visit to one of Siza’s early projects, in particular to the kitchen that was built for his grandmother, we found out that he was already concerned over the detail and also trying to achieve a new geometric
order. In that early work, he was not even an architecture student; a teenage Siza designed the finishes and the layout of the kitchen as well as all the furniture such as the table, the chairs, the ceiling lamp, and the gas hood. He displayed, then the consciousness of someone who tries to give a response to everything, because in his unique understanding of the world, nothing is small or less important. All things deserve to be treated equally within his sophisticated and friendly universe. As a result of this special attitude toward architecture and his craft, Siza devoted not only a generous time to the multiple interviews based on the text which structure this book. He was also generous with his time to design the cover, choose the photos or compose the book, with the maximum concentration, attention and dedication of someone, for whom nothing is less, but everything is exceptionally important. In the division of the human condition proposed by Hannah Arendt, Siza would undoubtedly be both a craftsman and an artist. However, another condition should be defined: the master, someone whose attitude is exemplary to his/her craft. According to Sizaâ€™s vital philosophy, a person cannot be one without being another previously. An artist and a craftsman are not distinct categories, yet they relate to his own stages of personal development. After having delved into his files, it became clear to us that Siza started, at a very early age, almost as a child, to cultivate all that which could be part of his future craft. Therefore, a book that began in great measure to be a collection of tributes ends up being mostly a book of documents. And indeed, they are unique ones, all visually beautiful but that are equally the testimony of a laborious and tireless work. Just as Picasso would have said, the inspiration has always caught Siza at work.
In the Garden David Cohn In various articles I have written over the years covering different projects by Ă lvaro Siza, I often focus on their relationship to the landscapes and urbanscapes of northern Portugal, coming back again and again to the image of a neglected garden, lush, unkempt and overgrown. Traveling as I do from the high, dry, flat meseta of central Spain to Porto underlies for me the particular character of the place: its verdant humidity and mild temperatures, and its abrupt topography, which disrupts any would-be orthogonal order on the part of would-be planners, contributing to the general disorderliness of urban and rural settlements. As I wrote in an article on the Serralves Museum in 1999, "The verdant hills overlooking the Douro are covered by a crazy-quilt of development, in which dense new growth jostles for place among old villas, small industries and languishing vegetable plots." The strength of the relation of this landscape and its patterns of settlement to the work of Siza struck me most forcefully when I visited, in 2002, his restoration of and additions to the 18th century country estate of the Quinta Santo Ovidio, east of Porto: "The fragmentary Baroque elements of the Quinta [its allĂŠe of lime trees, Baroque fountain, simple house and small formal garden] bear the same relation to the grand axes of Rome or Versailles that Siza's quirky modernism has to the canonical works of Le Corbusier or Mies. Siza ... transforms [modern architecture] from a universalizing formal language into a language of particularity and fragmentation: he passes Modernism through the historic, rumpled, genteel hillside gardens of northern Portugal." An essential quality of this relation between the Portuguese landscape and culture and Siza's work is precisely the concept of gentility. I have always been struck by the bourgeois, slightly antique feel of many of Siza's details. When I interviewed him for the Serralves Museum, for example, he was still designing the seating for the auditorium:
"Each seat is a self-contained armchair, with its curving back sloping down and around to form the arms. 'I will make them out of maple, like this,' Siza tells me. 'With velvet backs and leather trim, here and here. It is something I saw in the opera house in Naples. Side by side, like armchairs. Its very intimate. You feel more at home. You feel decadent.' " What makes such details seem so at home in Portugal is their cultivation of gentility, which one still encounters, for example in old restaurants and cafĂŠs, with their uniformed waiters and handsome table settings. And what could be more genteel than an unkempt garden? It is a surviving fragment of past wealth, culture and glory, now somewhat faded but respected and maintained through the generations. The gentleness in the word genteel is embodied in Siza's respect for this landscape and its past, its ancient cultural richness lingering in a disheveled, poorer present, a situation one could appreciate even before the country's current economic crisis. Siza extends the largess of this well-mannered respect not only to the more aristocratic qualities of the landscape but also, simply, to the traces of the past and place. His is not an architecture of the bulldozer and the tabula rasa; instead, his designs seek their place amid what already is. For this reason, the Boanova Restaurant and Teahouse in LeĂ§a da Palmeira is sited not on along the flat expanse of a seaside promenade, but instead is embedded in a forbidding outcropping of rocks. Siza's mastery of natural light and relative indifference to building materials form part of this faded aristocracy of manner. Modernism allows him to dematerialize gentility to its essence as a dignification of everyday life and its pleasures. Visiting again the Serralves Museum, I wrote, "As you explore the Museum, you are surprised and delighted at every turn by his spare, elegant geometries and off-balance symmetries, and by the way that natural light is reflected and rereflected from walls and horizontal planes, creating an effect of expansive, luminous spatial containment."
Writing about the Galician Museum of Contemporary in 1994, when I was much younger, I summed up all these intuitions about Siza's method in a general attack, with the help of the philosopher Theodor Adorno, on an opposing formalism of perfect geometric abstraction that I found in certain Madrid architects. These words can stand in as well, I think, for a philosophical argument in favor of Siza's design method as the superation of an excessive reliance in the modern tradition on concepts of internal logic, functionality and reason: "In Siza's poetic approach to architecture, his regard for the site is transformed into a peculiar personal formal geometry. Siza uses regulating lines in plan to lay out, from the point of entry, the two intersecting volumes of the design. These regulating lines fan out from their point of origin as if from the viewing point of a perspectival construction, producing strange intersections, collisions and incongruities deep in the body of the building. The access ramp and tilted horizontal soffit of the facade reflect these same visual lines in the vertical plane. When seen from other points in the building, it is as if Siza had scrambled the rules of perspective and the abstract geometry it was designed to portray, returning us to a more immediate, anarchic register of perception, a mannerist retake on modernism which complements the eccentric Baroque monastery next door." "Siza's fractured geometry reminds me of a passage in Theodor Adorno's ... Against Epistemology, in which he attacks certain aspects of the scientific spirit which have been well represented in postwar art and architecture, in the cult of formalism: 'But the more hermetically the unconscious of the mathematician seals his propositions against any inkling of involvements, the more perfectly pure forms of thought, from which memory is expunged in abstraction, come to appear as the sole "reality". Their reification is the equivalent for the fact that they were broken from that objecthood without which the issue of "form" would not even arise.' "
Sources Articles by David Cohn: “Projects: Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, Portugal,” Architectural Record (New York), November 1999, pages 102 - 109. “Weekends in the Country,” World Architecture 105, April 2002, pages 26 33. “Siza in Granit,” Bauwelt 19, May 13, 1994, pages 1038 - 1045Theodor W. Adorno, Against Epistemology: A Metacritique, English edition, The MIT Press, 1983, page 55.
The Flittering Image of Reality Kenneth Frampton “I always live in the present. I don’t know the future and no longer have the past. The former oppresses me as the possibility of everything, the latter was the reality of nothing…Brief dark shadow of a downtown tree, light sound of water falling into a sad pool, green of the trimmed lawn— public garden shortly before twilight: you are me, for you are the full content of my conscious sensation. All I want from life is to feel it being lost in these unexpected evenings, to the sound of strange children playing in a garden like this one, fenced in by the melancholy of the surrounding streets and topped, beyond the trees; tallest branches, by the old sky where the stars are again coming out.” -Bernando Soares, The Book of Disquiet 1929-34 Leaving the night and the opportunities it provides for our imagination to one side, the West has almost always ignored darkness. This could be due to the fact that under the broad influence of two sunny empires, Greece and Rome, grew a civilization enlightened by Christianity for fifteen more centuries. Once man had been rescued from the cave described by Plato, the sun became that multi-faceted omnipresent god destined to combat the sin that grew in shadows. Like an incandescent balloon looming over the horizon, this conception of existence covered practically the whole of the world, exposing man’s misfortunes mile by mile—his weakness, his smallness, his sinfulness…Perhaps men in the Gothic age were the few truly bold enough to colour their temples of shadows, recreating a heavenly Jerusalem by means of the reverse interior, immaterial architecture. They understood the need to respect contemplative silence—dark, enveloping majestic. However, their simplicity was not long lasting in most cases their testimony was buried under the rubble of the ecclesiastical opulence of the Baroque and, centuries later, it was shattered by the bombs of World War Two.” -Pablo Bautista Nicolás, Beyond Black One might postulate that every architect of stature finds his or her own photographer that is to say the one figure whose camera uncannily possesses the perception essential to recording and interpreting their work in a sensitive way. One thinks of Julius Shulman in relation to Richard Neutra or of Richard Einzig with respect to James Stirling or, more recently, of Helen Binet’s retrospective rendering of Dimitri Pikionis on the
Acropolis or, later still, of Henry Plummer’s hypersensitive rendering of the light emanating from the auditoria of Moneo’s Kursaal in San Sebastian. In each instance the sensibility of the photographer seems to correspond with the vision of the architect and while these respective modes of beholding are by no means identical, the photograph has the latent capacity to augment built reality by revealing latent dimensions which would otherwise remain concealed, namely, with regard to architecture, the necessity for overcoming our habitually perspectival mode of beholding which has for so long determined our way of perceiving the world. Rodriguez’s laconic yet nonetheless vital way of looking at Siza’s architecture corresponds in its own way to the unique character of Siza’s executive drawings, which while being ostensibly objective also represent the elemental and material exigencies out of which the buildings are to be made. They are thus both a testament to a particular moment in time and a subtle reflection on the time-honored affinity between draughtsmanship and craftsmanship which is so essential to our understanding of Siza’s work. It is this link which is the pre-condition of Siza’s particular approach to architecture; one that is totally removed from the spectacular imagery that is otherwise seen as being essential to the global triumph of the typical starchitect. I am alluding, of course, to the craft inflected professionalism which despite, the inherent fluidity of his imagination is always integral to his work. Siza remains, in my view, the total antithesis of that celebrated mode in which architecture is increasingly conceived today as nothing other than fine art writ large. This resistant otherness of the architect is so delicately recorded in Rodriguez’s photos. In this regard, it is possible discern three syndromes that occur repeatedly in this particular photographer’s rendering of Siza’s architecture. The first of these may perhaps be best characterized as DeChiricoesque in as much as a metaphysical aura seems to suffuse almost all of these images, particularly when this optic emphasizes the seemingly empty landscapes by which the buildings are surrounded as in, say, his shots of the church of Marco de Canaveçes, or the unusual views of the Malagueira housing at Évora when the settlement appears as an impenetrable wall crossing the horizon or when two or three shadowy figures impart a sense of scale to what is otherwise a somewhat melancholic perspectival passage between two terraces. The second
equally surprising metaphysical trope is the oneiric role played by furniture in a number of Siza’s works such as the ominous role played by serried rows of chairs in the church or by the equally inflected furniture pieces as these occupy the surprisingly layered interiors of the Boa Nova restaurant. It is as though these monumental furniture pieces have been precisely arranged in anticipation of the way in which they may or may not occupied in the near future. Finally there is that all but cinematic interpretation with which Rodriguez is able to represent Siza’s particular attention to tectonic detail, as in the ramp hall of the Porto school of architecture where a rotating device for opening the long steel-framed window not only parallels of the ramp but also cuts across a momentarily sunlit studio building with bare trees beyond. These implicitly kinetic images suggest multiple levels of engagement operating simultaneously at different scales. The ultimate attribute common to both architecture and photography is the passage of time which they each in their own way strive to arrest. As Siza himself put it thirty years ago, the project is to capture the “precise moment of the flittering image of reality in all its shades.” He was of course referring to his early achievements as an architect, but he could have been just as easily alluding to the photographs of the same. Either way round what he had in mind was surely the equal fragility of both, not only that of built culture as it is perennially subject to the erosive forces of time, weather, and use, all of which come into play as soon as a building is realized but also the now digital traces of the same reality, the photograph that is equally subject to mutual impact of light and time. Light falls on an object at a particular moment in time and we are made forcibly aware, particularly when we look back at the optical record of this moment, that although the object may seem to endure against the ravages of time, we also know that we shall never see this particular light again, nor the building quite as it once was in the year of its birth. Thus as Siza put it in that same text of 1979 which afforded me the title of this essay “…and the better you can recognize that flittering quality of reality, the clearer your design will be,” and he could have easily added the rider although he didn’t deign to do so that also, “the clearer your photographs will be.” It is currently only too clear that Juan Rodriquez as an architect-photographer is not at all interested in. Verisimilitude, on the contrary, he is more interested, as Pablo Baltista Nicolas reminds us in shadows, just as the prewar Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki was interested in the chiaroscuro of the Sukiya style,
which he never ceased to praise as a mode of building and living totally removed from the brightly illuminated culture of the west. Similar potential animations arising from the interaction of space-form with structure are evident in other framings brought before Rodriguezâ€™s penetrating lens. I have in mind, for example, the monitor light running down the axis of the library of the Porto school of architecture, where a long crystal in obscured glass is rendered as though it were the spine of a whale spanning across as both books and students, rendering them metaphorically as being of equivalent content. This very same crystal will be depicted elsewhere as a luminous equilateral triangle of monumental proportions or, again, subsequently, as a perspectival foreshortening possessed of dramatic force. Similar metaphysical architecture figures will announce themselves in the form of serried rows of ecclesiastical chairs set before a side-lit baptismal front, or elsewhere still, in the same wandering panorama of images, the spectre of the roof of Boa Nova, restaurant rising mysteriously out of the moss-laden rock-fall of a lunar landscape.
THE RICHES OF RESTRAINT Juhani Pallasmaa Architect, Professor (Helsinki) Álvaro Siza Vieira’s buildings emanate a feeling of the designer’s total dedication to the art of architecture. They are born of a passion for the poetic essence of building. ”There is only one way of thinking in cinema: poetically”, Andrey Tarkovsky writes in his literary legacy Sculpting in Time1. Siza’s work reveals the same attitude in architecture. Although his buildings are aesthetically appealing and assured, one feels that there are other layers and meanings extending beyond aesthetic qualities into the existential and ethical sphere of life. Siza’s architecture is personal and unique, but at the same time, it appears as if it were a self-evident result of an anonymous tradition, which gives his works a refreshing and liberating character. These buildings are not a result of a deliberate artistic aspiration, but rather a result of the way that things want to be. Siza does not seem to seek a personal artistic expression, yet his architecture is rich in soft-spoken meanings. Like the buildings of Alvar Aalto, his works arise from clarity of thought, but they end up in mystery. This is the mystery of poetic imagery which is endlessly open to new experiences. His images and spaces are sharply and clearly rendered, but there is a distinct feeling of undefinedness, vagueness and uncertainty, which leads to multiple interpretations. Uncertainty seems to have the same constitutive role for Álvaro Siza, the architect, as for Joseph Brodsky, the poet: ”Poetry is a tremendous school of insecurity and uncertainty”2. So is architecture, although today architects and their products usually aspire to appear assured, without any sign of hesitation. Regardless of their precise visual rendering, Siza’s forms and surfaces turn into multi-sensory atmospheres. The spaces and surfaces embrace the viewer, instead of confronting him. The spaces and forms are experienced haptically, and they invite and address the hand and the skin as much as the eye. We are invited to touch the world through our entire being. Indeed, they reveal ”how the world touches us”, as Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes the magic of Paul Cézanne’s paintings.3
Siza’s sketches are not only visions of architecture and its details. There is a sense of lived life in these drawings, as if the spaces were suggesting theatrical or cinematic acts. Every now and then a human figure reveals the lived character of the projected setting. In some of his sketches of spaces, Siza actually depicts himself, his feet, hands, sketching pad and pencil, as if he were on the stage himself. In fact, that is what an architect needs to do; the architect needs to enter the space which he is conceiving and become its imaginative dweller. It is impossible for an outsider to design a profound piece of architecture. Architectural spaces and details are always invitations and suggestions. They invite us to enter, take a look through the window, climb up the stairway, sit on the edge of the wall, or lie down on the couch. Architecture concists of verbs, and it is fully experienced only through embodied acts, real or imagined, not as mere visual observations. ”My architecture does not have a pre-established language and does not establish a language”, Siza stresses, ”It is a response to a concrete problem, a situation in transformation to which I participate… A preestablished language, pure, beautiful, etc. does not interest me” 4. For him, form is not a starting point or goal; the form arises from the realities of the situation and the task, however, not in accordance with the functionalist view ”form follows function”, but as a consequence of the poetic encounter that fuses practicalities and mental dimensions, knowledge and desire, thought and feeling. Already at its moment of inception, a true architectural reality is material and mental, useful and experiential, rational and poetic, all at the same time,. Siza’s ”ideas” are not formal visions or preconceptions; his buildings are narrative and epic in the sense of revealing and articulating aspects of the site, context, task, and future life in the building, through the entire laborious and complex process of design. In that very sense, regardless of its apparent formal abstractness and lack of any sentimental allusion or reference, his works are theatrical; they re-enact real characteristics of the situation, and project episodes of potential human encounters , both collective and individual, through architectural means. The building makes tangible and visible what has been hidden and unpronounced untill the conceived design gives these concealed forces their appearance and voice. ”We come to see not the work of art, but the world according to the work”, Maurice Merleau-Ponty notes, yet most artists and architects today want us to look at their work. 5 Siza’s buildings exemplify and concretize this fundamental mediating and
interpretative role of architecture. He has even notoriously suggested ”that architects don´t invent anything, they transform reality”6. Every site has its archeology, history, dynamics and potentials, and profound architecture concretizes this multiplicity, the hidden inner desire of the situation. This is the desire of becoming, which is a constitutive dynamics of reality. ”No place is a desert. I can always be one of its inhabitants”, Siza confesses7. In this respect, all great architects are great story tellers, as they reveal and mediate hidden stories of reality. Through material and spatial means they uncover secrets of the crust of the earth and the horizon, the forgotten histories and burried culture of the place. Siza’s design approach is not analytic, it is immersive; analysis and synthesis are merged. He seems to establish a feeling for the simultaneity of things, and this embodied feeling and identification gives gradually existence to forms, materials, structures, and the entire built reality. ”All that exists is important and one cannot exclude anything from this reality… Each place is different and complex. That is why I cannot apply a pre-established language and why for the moment it is difficult for me to theorize what I do”, Siza confesses 8. The process of the architect’s thinking keeps fertilizing the work even beyond its conception. As Vittorio Gregotti points out: ”He incorporates a kind of autonomous archeology into a given work, whereby previous trials, corrections, errors, are obvious in the final product”9. Hence, the finished work has the rich character of a report with its multiple layers rather than that of a sudden autonomous discovery. This makes me think of John Ruskin’s view: ”Imperfection is in some sort essential to all we know of life. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect: part of it is decaying, part nascent … And in all things that live there are certain inequalities and defiance, which are not only signs of life but sources of beauty”10 . Siza does not use ”concepts”, analytic schemes of the ”essences” of the task. He does not seem to have confidence in an intellectualized and theorized disection of the task at hand. The entity is gradually moulded through emotively immersed and empathic thinking, the collaboration of imagination and hand. His sketches portray this process of becoming through a medley of perspectives, investigations and visions, and the constant interplay of excitement and doubt, inspiration and hesitation, acceptance and rejection. The work is born as fragments and entities, parts
and singularities, all at the same time. Indeed, true creative process always bypasses and exceeds normal logic and rationality. Alvar Aalto pointed out the necessity of uniting opposites in the creative project: ”In every case one must achieve a simultaneous solution of opposites… Nearly every design task involves tens, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of different contradictory elements, which are forced into a functional harmony only by man’s will. This harmony cannot be achieved by any other means than those of art”. 11 S. T. Coleridge, poet and philosopher, defined poetry as the ”balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities” 12, whereas Gaston Bachelard, philosopher, maintains that the poetic instant is a ”harmonic relation between opposites”13. The creative task is always bound to seek this rationally impossible reconciliation. Siza’s projects always reach a constitutive coherence, but it is a feeling or a set of reactions to the complexity of the situation, not a single formal ”solution”. In fact, design is not problem-solving at all, as the process of design sets itself its own poetic goals. How could the writing of a verse be seen as problem-solving? Isn’t a painting entirely self-motivated and autonomous? Architecture is in constant danger of losing its poetic autonomy, and that is why it must constantly re-conquer the territory of unconditioned thought and feeling. Instead of consisting of formal constructions, Siza’s buildings orchestrate aspects of the experiential and lived reality, both given and potential. In his work, the material and formal never lose their connectedness with a sense of lived reality. The geometries and dynamics both serve as ingredients of a revelation, the concretization of a premonition. His works are not artistic monologues, as they arise from and set themselves in a continuous dialogue with the thick layers of reality and the task, as well as lived history and the works of other architects. This sense of humbly setting one’s work in the continuum of an artistic tradition is most often absent in today’s over-ambitious works. Álvaro Siza does not borrow or quote, but he carries on a continuous conversation with other architects and makers , ancient, historical and contemporary. His white plastered walls echo the walls of the Mediterranean vernacular traditions as well as the whiteness of Bauhaus and De Stijl architects. His whiteness also recalls the paintings of Kazimir Malevich. His curves are not those of Mendelsson, Scharoun or Aalto, but they make us remember these works. Great new works of art always make us see the past in a new light.
Siza’s architecture is not built on any specific and explicit theory. His buildings arise from ”the wisdom of architecture”, to paraphrase Milan Kundera’s notion of ”the wisdom of the novel”14. As Kundera argues, all great writers listen to this wisdom, and that is why their works are always wiser than the authors themselves. In addition, Siza’s work radiates such experiential and accumulated silent wisdom. His architecture arises from an empathic imagination and internalization of the spaces, occupied by him before they are turned into matter and cast into the world. This architecture has, no doubt, been lived in before having been physically constructed. This architecture is born out of humility and courage, subtlety and rigour, criticality and identification. In Siza’s architecture there are no separate details, the whole is articulated simultaneously in all scales, and the whole is echoed in the parts, while parts flow seemlessly into the entity. The geometric merges with the sensual, the formal with the functional, and the visual with the tactile. ”There are no details in execution… He gave a like care to all the sensitive points of the building. You would have thought that it was his own body he was tending”, Paul Valéry makes Phaedrus say of the work of Eupalinos, the architect in one of his dialogues.15 Regardless of their visual ”abstraction” (abstraction in the sense of condensation, compression or distillation, not reduction of anything), Siza’s buildings are embodied, muscular and gestural. They do not only project aesthetically articulated and perfected images; they have their internal stories to tell. It is the secret presence of the human figure, as in Siza’s sketches, that seems to bring this hidden embodied animism and feeling of life. His architecture makes me think of Michelangelo’s statement: ”There is an essential relationship between architecture and the proportions of the human body, and he who has not made himself master of the human form and especially anatomy, will understand nothing of architecture”16. Beyond the mere human figure and its measures and proportions, the works of true architects are guided by a sense of life and its actions and meanings – life’s ”tragedies and comedies”, as Aalto once put it 17 – instead of mere formal and aesthetic aspirations. Sometimes a Siza building might momentarily resemble some other contemporary building by another architect, but the hidden content and vitality always identifies the product of his profound architectural thought. In our age of an
obsession for ideosyncratic expression and ”originality”, Siza stresses universality: ”Universality is not equivalent to neutrality, it is not the Esperanto of architectural expression, it is the capacity to create from the roots. My sense of universality has more to do with the vocation of the cities, arising from centuries of intervention, of crossbreeding, of superposition and mixing of the most opposed influences, creating however, an unimitable entity”18. Siza’s words echo the defense of universality and anonymity by Balthus (Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola), one of the finest figurative painters of last century: ”Great painting has to have universal meaning. This is sadly no longer so today and this is why I want to give painting back its lost universality and anonymity, because the more anonymous painting is, the more real it is” 19. • The six projects selected for this book represent the evolution of Álvaro Siza’s intense and productive career. These master works reveal the continuity of his thought and feeling, as well as the gradual transformation and expansion of his architectural universe. The territory that he has conquered is remarkably wide and varied in its profile, but at the same time, the six projects reveal the unfailing creative energy, empathic intensity and selfless devotion of the maker. The concentrated bearded figure, bent over his sketching pad or drafting table, becomes familiar to the reader through these stunningly photographed works. The Boa Nova Restaurant rests on its rocky site on the shore, like an alert nesting sea bird protecting her eggs. The dominant red-tiled roof descends towards the ocean in a respectful gesture. The descending ceiling of the interior compresses the space and scale towards the limitless ocean ; the protagonist of this space is the pure line of the horizon, which quiets down everything and creates a benevolent and meditative silence. As one walks around the building, the singular image turns into an assembly of parts, which are set in a counterpoint with each other. The side opening towards the water is contrasted by the defensively closed back side. At the back, the fragmented image of white walls, chimneys and other details, repeat the pattern of rocks penetrating through the grass. The huge bolders at the sides awake an imaginative experience of a deafning rumble.
The swimming pool at Leça de Palmeira, in the vicinity of the restaurant, is a kind of a landscape collage in low relief, in which the flat, abstractly reflective surfaces of the pools are interwowen with muscular black rock formations. This work is an abstracted landscape, that builds on the contrast between the natural and the artificial, the organic and the geometric., the vibrant and the static. The contrast of naked human skin and the aggressive appearance of the rocks, combined with the implied threat of the ocean, heightens the sensuousness of the setting. The utilitarian functions have been reduced to walls and very low and dark spaces that provide an experiential compression before one enters the openness and bright light of the beach, at the same time that they create the framing edge for the relief against the street and the city. The open and infinite ocean forms the alternatingly still and dramatic, peaceful and violent, soundless and roaring backdrop. All these changing potentials are ingredients of this planar collage that projects the tranquility and metaphysical questioning of a Giorgio Morandi still life. This is a still life of elements, flattened into the low relief of the man-made beach. The dwelling is the architectural task that is constitutive for the entire art of architecture; all types of architecture somehow echo aspects of dwelling. In fact, architecture arises from two acts, dwelling and celebration. The area of subsidized housing in Quinta de Malagueira, adjacent to the walled Alentejo town of Évora, is one of Siza’s many residential projects. The overall setting first makes one think of the modernist white-walled housing projects in Central Europe. Yet, soon the walled city with its courtyards and rhythms of the walls and openings turns one’s thoughts to the ageless traditions of the Mediterranean cities and Greek islands. These walls markedly enclose private lives, but at the same time they reflect a sronger sense of the collective and time than the more northern examples of this housing type. Also the associations with the ideals of modernity become replaced by the presence of an apparently nameless tradition – this is a form of timeless urban life, rather than a product of deliberate design with specific aesthetic aspirations. Paradoxically, through his intense involvement, the architect eliminates himself. This is also the great quality of all indigenous and vernacular traditions of the world; they make us see the world, instead of making us conscious of the work as an individual intentional entity, not to speak of the persona of its maker.
The Oporto School of Architecture is a group of buildings, somewhat detached from the city, creating an urban sense of place, an acropolis of sorts. Siza’s building complex is a powerful educational tool in its own right. It demonstrates how to create a distinct place with its own character, how to create a layered experience in which slight traces of the past project a sense of duration, time, continuity and rootedness, and especially, how to establish a sense of vitality and life. The rich interiors are exemplary demonstrations of the articulation of space to create a rhythmic and energicing entity. The character of the spaces is delicate, pure and receptive, heightened by the auditorium, museum and library with its stunning ship-like skylight . The buildings and spaces do not impose specific ideas, feelings or experiences on us, but they create a sensitized, receptive and optimistic air, conducive to learning. As Adalberto Dias perceptively writes: ”The students will come to realize through the space they inhabit that form, programmes and materials spring from other forms, programmes and materials, from coincidences and overlay – that architecture is born of another, new order of relationships” 20. The project is a lesson in the essential interaction of simplicity and complexity; poetic simplicity is always a condensation of complexities. As Constantin Brancusi reminds us: ”Simplicity is not an end in art, but one arrives at simplicity in spite of oneself in approaching the real essence of things… Simplicity is at bottom complexity and one must be nourished on its essence to understand its significance” 21. As Siza puts it himself: ” Simplicity results from the dominance of complexity and the contradictions of any programme”22. The Contemporary Art Museum in Santiago de Compostela is also a lesson, this time in building in a historically unique and layered location. Siza’s building does not make any formal concessions or apologies to the adjacent Baroque buildings built on top of medieval remains. Yet, the architectural dialogue is precise, cultured, eloquent and respectful. The dialectic position is introduced and heightened at the entrance by the solid granite end wall of the Museum, supported by a steel beam and two short steel columns creating a forceful counterpoint with the solid stone base and ornamented façade of the adjacent convent. The new building becomes a sounding board for the old, and vica versa. Time, duration and history become materialized. Siza does not attempt to create a simple unity on formal level, but an interaction on the level of the foundational essences of architecture as a historical phenomenon and an articulated and meaningful language. The reconciliation of the historical and the
contemporary takes place on the deep structure level of architecture, its existential meanings that are beoynd the apparent as well as words and logic. The spaces within echo the wedge-shape of the urban situation in multiple ways and create repeated tensions between regularity and irregularity in addition to intensely sharp corners.The whiteness of the interiors provides an inviting ambience for art, yet, this painted whiteness is enriched by the white of the Greek marble and the orange of the oak floors, which give a sense of life and echo to the spaces; this whiteness resonates with and strengthens all shades of color. This whiteness emphasizes hapticity instead of creating the usual cool visual neutrality of a modern museum. The Santa Maria church at Marco de Canaveçes contains a minimal number of explicit religious symbols and motifs; in fact, it is exceptionally laconic for a religious building. Yet, the structure stands out in its context and its atmosphere, both inside and outside, is calming and sacred; this is a sacredness that arises from the individual existential ground rather than the use of conventional symbols of faith. This sacredness is felt and lived, not understood. The building appears somewhat enigmatic, due to the lack of conventional representation. The bareness of the volume, juxtaposed with the gate-like entrance between the two pylons through very high doors, and the roundly cut corners of the opposite gable, hint at a specific purpose. The left wall of the church bulges inwards, which together with the quarter round corners of the altar end create a feeling of outside pressure and the image of billowing clouds. The asceticism of the space makes one think of early Christian churches, but at the same time its dynamic essence suggests the highly articulated space of Alvar Aalto’s Vuoksenniska Church (1955-58), as a left-right mirrored image. Underneath Siza’s geometry, there is an organic and poetic order. The bareness of the architectural space and the minimisation of expression create a void which is filled by images and feelings arising from the visitors own mind and imagination. We are awakened to the mystery and sacredness of existence itself. The architect himself makes clear his approach in this respect: ” I wanted to make a church that felt like a church and not a building with a cross in it. I wasn’t interested in this primitive notion of how a symbol could determine the character of a building. It was too superficial an approach and wouldn’t work for me. So I tried to achieve something I would call the character of a church”. 23
Behind the elan vital of Siza’s work, I sense an element of melancholia; it arises from the way the architect confronts us with the world and ourselves. Is there a specific Portuguese melancholy, as I feel a similar touchingly quiet sadness in the poems and writings of Fernando Pessoa? • ”My works are not complete. But the fact that they are interrupted or modified has nothing to do with an aesthetic theory or a belief in the open-ended work. It has to do with the debilitating impossibility of concluding, with obstacles I can not overcome”. 24 Àlvaro Siza
Sources 1 Andrey Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time – Reflections on the Cinema. The Bodley Head, London, 1986, 150. 2 Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1997, 473. 3 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ”Cézanne’s Doubt”, Sense and Non-Sense. Northwestern University Press, Evanstone, Illinois, 1964, 19. 4 Alvaro Siza, ”Entretien avec Alvaro Siza”, Architecture Mouvement Continuite, No 44, 1978. 5 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as quoted in Iain McGilchrist The Master and HIs Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009, 409. 6 Kenneth Frampton, ”The Architecture of Alvaro Siza”, Alvaro Siza 19541988, A+U 1989 No 6, Tokyo, 177. Another formulation of Siza’s thought is: ”Nothing is invented, only transformed. Clearly, there is nothing new in the architecture of a period. There are somewhat abstract transformations, pale reflectios of reality, which lead to formalism. Sometimes they follow concrete situations and harmonize with solid changes”. Wilfied Wang, ”Notes on the Architecture of Alvaro Siza”, ibid., 193. 7 Alvaro Siza, source unidentified. 8 Alvaro Siza, 1978, op.cit.. 9 Vittorio Gregotti, ”Architettura recenti di Alvaro Siza”, Contro spazio No 9, Milan, Spet 1972, 22. As quioted in Wang, op-cit.. 10 As quoted in Gary J. Coates, Erik Asmussen, Architect, Byggförlaget, Stockhol, 1997, 230. 11 Alvar Aalto, ”Art and Technology” lecture, Academy of Finland, October 3,1955 in Göran Schildt, Sketches: Alvar Aalto, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. And London, 1978, 127.
21 As quoted in Richard Kearney, ”Introduction”, Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Penguin Books, New York, 2014, XXIII. 13 Gaston Bachelard, Intuition of the Instant, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Illinois, 2013, 59. As quoted in Kearney, ibid.. 14 Milan Kundera, Romaanin taide (The Art of the Novel), Werner Söderström Ltd. , Helsinki, 1986, 165. 15 Paul Valéry, ”Eupalinos, or the architect”, Paul Valéry Dialogue. Pantheon Books, Inc. , New York, 1956, 71 and 74. 16 Matteo Marangoni, The Art of Seeing Art, Shelley Castle, 1951, 248. 17 Alvar Aalto, ”Instead of an Article”, Sketches: Alvar Aalto. MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 264. 18 Alvaro Siza, ”Getting through turbulence”, El Croquis, No 68/69, El Croquis Editorial, Madrid, 1994. 19 Cristina Carrillo de Albornoz, Balthus in His Own Words. Assouline, New York, 2001, 6. 20 Adalberto Diaz, ”Oporto School of Architecture: The Singularity of an evident Work”, Alvaro Siza, editorial Blau, LDA, Lisbon, 1995, 59. 21 Constantin Brancusi, 1926 Brancusi Exhibition Ctalogue – Brummer Galery, New York, republished in Eric Shanes, Brancusi, Abbeville Press, New York, 1989. 22 Alvaro Siza, ”Fragmentos de un Discurso”, Alvaro Siza, Obras y Proyectos, Electa y CGAC, 1995 As quoted in Diaz, op. cit.. 23 Alvaro Siza, ”Interview with Yoshio Futagawa”, Alvaro Siza, GA Document Extra, No. 11, 1998, 56. As quoted in Kenneth Frampton, ”Architecture as Critical Transformation: The Work of Alvaro Siza, Alvaro Siza: Complete Works, Phaidon, London, 2000, 50. 24 Alvaro Siza, ”Foreword”, Alvaro Siza: Poetic Profession, Quaderni di Lotus, Electa / The Architectural Press, Milan, 1986, 9.
Interview of SOUTO de MOURA by Juan Rodriguez 1- How was it possible that in a country culturally isolated by a dictatorship in the 1960’s, a figure of international calibre such as Siza appeared? Genius aside, what were the circumstances that made it possible? S.M: Wait, wait, let me think ..., I think there may be two factors for that: one is the isolation from the outside world, and the other one is the architect Fernando Távora. First things first, Portugal was a geographically and culturally marginal country compared to Europe. Just as Paul Claudel used to say:” «Le Portugal est un pays en voyage, de temps en temps il touche l’Europe». I think that in the history of architecture, there is an alternation between more rationalist periods, such as Greece, the Renaissance, the Neo-classical and the Modern Movement. To boot, there were other more "Dionysian" periods such as the Roman, the Baroque and the Post-Modernism. Sometimes, due to their distance and inertia, the Vanguard Movements coexisted in Portugal and the rest of Europe. The criticisms towards the Modern Movement and especially the ones aimed at Le Corbusier’s ideas took place at the CIAM where Távora attended and was also part of "10Team". Fernando Távora, in conjunction with other architects, advocated for a new Modernism, which was less abstract and universal and that the concept of the house as the dwelling machine had already gone amiss. Távora, believed in a type of architecture with a modern vocabulary, but at the same time it to be associated with the local culture, the country’s own identity and its geography. Távora upheld strongly the dialect of a language, rather than the classical purity of the language itself. Therefore, it was in that environment of crossover and integration that the young Siza found himself in when he started working at Távora’s studio. Távora was both a scholar and a liberal aristocrat from the Minho Portuguese region. He was so liberal that he allowed the young Siza to design the mosaics of the Vila da Feira market . In addition, before leaving for a trip around the world Távora indicated, the "site" for the Boa Nova restaurant . When he returned, a year later, the project was almost concluded.
2_ In Regards to the School of Architecture of Porto, is Álvaro Siza a consequence of it or is he a strong independent figure? S.M.: Neither one. He is not a consequence of it because, even though in the beginning of Siza’s career Távora was a strong influence, Siza immediately followed another path, and a different one from Távora’s constant admiration for Le Corbusier. Siza’s focus was headed further north on to Finland. That was a peripheral country as well and the architect Alvar Aalto, who offered him an alternative architecture, which used local materials and was close to the geography of the territory as well as to its own cultural identity. In addition, it was not an imported one. The mechanism could be the same and I think that is what Siza rehearsed on The Boa Nova restaurant. As the word indicates, the project meant “good tidings "*. Siza is neither the cause nor the effect, but just himself, with a sheer desire of wanting to get to the end, as if it were a marathon. * “Boa Nova” in Portuguese means “Good tidings”, thus the pun Souto Moura states here.(translator’s note) 3_ what do you consider to be more relevant in Siza’s work? Is it his unique and original language, his distance to other styles of contemporary architecture, or a distance that he has always kept? S.M.: In this matter, Siza touches on almost all trends: the Vernacular, the Modern, the Classic and the Baroque, without conforming to any of them. His secret has been to tread on ”the razor’s edge”, alternating his feet and overcoming obstacles. He was not alone. Others followed him along those Youth Years: Venturi, Stirling, Rossi, Moneo, but on different paths. Siza kept building up a language all his own that come down from his masters such as Távora, A. Aalto, Loos, and others until he was able to come up with a distinct "visual dictionary", which turned into a grammar afterwards. However, as Cardoso Pires stated: "…in order to write well the important thing is to know the grammar only to forget it later on." The evolution of Siza’s architecture is exactly this amnesia, the breaking free of the strict rules, in order to sketch the "naturalness". "Siza's houses are just like cats sleeping in the Sun. 4_ Eduardo, as truly connoisseur of Siza's working method, could you say that his architecture is the result of a personal working method or is it the result of sheer genius?
S.M.: What the contemporary architecture owes him; I think that I have already explained in the previous points. He has his own method, which is based on the 14-hour "continuous drawing", be it during the day or night. Siza sketches as a non-stop "plotter", with an impetus, like a dizzy spell towards the solution that has not arrived yet. As for the genius part of it, I would say it has only 10%. The other 90% are related to sweating. He sketches continuously in order to find the intelligence that allows him to get to the solution. After finding it, he resumes the process so that the work does not deviate from the conviction that has been accomplished. As he himself says, "the road to hell is paved with smart projects...” 5- What does the contemporary architecture owe to Siza’s work? S.M.: The most authentic aspect concerning Siza is he himself. It is not his work, because this is full of imperceptible "falsehoods", so it can be attractive without major explanations. As Master Viana de Lima used to say, and who Siza often quotes, "in politics what one needs is a strong sense of ethics. As for art’s sake, one who does not come to an agreement gives up." From both our companionship and work partnership, which goes on, I retain his method of work, his persistence, the pursuit towards the form and his tenacious will to grasp the beast as if it were a fight. More than the end in itself, I'm interested in the process and the journey, since I cannot use the final result, for the sake of modesty. After all, at times it does occur, but in an unconscious manner. If the copy were voluntary it would fall into such a ludicrous situation. 6- Where do you see Álvaro Siza as more authentic: In the small works of small budget like in the beginning of his career or the current large-scale projects? S.M.: About 40 years ago I wrote a text called "Alvaro Siza, an amoral architect". There were some people who did not understand it at all and came up with "Architect Alvaro Siza Amaral ". But what I meant was that Siza’s working method centres on gathering information; all that is possible, without hierarchies, and Manichaeism, and always through the design, a notebook, two notebooks, matchbooks, airline tickets, paper towels, napkins, drawing, always drawing, and drawing until exhaustion. The size and importance of the work does not matter. The important thing is the enthusiasm of the journey and not the port of arrival, whether it is a 20 cm square mirror, or 10 hectares in the Malagueira district. One point,
one detail, one simple feature, can serve as a lever to change the whole project. The important thing is that the work itself remains, and not what we think of it. 7- What would you like to say about Siza that has not been published yet? S.M.: I wish they would publish the catalogue of an exhibition that the architect Francesco Dal Co prepared on the erotic drawings by the architects Giulio Romano Scarpa and Siza. We are waiting for the permission from the Té Palace. Lately the specialty journals have published little on Siza. Siza is not a trendy architect these days. His buildings have become less elegant, less kind. Siza on the contrary likes the "feião" (*), a term I understand, but that I have not been able to quite grasp its meaning. Siza is a runner, a long-distance one, the marathon runner. As the sculptor Cabrita Reis, who is another friend of mine as well as a brilliant professional, used to say¨: "We are what we want to get to, and that is called "history". As for Siza, he has already reached it. Porto, June 14, 2015 Eduardo Souto de Moura * “feião” in Portuguese means “eyesore”, something between ugly and elegant (translator’s note)
The craft of the poet Carlos Seoane It was Kant who associated the hand with the window of the mind. In the architect’s craft, the manual dexterity, which is instrumental in drawing, has conditioned much of the creative universe throughout History. So much so, that it has gotten to the point where much architecture cannot be understood without the concurrent perception of their authors’ ability to draw. Mies Van der Rohe’s charcoal drawings or Frank Lloyd Wright’s watercolors are not only reproductions of great works of architecture, but also works of art in themselves, for their visual quality as well as for the technical virtuosity. Nevertheless, those drawings are primarily representational and were created with the fundamental aim to communicate. Conversely, all Siza’s drawings included in this book are part of his personal creative process, and they do not start from a representational one. Perhaps, that is the reason why there is neither stain nor any artifice of color in his sketches. On the contrary, they are almost always drawings of lines which are more concerned with, instead of representing something; they seem to dive in a sea of options. Those are quick and quite synthetic sketches that delve mainly into the reality in search of relations. Plus, in its extraordinary ability of synthesis, they display a great amount of aesthetic quality. In this function of a tool of analysis and research, Siza’s sketches come out usually like a map of lines, a mesh of geometries in search of connections between the existing reality and the projected one. In his drawings the world boils down to a geometric universe, where his project has to fit in somehow in order to complete the reality; perhaps in a romantic view of existence as something unfinished, but possible to be completed. Moreover, it is one reality where the drawing is the adequate instrument to find intangible relationships, which will allow, once the project is built, to reclaim a harmony that is not always evident, but that it is always manifest for Siza. For Siza, the sketch technique cannot be separated from the work of an architect. And, in that perception of drawing as a fundamental instrument for the craft, there is in the Oporto School of Architecture a whole interrupted tradition. To great extent it is a unique one, where the drawing has been understood up to these days as one basic element in the architect’s training.
This attitude towards drawing as a tool is something that Siza has fostered since childhood. In one of his early sketches during a holiday trip, he reproduced the profile of the Casa BatllĂł by Gaudi, and wrote down on the margins, notes on the materials used in the construction. Those notes featured an atypical accuracy for someone at his age, 14 years old. They also did show a concern towards drawing as a prime instrument of analysis. In this respect, we could say that his drawings look more like notes from the investigations of an alchemist than the faithful and accurate representations of a cartographer. One might state that when Siza draws, he does not reproduce but, above all, he seeks. Therefore, when one looks at them there is the understanding that he considers architecture almost always as a solution to a set of issues; such as, those related to a place, a function, a subject, a shape, etc. One could also say that his drawings are notes written by someone who raises issues just like a scientist in constant search of solutions. A couple of years ago Siza showed up to one interview for this book with his right arm hanging from a sling as a result of a home injury. In that interview, Siza told us that he regretted he couldn't draw equally well with his left hand. It did not have either the strength or the necessary precision to sketch, and therefore, to be able to project. In addition, he had realized that drawing was not just a question of a handâ€™s ability, but that he needed both hands to get a certain physical balance. Plus, he had become aware that when he drew, somehow his whole body was involved in the process. After having said that, Siza started to make his first sketch with the left hand. Even though he commented he felt awkward and imprecise, the truth is that the end result of that portrait with his less dexterous hand was once again a great drawing. Perhaps, it was a less precise portrait than other times, but just as synthetic and harmonically fluent as in the sketches made with his more skillful hand. In view of the fact that in the craft of drawing, the manual skills and even the body, as Siza puts it, are important. However, it is ultimately the brain which leads. So, that physical clumsiness which Siza confessed was actually relegated by his extraordinary ability to synthesize and by the harmony that composed the whole.
Siza confesses to be an obsessed creator, who constantly sketches when he projects, but also when he is resting while taking a coffee or talking on the phone. However, this obsession is like the craftsmanâ€™s perfecting his craft. Siza relates himself to drawing like a musician does with his/her instrument. It could be said that he has been working at improving his technique. Finally, it is the domain of a technique which gives the mastery of a craft and the faith in it along its technique, which a School such as Oporto has been conceived. Perhaps, it is both that faith in the technique and in craft that allows Siza to find brilliant solutions, which often turn out to be great creative leaps. However, they are the fruit of someone who instead of only believing in his creativity, has both committed and devoted himself to his craft tirelessly. Even then in his childhood drawings, Siza made his understanding evident that in order to be a poet one should first be a craftsperson. It is a particularly important lesson for these days, when the why and wherefore of the craft is questioned. And also, when the faith in excellence has been delegated largely to the precision of the machine rather than the mastery each job requires, including the poetâ€™s craft.
Inverview of Álvaro Siza by Juan Rodriguez and Carlos Seoane 1. THE BOA NOVA TEA HOUSE- RESTAURANT 1958-63
C.S. Was the Boa Nova Tea House your first project to be built? A.S.: Actually, the first project that was built was the three houses in Matosinhos. They were for some friends of the family. Soon after, I did another house for my mother’s uncle. In those days all of us began the professional career that way, either with the project of an uncle’s house or for a family’s acquaintance. C.S. We have also seen pictures of a designed kitchen for your grandmother, which must have also been a project from that time. A.S.: Well, in fact that project in the kitchen was a bit earlier. My grandmother wanted to carry out a reform of the kitchen, and as I was attending the School of Fine Arts I worked on the design of all the furniture, including the kitchen lamp. C.S.: That was a unique designed lamp for those times. A.S.: It was a design following the Bauhaus style. However, now that I stop to think about that, actually, an earlier project was a covered entry gate for my uncle’s house. However, there isn’t anything left of that project. That was almost a “Gaudian” design as a result of the strong impression that a visit to a Gaudi’s house caused on me. Therefore, it was a design with all those organic geometries, so typical of Gaudi. Although, my first real project was a small pavilion that my father wanted to build for his children to study more comfortably, since our house was small. By then, I wasn't even an architecture student. Further, I didn’t even think of becoming an architect. But my father asked me to design the pavilion, for which I drafted a structure and its elevation. Naturally, everything was conceived according to my father´s liking, which was something quite "naïve” and very close to some Portuguese traditionalist style.
C.S.: And why did your father asked you to come up with a sketch when you were not even the oldest son? A.S.: At that time, I used to paint a lot. I also did some sculpture in clay. Actually, the project is something very small. I was just a small pavilion on the land plot where our house stood, without problems of regulations or licensing. In fact, I would say that that first design was the one which actually got built. However, there are no remains left of it. C.S.: Then the Boa Nova Tea House was truly your first public project. A.S.: The Boa Nova project was indeed my first public work, though it initially began as a project by architect Fernando Távora, in collaboration with another architect, Francisco Figueiredo. They decided that due to the lack of time to work on the project for the contest, we would collaborate in it. Ultimately, Távora would go over it and be responsible for it. None of his aides, and there were five of us, could then take on any legal liability. That was because none of us had even finished the architecture course. C.S.: Those were times when the profession of an architect, was perhaps less complex than today. A.S.: In those days any architect who had just finished the course could do projects from home, or could start a small office. There was neither much bureaucracy nor so much legislation – for better or worse. In addition, the professional activity was much more flexible. For example, it would be unlikely that someone like Távora told his collaborators today: "you take care of the Boa Nova project then I will go over it". That situation was quite a special one because most of his collaborators weren't even full-fledged architects yet. When he returned from his trip he would go through the project and sign it. Nowadays, everything is much more complex. C.S.: So, the Boa Nova restaurant was initially a project by Távora. A.S.: As a matter of fact, when Távora returned from his long trip sometime later, he himself proposed to the Matosinhos City Hall that I should be the project architect and should also supervise the work. Today, that would be unthinkable. I didn’t even have the title of an architect, for I was twentyfive years old when the Boa Nova project was under way.
C.S.: In fact, the Boa Nova restaurant project won the Arquitecture Competition. A.S.: Indeed. We already had a first project ready, the one for the contest. However, as we developed the documents to carry out the work, I was not convinced with that first proposal. I was really obsessed with that, and then one day at home, an alternative solution occurred to me. The first proposal for the contest featured two bodies, with two different levels. They consisted of one hexagonal body on pillars and then another lower one. Actually, that initial idea wouldn’t fit well into the place at all. So, after much pondering I came to the conclusion that the problem was the very original concept of the project. Then, I decided to make a radical change by resolving it with a sole horizontal cover and the entry way through the high level in order to get a low view of the horizon and then a lower body with all the services. The difference in levels allowed an underneath entry way and then place there a number of toilet facilities to cater to the restaurant and the tea house simultaneously. The initial plan called for two distinct lounges and that led to the inclusion of two bodies. Consequently, the building looks like it is embedded between those two large solid masses and only a terrace is shown to the outside. C.S.: The Boa Nova restaurant is a project, which in fact can only be entirely understood in the place itself. A.S.: Indeed, that is a very unique place. As a matter of fact, that space is also special for the public opinion. And that is because it is often said that the poet António Nobre went there regularly. Everyone was very much afraid of destroying the magic of that site. The project was badly received back then. It was said that it was the only building that featured its façade on its back. That has to do with the fact that the picture window faces the sea, and conversely, the entrance looks like an enclosed space. The other projects that had been submitted to the contest, located the building somewhere else facing the beach. However, the person who really chose the site for our proposal was Távora. One day he went there with us and said: "This is the right place" and we got terrified. We knew that it was a very difficult location, but Távora's choice of the site was truly from a master.
C.S.: Now that the refurbishing of the restaurant has been finished, was there any temptation to alter the original project? A.S.: I remember that when I undertook the first renovation some 20 years ago, the City Council wanted to restore the finishes, because externally the building was not in such good condition. Notwithstanding, the wood paneling inside was all well preserved. So, the refurbishing was a superficial one involving the paint coating and the finishes. However, I remember that when I walked into the building I had the feeling that there were some things that I didn't like. Particularly, those wood elements hanging from the ceiling like stalactites over the stairs. I also thought they didnâ€™t serve for anything, therefore I decided to remove them. But the more I considered, I realized that if those wooden pieces were removed, other elements would come up. Consequently, if those remained, they would become inconsistent with the rest. Therefore, they would also have to be removed. And then others and othersâ€ŚEverything was related to each other so I realized that although there were things that I didn't like, there was an internal coherence linking all the different elements. By altering one piece, there would result in a chain of decisions that could end up changing the whole thing. In the end, I decided to leave everything as it was and not alter anything at all. And thatâ€™s because, even though there were elements that I was not convinced of, everything was interconnected and that unity was important.
C.S.: However, the refurbishing carried out recently was a considerable one. A.S.: Yes. This latest renovation was more meaningful because the building had been abandoned for more than one year. Rain water had even seeped into the building. That deteriorated it all more seriously than at the time the first work to restore it took place. Getting the building back to the original condition was particularly difficult. Especially, if considering all the work that needed to be done in order to restore the wood paneling. Further. It should not to be forgotten that the building had been abandoned for months and had suffered vandalism for an entire year. The vandals got to the point of lifting the roof shingles so they could rob the copper gutters on the roof. That is where the water ended up entering the building and resulted in the subsequent deterioration. There were difficult elements to recover, such as the roof, because of its complex geometry. So, it was necessary to come up with a specific roof tile. In addition, it was particularly laborious to recover the wood paneling because; as water was absorbed some spots appeared in it. Even though it was an intense restoration work, I decided not to change anything from the original design. C.S.: However, some new intervention did take place in the last undertaking. A.S.: I took advantage of the recent renovation work to reclaim the original idea for the outside planning. In the initial project, the building was located on a green hill and as time went by that space turned into a barren parking lot. I made the most of that refurbishing to recover the idea of a green space devoid of buildings. At the same time, I was able to solve the difficult access to the chapel as well as the outdoor lighting, which had not been resolved up to that day. C.S.: Is the interior furniture still the original one? A.S.: Yes. All the pieces were manufactured again because they had been badly treated, and all the assemblies were severely worn out. All the terrace furniture was made again including the one for the restaurant because it had never had any outdoor furnishings. The kitchen was also redesigned to adapt it to the needs of a modern industrial one. I think we were able to resolve everything quite well.
2. THE LEÃ‡A DE PALMEIRA SWIMMING POOL COMPLEX - 1959-73 The material
C.S.: The Leça swimming pool complex was part of a much broader management proposal, which also featured the Boa Nova restaurant, the tide pools and a project for another intermediate restaurant. A.S.: Yes. But in the beginning it was not like that. The first project to be built was the Boa Nova restaurant. Later the Mayor of Matosinhos, Fernando Pinto de Oliveira, commissioned the engineer Bernardo Ferrão to build a tide pool in Leça de Palmeira. He was a very intelligent person as well as an excellent engineer and constructor. Bernardo first designed a rectangular pool made of concrete on the beach. Later on, but then I am not so sure if it was on Fernando Távora’s own initiative or under the influence of his brother that he informed the City Council the need for an architect to collaborate in the pool’s project. He suggested my name, and consequently the City Council entrusted me to the project. The first changes that I suggested were related to, rather than building the four walls in concrete, we should use the rocks as such. We would only complement with concrete wherever the rocks failed to entirely seal off the pool vessel. He accepted that idea immediately, and as a result we changed the project of the swimming pool vessel. However, little by little the project did become increasingly more complex.
C.S.: Nonetheless, gradually the project went from a swimming pool on the beach to a more complex one. A.S.: Indeed. The City Hallâ€™s initial idea was to build a tide pool, which would fill up and empty out according to the sea level. However, the Health Department did not approve this initial approach, and called for the treatment of the pool water. Then, it was necessary to come up with a complex sea water abstraction system, which included a drilled offshore well and a machine room on the beach. After a while, the same Health Department added washrooms to the pool complex because they realized that users would be mainly on the beach. The bathers would only come to the tide pool for swimming when the sea became too rough. Thus, there arose the need to also include a few toilet facilities. Since there was some urgency in the first phase, I designed a few toilet facilities to be built close to the beach and next to the wall - I think that one can even be seen in the project â€“ The great concern was not to jut anything out over the perimeter wall. This way someone driving along the Avenida Marginal would continuously see the ocean and never have the view interrupted by the protruding buildings. Therefore, in the first phase of the project, there was only one engine room built. Shortly after, we added a few toilet facilities with a portico and the pond for the washing of feet. And that was it. Later, the Regional Health Offices also demanded a locker room. Therefore, the swimming pool complex became gradually a more multifarious project. Then we had to complete the wall, build a few locker rooms, an outdoor bar with a small kitchen and a counter space with a small covered space around it.
C.S.: A draft work Programme may not be very complex but one where the movement and treatment of light result in a very rich experience. A.S.: The lack of depth when entering the premises is a consequence of the will to take advantage of all the dimension of the place concerning the location of the swimming pools. This lack of depth is balanced somehow by the treatment of light and the zig-zag pattern of the entry way leading on through different spaces. There is a preparation for the arrival at the poolside space and intensity of daylight. That is done through the zig-zag movement pattern before entering the building and also with the treatment of light. One goes from the full exterior light to darkness, then to the Northern light without seeing the landscape yet. At last, there is the open view to the Atlantic with its abundant light. The entrance was resolved with a ramp and at the end with a smalldisplacement whereby - male or female - user enters and meets a structure for a closet, which flows through to then pass to the swimming area. But while I was developing the project, the idea of also a swimming pool for children and there is a group of rocks close I proposed to make a circular wall linking them and as they are at a level lower than the entrance, leaving the area covered children descend by stairs and pass below the platform to access your pool, or if not also have other access through other concrete platform. This is the movement: you go down, you enter, thereâ€™s the childrenâ€™s pool or the one for adults, and here you have the footbath... To sum up: the whole thing is around the downward movement. â€“ As Siza speaks, he also sketches a diagram of the plant. He moves his hands to explain the flow of movement of one person getting to the swimming pools.
C.S.: Then the second restaurant project has nothing to do with the swimming pools. A.S.: It was much later that the need for a restaurant in that place came up. They commissioned the project to me and I did a series of studies for a restaurant at an intermediate point, actually in a little Aaltoish style. However, after a second visit to the site I realized that that was not a good choice to build and close the space. And then, there is another beach. So I decided to turn the restaurant around and place it diagonally towards the sea, and sit it solidly over some rocks because the sea in that area is quite rough. The bar by the pool is placed the same way. Thus, the similar diagonal shows up once more aligned with the restaurant. C.S.: All built in concrete. A.S.: Yes, in concrete C.S.: Is the decision to choose the concrete as a material, in a way, a legacy from the engineer? A.S.: Not really. The engineer FerrĂŁo only made a project for a rectangular swimming pool vessel. The decision on the concrete rests on its own. Indeed, there was a precedent, but for obvious reasons. The sea wave many a times travels all the way up to the road above. In that area the sea can be very rough, especially when there is a storm and it coincides with the Spring Tides. Anything to be built there would have to be something very solid. It could not have any exterior lining, be it wood, or similar. Nothing could resist the force of the sea; therefore the choice of the concrete is almost a decision resulting from the presence of the sea itself. In fact, a while later someone found a gap between the rocks and I was asked to design a service area for the staff, that is, the locker rooms for the private employees. I also designed them in concrete, including the inner divisions because I was afraid of the power of the sea. However, one day there was such a storm that the sea water got in through that hole with such a force that it destroyed everything completely, regardless the concrete walls. The sea there is tremendous. If it werenâ€™t for the rocks to serve as protection, there would not be anything standing. The entire project is quite aware of that. The sea around the area destroys everything. In addition, there was another project for the washrooms further down the area. However, they were never built. After the Mayor left the City Hall, no one was pretty interested in it. Nowadays, the pool is really in bad shape.
You cannot say it is abandoned because people are still using it, but it is really battered. C.S.: Absolutely, for instance, the plastic tables and chairs furniture on the terrace. A.S.: Let’s not even talk about that.... C.S.: The closing with metal mesh. A.S.: Yes, they did an awful thing... Nonetheless, getting back to what you were asking me about the process. Since I had built the Boa Nova restaurant, and then the Leça swimming pool, the Mayor asked me one day for an urban planning that would bring all the elements together. That would also include a part of the Leça’s historic quarter. At that time there were some magnificent conditions, since the buildingground to be was still unoccupied. It was free from buildings because there was an old canon facing the port, which did not add any interest to the place whatsoever. However, during those years it kept the place devoid of buildings. It was truly incredible scenery. The Area Management Plan included a wooded space for car parking. It also featured a more sheltered pool by a quarry at the foot of the lighthouse. That would even include a restaurant and its equipment. However, the Revolution of the 25th of April took place, which brought many good things for the country. That is not to be said, however, in relation to that project. The Revolution paralyzed all the Area Management Plan activities, and later what got built there was that disaster of buildings with hundreds of homes facing the sea.
C.S.: In addition, is there a monument in the same area for which a proposal was submitted as well? A. S.: Yes. There is an unfinished monument to the poet Barata Feyo by Antonio Nobre next to the lighthouse. It is a figurative monument on the Muses, the sons of the Muses, which is still there. But it was a proposal in a very small scale. I simply came up with a ramp, because there was a certain distance to the coastline from the Avenida Marginal and I proposed a ramp to reach an access to the Boa Nova restaurant. The full proposal intended to cover all these areas with vegetation, but actually that never materialized. Since the Boa Nova Tea House is going to be restored, I am now trying to take advantage of that and carry out this landscaping project. C.S.: Then those three projects were not born after a joint planning… A. S.: No, not really. It was a later element. To complete the story of all this process, the next Mayor, actually the first one to be democratically elected after the 25th of April, asked me for an Area Management Plan on the Avenida Marginal. However, I told him: "The Area Management Plan has already been designed. It was done long ago, but unfortunately the environs are already destroyed. There is almost nothing left". However, the Mayor replied that what they really wanted was simply a plan for the road lanes and that was actually my last intervention in the area. C.S.: I'd like to talk more about the concrete-made pools because unlike other projects, in the Leça swimming pools the material used has a very strong presence. Not only the concrete walls, but also the wood ceiling. They are materials that mark the character of the spaces. The attitude toward the material seems in a sense to be very different from other projects. A.S.: Yes, but simply because that is a very unique place, one which is very battered by the sea, very prone to salt air erosion and always subjected to the Northern wind. That beautiful place may even turn out to be violent. So, I thought of building almost everything in concrete with some elements in wood and copper, because within one year the iron completely disappears. At the Boa Nova restaurant the only featured metal is also the copper. The iron is not used at all because it wouldn’t last long. Copper, wood and concrete are the key materials. Nonetheless, those elements were imperative because of the presence of the sea. While we were getting the work started, the constructor for the swimming pool who was concurrently the project’s engineer, found an excellent
"Riga" wood in a demolition of a building from the 19th century. That kind of wood, around two hundred years old was the only one to withstand such harsh conditions. So by following his recommendation we made the entire structure using that wood. C.S.: That blackish wood was then used to build the covered structure. A.S.: The structure of the roof also supports the locker rooms, which was suspended from the roof beams in order to be off the ground and allow the floor to be washed. All the spaces can be cleaned simply with a hose. However, the wood in the locker room is also protected from the moisture on the floor, so it really is a double structure. That is the reason why all the wooden booths are suspended from the soil about 15 cm. On top of being a special kind of wood, we treated it with machine oil, because in those days there were no treatments that are available today. That oil is what gives the wood that dark greyish color, which is almost black. Actually, the space is lit only by the cross-section of the ramp, with the light coming from the Atlantic Ocean. So, the prevailing light is the Northern one. Space really it is only illuminated by the cut of the ramp, with an Atlantic light and enter the key light is the light of the North. One goes through the entrance and gets to the cabins. Then, there is a corridor and one is finally outside. However, upon leaving the covered space, the landscape is not at sight yet. That is because we face a wall, which does not allow a direct view of the sea. In effect, only after passing underneath the concrete portico one ends up under full light. C.S.: In general terms, could one say that the order of geometry is more relevant than the materials for the understanding of your work? A.S.: Not necessarily. Now that I have just made the project for the refurbishing of the Boa Nova restaurant, I was really tempted to do an assessment, a self-criticism of the original plan. I understood that in a sense, the project was a little mimetic with the landscape, excessively organic in its relationship with the environment. However, I found myself in a broader space and a much more sweeping horizon in the project for the swimming pools. So, I thought that somehow I ought to establish more clearly the separation between the architecture and its geometry from the physical space featuring the rocks and their characteristics.
The rocks were used to define the site and to make some adjustments. Nevertheless, they were left in their original state for the most part. They also defined different leisure areas and organized oneâ€™s way down to the pool. Hence, it is an orthogonal geometric structure, except for the diagonal trace of the back wall, which follows the embedding of the rocks. The intensity of this relationship is accomplished by the contact between the concrete and the rocks. A clear example of this is in the swimming pool vessel. Those built structures, which are almost parallel to each other, were actually proposed in the light of the contact with the rocks. Therefore, all those elements accompany the force of the place and they could never be moved to another area: those horizontal lines and the mighty horizon in that place. C.S.: In my mind, that project had practically been designed at the construction site. Further, that there had not been a through defined design in the beginning. A.S.: A first draft was done and the staking work followed. The stakes were adjusted in order to ensure, for instance, that no wall would be higher than a rock and therefore without finishing. The walls are arranged in such a way that they always merge with a rock. There was a great care concerning the contact between the geometry of the walls and the organic nature of the rocks. From the very beginning there was one idea. This idea consisted of building a lower volume and going through that entryway. So, a prime design was conceived based upon a first topographic survey. Actually, it was a very precise one, since one can never manage to define reality completely. That may be due to the nature of the rocks or their organic characteristics. We first reassessed with stakes all the possibilities of geometry of the project in terms of heights. Whenever there was something that I was not convince of, we would change the stakes and redesign all the geometries in the site. Then, we would do a new topographic assessment and a new plan until we got to a final construction version. It was a work of bringing things together. However, as far as the Boa Nova restaurant project is concerned we did not do it this way. I would spend whole mornings drawing rock by rock. There are a few drawings of great detail of the rocksâ€™ contour that were fundamental to define the position of the building in its final version.
Everything was much more premeditated in the project for the swimming pools because, in fact, there had been quite a thorough survey prior to it. In addition, I was present when the surveyor was doing the topographic assessment, which gave me an earlier knowledge of the important place. Actually, there were several topographical surveys, each one featuring more detail than the previous one. Further, I got to know the place much better due to the experience of placing the lines. I actually spent a long time in the construction site. In part, because there I didn’t have more work and also for the fact that it was much easier to keep an office those days. This being for the reason that there were no taxes, not so much bureaucracy as well as all the expenses related to computer technology today. Indeed, with very little work then, one could keep up an office. Nowadays, all of that would be impossible. C.S.: As for the Leça swimming pool, you have acknowledged references to Wright’s work. A.S.: At that time I was at the beginning of my professional career. We all had very limited references because there was very little information about everything. It is very different today. Portugal was then a rather closed society. There were few publications available, and on top of that we could not even travel a lot. There weren’t many books, and the Portuguese society was quite isolated from the rest. Therefore, the references were pretty scarce…. For instance, the Boa Nova restaurant project has much to do with the fact that at back then, I was able to buy the magazine Architecture d'aujourd ' hui. The issue was dedicated solely to Alvar Aalto’s work. It featured one of his houses with similar coverings - Maison Carré -. That reference was undoubtedly an important presence for me during the development of the project. Later, when I did the project for the Leça swimming pools, we had already had access to the book by Bruno Zeve, "The History of Modern Architecture". We had already had information about Wright’s work and then more information started to become available. Actually though, when I was a student at the University of Porto the only reference to modern architecture was the work by Le Corbusier. I remember that at the School of Architecture only the name of Le Corbusier was mentioned. Nonetheless, I do remember that while projecting the Leça swimming pools, I saw Wright's project for Taliesin. In Taliesin there is an area that looks exactly the same as the one in Leça, which corresponded quite well
with the arrangement of the rocks and the curve of the beach, and fit perfectly with the topography of the place. C.S.: Interestingly, when one talks about the Porto School of Architecture, the references tend to be mostly Aalto, Wright. A.S.: Everything began to change with the appointment of the new Dean, Carlos Ramos, and especially with Fernando Távora. However, there were also others: José Carlos Loreiro, Mario Bonito, etc... Carlos Ramos brought along a new team of professors and together they changed the School completely. C.S.: Nonetheless, in certain areas of Leça, there is also correlation with Barragan’s work. A.S.: At that time I didn't know Barragan’s work yet. Even though, Távora’s project for the Quinta da Concepção could really look like one by Barragán. However, when Távora did make that project he was totally unaware of Barragan’s existence. It's really curious, because even in the use of color there are similarities with Barragan’s work. Yet, I know for sure that Távora had no references of the work by the Mexican architect. Nevertheless, the similarities may also have some explanation. Barragan assimilated much of the Mediterranean architecture, the one found in Southern Spain and the one from Northern Africa. He was also friends with all the major European architects, who curiously Távora was interested in and sought abroad. Therefore, there was a convergence, but a total unintended one, because Barragan only began to be known in Portugal after he was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1980. Recently, as I was doing research on another matter, I found an old issue of the magazine Architecture d'aujourd ' hui dedicated to South America, where indeed, there was a project by Barragan and featured only two photographs. Yet, it was only upon receiving the Pritzker that actually Barragan got to be known in Portugal.
3- THE MALAGUEIRA HOUSING COMPLEX -1973-77 Politics and Architecture.
C.S. The Malagueira Housing Complex project dates back to 1977, just a few years after the of April 25th Revolution in 1974, the Carnation Revolution as it is known in Portugal . It must have been a complex moment. A.S.: Yes, it was. In addition, the project took place right after the cancelation of the SAAL program. .*(SAAL stands for Serviço Ambulante de Apoio Local, in Portuguese. –The Itinerant service of Local support)* C.S.: The SAAL program promoted the development of living quarters during the first government. A.S.: Absolutely. The SAAL program was developed during the first government in which the architect Nuno Portas was the State Secretary. He launched the SAAL Program. However, that initiative was cancelled and didn’t go on. C.S: However, the Malagueira Project actually got started out of an urbanite one. A.S.: By then, no city had any planning. Then, the Lisbon-based Government issued a decree that demanded the enforcement of the urban planning in all the Portuguese cities. The result was not always good because many ordinations were done in a rush since its financing depended on a determined deadline. Évora got lucky that its planning was carried out by a team of architects from Lisbon. The architect Manuel Salgado was part of that team and the planning was carried out with great care and thoroughness. Most of the cities in the Alentejo region were under the rule of the Communist party, including the new administration of the city of Évora, which initiated the works for the urban planning of the city. One of the areas included in this ordination was the Malagueira, a 27 hectare area, where it was decided that a total new approach to urban planning was to be carried out. C.S.: Had there been any proposal for urban development prior to the project? A.S.: Only a part from the previous project had been built: the seven-storey-housing blocks which are at the edge of the neighbourhood. However, the rules imposed by the new planning limited new buildings to a maximum height of two floors and also protected a green area that was already there as well as a small stream. Therefore, the project of the new urban planning for Évora already included some general principles for the Malagueira housing complex. It was within that context that I
was invited by the city to develop the project of the new neighbourhood. C.S.: Wasn´t it odd back then to invite an architect from Porto in order to develop a project in the Alentejo region? A.S.: The PSD party did not govern in majority. So, the reason they gave me to explain my appointment, was that there were many pressures in one way or another. Some architects, who had personal or political relations with some of the local administration, showed a great amount of interest towards getting the project. Therefore, it was a delicate problem for everyone. They didn’t want a contest either. That was not mandatory. They thought that it would delay the entire process, and at the same time they feared that it would be very controversial. The preference fell on carrying out a direct appointment. And, in the face of so many pressures, they chose to look for an architect from the North who was distant from all those local issues. So I was invited, and I accepted it. However, it also occurred that the SAAL program had already been developed for that area. The program ended up being cancelled and the participating neighborhood associations that were part of the program were transformed by legal imposition into cooperatives. This came to generate a great deal of complexity at different levels around the definition of the project itself. C.S.: Nonetheless, was the Malagueira project considered an urban planning or a construction project in the beginning phase? A.S.: Both things. By the time the neighbours’ associations got to know that I was going to be responsible for the development project, they already knew of a programme for 120 houses. They proposed that I should also be responsible for the architecture project of their houses. It was a program for housing development and construction that received government funding. Évora was an environment of tight economic constraints as well as in need of social assistance. Under the circumstances, I proposed the City Hall to study a typology of adequate housing for the ordination within the urban planning and simultaneously to initiate a process of dialogue with the representation body of the future users. Thus, the proposal was born by developing the management of public spaces and the architecture at the same time. I had the possibility of combining in a single project the two proposals, both the architecture and the urban development definition. C.S.-However, those 120 houses finally ended up in 1200 ones.
A.S.: Yes. The project and the construction lasted a long time. I think that all together it took more than ten years. Albeit, the decisions and the debate were relatively fast, the houses got built little by little. The whole management however was a very difficult process. Firstly, it was due to the large economic constraints. Especially considering that we’re talking about social housing at that time. And then, due to the political difficulties it suffered. This occurred especially because Évora was being ruled by the Communist Party after the first elections following the Revolution. The central Government on the other hand, wasn’t made up of a Communist majority. Thus, from the outset there was a conflict. It was a latent conflict between the central Government and the local one. This situation greatly conditioned all the development of the barrio, because the funding from the central Government was made available just before the elections. In addition, there were the bureaucratic difficulties that we were always submitted to at any proposal. That had to do with the fact that any decision had to be approved by the Department of Urbanism in Lisbon at all times. It was a very difficult project, with a great deal of limitation, which also brought with it a particularly serious circumstance. The funding was only and exclusively granted for the construction of dwellings, but never for the collective facility. Still today, there are hardly any community facilities in the neighbourhood. C.S.: I remember seeing plans for several projects for a covered square, day care, etc. A.S.: We had developed several projects for different facilities in the neighbourhood but they were never built. Basically, this was due to the lack of funding, because there wasn’t any possibility for local financing either. Economically speaking, the project depended on the central Government, which did not always give the necessary support. But the worst part was that during the large political campaigns leading up to the elections, the most important attack was always against the Malagueira community. This had to do with both the largest and the most meaningful project in social terms accomplished by the Communist Party in the region. The Socialist Party was only the third political force in the Alentejo region and needed desperately to improve its results. Thus, there were always brutal attacks against the Malagueira housing project before the elections, which came mainly from the Socialist Party.
Much later when most of the Government was changed, and the Socialist Party won control over Ă‰vora, the dwellings had already been built. I was completely kicked out of the project, and did not participate in the decisions anymore. That ended quite very abruptly as a result of a political battle. C.S.: However, such a large and complex project had to be the result of the participation of many technicians. A.S.: Yes, absolutely. The whole neighbourhood occupies 27 hectares and 1200 houses were built. All the technical project of urbanization was very complex and it was developed in collaboration with the GAT (Gabinete de Apoio TĂŠcnico Local, in Portuguese), the Cabinet of Local Technical Support. This meant that in the cities, except for the main ones, there were no qualified technicians. So, the Government created those technical teams to provide support to councils which didnâ€™t have the infrastructure to manage their own planning. Actually, there was a very good understanding with the GAT teams. So, because of this collaboration we managed to develop all the urban development projects. C.S.: However, in this project, even the urban development ones were surrounded by some controversy. A.S.: Yes, it is true. The problem of infrastructure arose during the implementation of the urban development projects. We submitted a proposal based on economic efficiency in order to resolve all the facility lines by a system of a simple raised concrete aqueduct structure without having to bury anything. Nevertheless, such an elemental proposal like that one suffered massive attacks. In addition to the usual difficulties of coordination between various administrations, it was also needed to coordinate with each responsible agency and meet all the technical requirements. This had to do with the fact that the aerial structure for lines featured everything: the line for telephone, electricity, cable TV, water, gas etc. Therefore, that simple idea ended up being something very complex. In addition to the technical regulations, each infrastructure manager always had his personal objections. Theirs were often whims rather than technical ones. We finally got to a solution among all the parties, and developed the technical project according to each agreement. At last, when the final approval by the Department of Urbanism in Lisbon was to be granted, the permission was surprisingly vetoed. It was both a long and frustrating process.
That technical decision on the facilities had very important implications for the project, because it was a solution that allowed significant savings. It would lower the costs of the work as a whole, and therefore facilitate its viability, as well as further maintenance savings. C.S.: Actually, the concrete block structure looks very simple, but formally it also serves to structure the whole. A.S.: You nailed it. That support was a seemingly very elementary building, but the engineer João Maria Sobreira calculated a structure to build it with at very low cost. Actually the cost was almost a miracle because the project even included pre-fabricated elements; in effect, the structure that supported all pipes was a sophisticated engineering exercise even if it was a very modest construction in appearances. C.S.: Nevertheless, the project got approved. A.S.: Yes, it did. However, not without more than one anecdote... As I told you, the project did not get the final approval from the Department of Urbanism and everything was halted. It so happened that a visit to Évora by the President of the Portuguese Republic, General Ramalho Eanes was arranged. The Mayor of Évora at that time was Abílio Fernandes. He was a member of to the Communist Party, and he was also a great politician. He possessed a large human dimension, and at the same time, he was quite aware of all the bureaucratic difficulties that the project was suffering in Lisbon. The Mayor decided to invite the President the Republic to visit the Malagueira neighbourhood, but Eanes turned down the invitation because he knew that it had political implications which he didn't want to interfere with. Those implications were none other than that the central Government was boycotting Évora, and was using the Malagueira Project to do so. Obviously, President Eanes was also aware of that. Then, what did Abílio do? He invited the President to eat at a restaurant right by the Malagueira area, and called me up to ask me to be there by the end of the meal. When the lunch got to its end the whole entourage came out of the restaurant from where, just down the hill, all of the Malagueira neighbourhood could be seen. As everyone was leaving Abilio told me: "Architect Siza, please explain to our President your project". I explained the project to Eanes, and at the same time I emphasised the bureaucratic difficulties as well as the state of paralysis the project suffered. That having to do with the fact that the Department of Urbanism did not agree with our proposal for the aerial
infrastructure solution, which was a fundamental choice for the economic viability of the entire project. When I was saying that a man from the entourage came up and said: "Excuse me, gentlemen, but the project has already been approved!" The President and all of us were silent and even a little awed by the bluntness of the interruption. Then the President said: "Well, it seems that everything has been resolved. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed your presentation." That man who came out of the presidential entourage was a local official of the Directorate of Urban Planning in Ă‰vora.
C.S.: Perhaps that official could not admit the very inefficiency in front of the President. A.S.: In those days that immense fear towards power still persisted. Perhaps that officer could not withstand the fear of the maximum power of the Presidency and had that spontaneous reaction. I know that after that incident the official in question had many problems within the local Administration for the attitude he had taken publicly, and what it had meant for the development of the Malagueira neighbourhood. Insomuch as, from then on the infrastructure problem was resolved and the project advanced unfettered. But that was largely due to the visit by the President of the Republic. C.S.: The relationship between architecture and politics are always present. A.S.: Ah, Yes, absolutely! And howâ€Ś C.S.: I think it was Eisenman who said that one could only do large projects, when the Right wing was in power. Because only the Conservative party had the strength to take the necessary risks. A.S.: I share the same opinion, and I am sure that Souto de Moura does too. Especially, if we refer to the local Councils. In those municipalities, where the power is in the hands of the socialist party, I've always had major problems. Not in general, but actually, most of the times. On the other hand, I have done projects in municipalities that were governed by the conservative party and I havenâ€™t had even half of the problems. Or better said, I have barely had any problems. One of the reasons relates to the fact that after the April Revolution the left wing governed everywhere in Portugal. All the local Councils started to be governed mostly by socialists, not the communists. Communism became something of a minority. And in
parallel, this created a huge structure of technicians keen on power. C.S.: - So, the issue of the relationship with politics was not so much an ideological one. A.S.: Yes. It was not so much an ideological issue, but one of labour market, political patronage, and commitments of the political parties to their associates. In fact, in Évora, when the socialists came to power I just couldn’t develop any other project there. C.S.: Getting back to the issue of facilities: to the issue of the structure for aerial facilities. Actually, they are also part of a large lintel, a structure that travels over the entire neighbourhood, and that distinguishes somehow the urban spaces and creates a relationship with the city in the distance. A.S.: Yes. It largely responds to that and one cannot take for granted the image of the aqueduct nearby. Surely when the structure was conceived there might have been a component of mental association. Although to be honest, the idea came up only as a response to an economic issue. From the very beginning it was clear that there would be only funding - and not enough - for the construction of the dwellings. Also, there wouldn’t be any budget for facilities and very little for the infrastructure. Therefore, the choice for the installations by aerial conduits was simply an economical solution. C.S.: Perhaps what still surprises one most today is the lack of commercial spaces. A.S.: Building a large shopping mall was never one of my intentions. What I did intend, nevertheless, was to achieve something like the historic centre of the city. That is, a mixture of uses, a true fusion. But we lacked a budget for that, and we didn’t want to allot a great surface to build a mall in the future. That is why the small spaces throughout the whole area were set apart. The very support structure of the lintels was designed along the axis east-west, the urban axis which continues towards the illegal city neighbourhood nearby. It then goes on towards the gates of the city wall. It was along that axis that areas were reserved for the neighbours’ associations to open small shops and facilities. We didn’t want to focus the commercial spaces linearly. Instead, we wanted to provide areas for possible future commercial development at different points. Still, the biggest problem was that the funding to build any facility never materialized. C.S.: Actually, there is one, even though there are few commercial spaces. A.S.: Yes, a commercial facility was developed, but mainly on the initiative of the cooperatives themselves such as a café, a kiosk, but little else.
Later on, during talks with the local communist government, we were able to turn one of those spaces into a parish centre, which soon turned into one for the elderly as well as for gardening service. So, that was what we achieved doing out of the entire facilitiesâ€™ plan that we originally had projected, and nothing else.
C.S.: We have seen several projects for different types of social facilities in the file. A.S.: Yes. There were many projects for the facilities: a clinic, a school, a kindergarten, two offices for the cooperatives with their social facility, a small motel, a restaurant with a stunning view of Ă‰vora, etc. There was also a project which included a small church with a social centre at a very important point, where the Malagueira neighbourhood met the so-called old town. There was a large concentration of Gypsies in that area, which almost became a ghetto. However, at the same time there was this prejudice that since the local Government was communist, any facility backed by the Church would ever be financed. Conversely, it was right the other way round for the Mayor supported the project. He even went to talk to the Bishop himself. The Mayor was a politician of great intelligence - but in the end there wasnâ€™t anything to be done about it due to the debility of the Church itself. The priest, who had been suggested as responsible, actually did not have the skills to develop such project. There was also the plan for a private clinic which was never approved, because the permission was always denied. This occurred because even within the City Hall itself there were also antagonist groups opposed to the good development of the project. It was a very rich but a rather difficult project to carry out. The final running order of the Malagueira neighbourhood has been highly conditioned by the lack of such basic equipment. I had also designed a half-dome covered centre, with some symbolic meaning, but again there was never any funding for it. It would be an important meeting point and even the Mayor was very interested in it. However, the budget was never enough to do it. The project was largely subject to a devastating counter action, which was not even disguised.
C.S.: What was the importance of the automobile within the entire plan? A.S. When we designed the urban planning there were such enormous basic needs in the population that no one could even imagine, that over a short period of time the residents of the neighbourhood would have access to cars. At that time there was a certain lack of faith in the future. It shouldnâ€™t be forgotten that the neighbourhood was developed just after the April Revolution, and that the American squad was ready and willing to invade the Tagus River. Henry Kissinger wanted to invade Portugal because he thought that its model was a threat to Europe. In Europe, while there were boycotts by some governments, there was also a great expectation and a political movement of support, especially in Italy and France. This occurred because there was great hope for the changes that were happening in Portugal, which represented an alternative for change in Europe. Therefore, Kissinger was deeply concerned with the course of events after the Carnation Revolution. In fact, the first thing Kissinger did was to ask for the resignation of the American Ambassador to Portugal, who did not share his opinions. Kissinger then appointed a new Ambassador who became the number two of the CIA, a man who had already been in South America, specifically in Chile. Still, the new Ambassador approached various political sectors and ultimately came to a conclusion contrary to Kissingerâ€™s. It was not necessary to invade and the issue could be solved without militarily intervention. There were means to solve the problem that concerned Kissinger so much.
C.S.: After the revolution there was a strong economic crisis, which meant times of great hardship in Portugal. A.S.: It should not be forgotten that in those moments after the April Revolution, Portugal was subjected to a process of international isolation, one that affected all its industry in general, and the textile sector in particular. At that time there were attempts from Europe to suffocate the Portuguese economy. The situation came to a point that workers travelled to Spain, to ask their former employers who had been exiled in Galicia to come back. That was because all foreign doors were closed to them and the industry had been left paralyzed.
With the Revolution, much of the industry was administered directly by workers, and it seemed obvious that they were suffering a foreign boycott to the point that it could not even sell a meter of fabric manufactured in Portugal. That may also be attributed to some lack of experience by the new companies’ managers. The isolation was such that workers ended up finding former entrepreneurs residing in exile, in Galicia mostly, and asked them to return, and once again get their old companies going. What a life... C.S.: Very difficult times indeed, but at the same time it was an exciting one with a historic change. A.S.:- Yes, indeed. Those were times of great enthusiasm. I remember a group of very interesting and active workers who sprung up in Évora. One of the problems during the construction of the Malagueira housing complex was that there wasn’t anyone who could really take over the construction of the dwellings. At that time there was this construction boom, largely a clandestine one, but which gave work to many builders. The most part of that building boom was located around Lisbon and dragged most of the builders there. Therefore, nobody wanted to actually go and build in Évora. In addition, there weren’t contractors who dared carry out the project, because there were many doubts about the final result, including all the problems related to the supply of materials. C.S. The houses featured a very simple construction pattern: walls of concrete blocks with the insulation covering it. A.S. In the early stages, the houses were built in concrete blocks, because in reality there were no bricks available. They were sold out across the whole country and there wasn’t enough production for the construction boom. However, in order to build with cement blocks we had to make it possible for a small local factory to meet deadlines in a flexible manner as well as its production outcome. Consequently, that company with a small machine was able to produce, either with better or worse quality, the pre-cast concrete slabs to build all homes. At that time, the developers themselves didn’t have qualified personnel to build and much less a technical team. So, we were the ones who had to provide them with technical support. Basically the support was given by the engineer from our team and
nobody else. Then all those contradictions that are only possible in the revolutions sprung up. I remember that in the first phase of building the houses, the Contractor who was at the same time a MP for the communist party came from Troia. We met with him and actually he knew nothing about the situation in Évora. Neither did he know much about how to manage a company. Nevertheless, he ended up as the C.E.O. of a construction company. Those were the paradoxes of the turbulent and contradictory times. C.S.: Notwithstanding, the houses are apparently well preserved despite all those circumstances and the time that has elapsed. A.S.: Incredible things did happen during construction, though. In a second phase of the building of the houses, a constructor from Lisbon was available to do the work. One day a big storm hit and houses were flooded with water. I was called in to find a solution urgently. That seemed odd. The very first house built there, had both been closely monitored during the work by us as well as by the engineer Sobreira. When we got to Évora after the storm we found out that the very first house was impeccable without even traces of moisture. However, all the other houses were flooded. Then we removed the plastering done on the concrete slabs and it turned out that the concrete blocks had not even been treated for impermeability. Thus, the blocks absorbed the water just like sponges. You cannot even imagine the disaster it was. It turned out to be an incredible problem because one of the neighbours called an engineering laboratory to study the reasons. That laboratory concluded that the cause was a defect in our project design. However, as we had created a special relationship with neighbours throughout this process they warned us against the accusation. We then asked the laboratory to provide us with a written report. At the drawing up of the report we met there and removed once again the plastering of one of the houses. Effectively, we brought to evidence that there wasn’t any water-resistant treatment and that the blocks were directly exposed to rain water. In the end, the engineering laboratory disappeared, but we had to remove all the plaster of the façade and redo the finish again.
C.S.: There are no works without problems… A.S.: This work was promoted by the Development of Housing and was supervised by its own officials. However, there was a time in which I was banned from the construction site, because we began to detect execution errors and condemned them. And so, one day I was asked not to come back to visit the site by the order of the Government, so for a while I couldn't even go there. C.S.: A very complex project and such a long one time which many people helped. A.S.: It was one project of a very complex nature. And, yes, it was one where many people worked. But the one who worked longer was Nuno Oliveira, the soul of everything. I asked the City Hall to allow us to have an architect from our team permanently at the site. So, I asked Nuno, who was from Porto, to move to Évora. However, he didn't want to. He had his girlfriend and all his life in Porto. I told him: “Nuno, don't worry. It will only be for one year.” To sum up, Nuno has been there all his life. He ended up getting married there, and not long after he got to work for the City Hall. Nuno was then appointed as the Restoration Director for the Évora’s historic centre. Sometime later there was a change of government and Nuno went through very difficult times. Currently, he heads the Arts’ Direction in the Azores. In addition, I think that he is responsible for the process of classification of Coimbra’s university area. He got the appointment in the Azores just a month ago. C.S.: The project of the Malagueira house is actually a changing model. A.S.: It is a transformative house. Yes. It can get up to 5 rooms. C.S.: It is one of your projects with intensive research on the subject of the courtyard which is a recurring theme in many of your other projects. A.S.: The option of the courtyard was very controversial from the outset. During the meetings for discussing the project with the future users, where we usually had about 200 attendees, from day one there was a rejection to the idea of the patio. They associated it with an idea of poverty; they preferred a direct façade onto the street. I explained the importance of the courtyard, and even in relationship to the saving of
costs in the construction of houses. Those were very economic houses and were built in an articulated row of individual houses along narrow streets. They were set wall to wall with the neighbours, and featured the conduits for the installation cables resolved by aerial means. In addition I explained that due to saving in costs there wasn’t any money for special thermal insulation, and therefore, we had to build with concrete blocks, with a simple wall. There were neither bricks nor tiles. The covering was simply a concrete slab and the walls were made of blocks wall coated with mortar. However, at the end of the meetings with the neighbours some of them who did not dare to speak in public, would always come up to me and tell me: "Actually I do like your idea of the courtyard". Those who spoke more at the meetings and who had a total rejection to the idea of the courtyard were the urban cooperative-members, those who worked in the city. On the other hand, the people who came from the countryside and were living in the city for first time, especially during those times of land reform, liked the idea and approached to say: " My grandmother’s house also had a courtyard". In fact, there are many traditional houses featuring a courtyard in Évora. However, for the majority, especially among those who already had a certain urban integration, the thought of it brought out an image of poverty. The rejection was such that we decided to develop a variant with a backyard and the façade towards the street. And in this way we obtained everybody’s acceptance. There were two options for those who wanted to choose a house with a backyard or a courtyard. The most interesting fact is that over time there were neighbours who had a house with a backyard and who asked to modify their homes in order to have a courtyard towards the front. Even today you can see houses of those two types.
C.S.: The whole design process must have been complicated as one had to deal with decisions involving so many neighbours. A.S.: Yes. There were controversies and discussions for almost everything. I also recall that there was much controversy with the height of the wall, because it was
equivalent to the height of a floor, and there was also a lot of resistance to that high wall. I also had to accept low-wall solutions as well as options with a high one. Although, there were many who eventually added height to the walls because they realized the meaning of a high wall such as the advantages of the courtyard with that kind of closure. Nonetheless, today the two types of wall still remain. However, despite the lack of facilities and the antagonistic campaigns, the neighbourhood is consolidated. One might see nonsense here and there like concrete walls, etc. Nonetheless, it is largely consolidated. C.S.: Yes. We were there quite recently and the neighbourhood, in general, looks well cared for and it is also full of vitality. A.S.: Nowadays, there is a new situation, which has to do with the typical urban mobility. There have been neighbours who have left the compound for work or business, and who sold the house. In this way, new dwellers are coming in. So a new type of inhabitant is occupying the area. C.S.: And along with the new neighbours perhaps the problem with the car has arisen more violently. A.S. The issue of the car we spoke about not long ago, has to do with the fact that around the time when we developed the project, no one could even imagine that the population of the neighbourhood would be able to own a car. It was like a mythical dream and a space for future garage was set apart only as a very distant possibility. The evolution of that space involves a curious situation because many people wanted the garage area, however, for the barbecue pit and the pig slaughtering. * That area even had to be bigger in order to make space for the barbecue facilities and not for any car. (* A matanรงa do porco, in Portuguese, is an important event in the Portuguese Alentejo region. The neighbours and family members get together to slaughter a pig, which has been raised especially for that occasion. A barbecue is made and sausages are also prepared to be smoked.)
Only two volumes of garages were built because they involved an increase in the costs, and because there was no demand for more.
C.S.: But on the whole, there are different types of street as if different concentration of traffic densities had been foreseen. A.S.: The streets between the rows of houses were in fact only for pedestrians. Then, there were the wide tracts, the one of the east-west axis, and the other which was located in the higher and the old quarter areas. The streets between the houses were only for pedestrians, which I think had a width of 6 meters. I believe that was even an illegal one, because they were really narrow: I have no idea how they gave us permission for that..., Nonetheless, the intention for streets as narrow as possible had to do with the need for shadow given the climate in Ă‰vora. Portugal had a very quick and very intense subsequent economic development. The access to the car, to the TV began to be common and widespread. The same dwellers from the beginning seemed others in the end. C.S.: The car and the TV are the symbols which made the worker consider being part of a consumer society. A.S.: Yes. The TV was another element that we hadnâ€™t considered at the beginning but which soon became a widespread need. A very important achievement also had to do with serving the entire neighbourhood with only a collective antenna, and then make the cable distribution to all homes. I do not even want to imagine what the neighbourhood would have become full of individual antennas. Well, that was an important win but also a very painful one ... C.S.: But despite these hardships that you mention, the structure of streets works pretty well A.S.: Yes. The structure of the streets is still working well despite the appearance of the car. That is because people began to establish their own codes of use. For example, the space in front of each house has a right of use which belongs to the owner of that house. In fact, there is no regulation whatsoever, but neighbours adopted this rule, this custom. In front of each house there is a car, the car of the owner of the house. Everyone follows this principle and as the streets really are very short and narrow there arenâ€™t too many problems. Everyone has to drive very slowly, and as a result there are no accidents.
C.S.: In addition, there was this idea of a covered public space in the Malagueira. Even though it was never built. That feature appears in other projects, at the expo of Lisbon, in the Galicia Museum of Contemporary Art (GMCA). A.S.: Yes. Although in the project of the Lisbon Expo, actually this was the result of a commission by the client: "You have to project a large square because it is where the receptions of the representations of the various countries will take place. And, this is where different events with the influx of many people will occur, and therefore a covered large space is required". It was very different in Évora. Évora had and continues to have, that terrible divide that no public building got built, none of the projected facilities. In the project, I didn't include what is called a "shopping area". Inasmuch, we tried to disperse the facilities, just like it happens in the old city quarters of Évora. The shopping facilities were located in places that seemed appropriate, for the trajectory, the movement, or for the same topography. Therefore, there are free spaces that were left empty intentionally, because I thought that the appropriate thing was that someday those minimum facilities would be made. Unfortunately, in the end, none was built and after so many years the areas are still empty without any building. One can say there was a problem. The one related to the fear in the early phase and the fear in relation to the future, which in the end only dwellings, 1200 of them without facilities, would get built. In addition, there was a serious problem of scale, the lack of differences of the diverse scales, the scale and the plan. In Malagueira I felt the need for a central point in relation to the plant, which should not compete with the centre of the historic city. This was pretty much in opposition to one of the goals, which had to do with getting a great link with the old part of the city. Beside the structure for the elevated lines, there was a clearance at that central point, a small hill where the land went up a little. I remember that there was only a water tank and a tree. It was a great place. It was a central point, topographically and physically speaking in relation to the whole of the compound. And, by knowing the climate of Évora I thought that it should be a covered space, a comfortable "meeting-point". That facility came very close to being built, we even developed the construction project for doing the work, but the first Mayor did not get the necessary funding. After three consecutive terms in power, the City Hall ended up in the hands of the Socialist Party.
And they were by far the greatest enemies for the Malagueira neighbourhood so much so that that facility was never built. C.S.: However, and despite of everything, the housing complex still looks very vital and maintains the original character. A.S.: Well, despite all the problems, one can state that the housing complex has largely been consolidated. Later on the commercial spaces spontaneously sprung up, which the cooperative members themselves developed along the structure for the elevated installations. Obviously, however many facilities are still absent. These were not only architectural and urban problems, but also social ones which, affected up the operation of the barrio in relationship with the city. That was so, because I had also planned a facility that would service the whole city, and which could generate a double sense of movement with Évora. The entrances, the exits and the multiple relationships which also included facilities of elementary need whose proximity is related to basic ones: a health clinic, a kindergarten, a social centre which never were built. C.S.: When one looks for the original sketches in the files of the Malagueira project, one comes to realize that most of them are bird's eye view sketches. At the same time, we could say that it is a common strategy in most of your projects. A.S.: Well, many times those are the most published ones. However, there are also other kinds of sketches. In the case of the Malagueira housing complex, it is natural that when one wants to build an idea of a whole, and one which is set in an area of great dimensions, it can only be understood in its total concept. And that is in a bird's eye view. A territory with soft accidents... Therefore, to build the structure of the plan, the bird’s eye view sketches are helpful. However, there are many other types of sketches: the houses, the interiors. At that time I used to draw quite a lot. I had lots of time. There wasn’t much work either. It was during that time that I started the habit of keeping all the sketches and all the notes in a few sketchbooks. Since Évora is very far from Porto, especially at the beginning of the project, I was travelling to Évora nearly twice a week to work. Then, I changed to once a week and then every fifteen days. It was very far and, in addition, there was much information
needed to process, meetings, meetings, etc. So, I began to write down the information in a notebook, in which I also did all the drawing. In order to get down to Ă‰vora, I used to leave Porto on the Wagon-lits midnight train, in a single cabin, where I slept very well. I would arrive in Lisbon very early, about six thirty in the morning, then took a boat to cross the Tagus River, and then board another train. At last I would get to Ă‰vora around 10 a.m. Oftentimes, those trips took a full day. I would be in Ă‰vora until 8 in the evening. I would get back onto the train, then take the boat and I would get to Lisbon at 10 p.m. I would eat something, and afterwards I would take the night train to Porto in order to be back in the city in the morning. It was a full day. Therefore, during those intervals there was much time to take notes, to work and to make sketches, which I would get to develop later in the office.
4. The Faculty of Architecture at Porto University. 1986-93 The Porto School.
FAUP (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto - Faculty of Architecture at Porto University) C.S.: The FAUP project began with another one by Carlos Ramos. However, the initial proposal consisted of a much simpler linear volume. A.S.: Yes, we even got to do models for a proposal with much simpler linear volumes. But I came to the conclusion that it just didnâ€™t work well. The original land plot consisted of an irregular shaped garden set on the platforms, where there was a house and also there were some wonderful old trees as well. Actually, I initially proposed to place a linear volume on the terrace next to the house. But I soon dismissed the idea because it completely hid the back of the garden. C.S.: After drawing the new building for the Faculty you looked for another place. A.S.: The new building for the School was built in the adjacent plots that also belonged to that house, and in one that still featured the original traces of the terraces. Therefore, with many indicators that pointed out where to develop the project from. Even though, as usual, the kick-off of the project was a difficult one, not to say distressing, really. But, by paying close attention to the indicators that were already in the plot, such as: the remains of the agricultural terraces and the strong presence of the towers of the housing projects nearby, built in the 1960s, and which was one of the reasons why the project was formalised with isolated towers. There was an intention of incorporating those housing towers into the whole setting as well. Although, over time that relationship was lost due to the construction of a continuous building in the back that practically hides them. Actually, there were many indicators that guided the design of the project. To start with, there was the shape of the plot itself, that triangle, which was also very decisive. By observing it attentively, the logic of a project appears and then you only have to follow the path. C.S.: But, when you started with the Carlos Ramos Pavilion project, it was a minor intervention in the houseâ€™s garden. A.S.: The first proposal for the linear building placed it in the back of the garden, an area featuring the stone walls. But it resulted to be even harsh in relation to the house in the plot. The entire program in a linear volume didnâ€™t really work well in the whole setting. That is why later on we came up with the idea of breaking up the volume with a courtyard. That courtyard did not work only as a consequence of the interior but also as a continuation of the garden itself. It was on a site where the garden looked as if it had somehow been cut off. The courtyard gives it a certain continuation.
C.S.: Then the broken shape of the Carlos Ramos Pavilion is more like a response to the character of the garden. A.S.: There is always more than one reason for the justification of a project. One of them was to bring off three teaching spaces, which through the access to the courtyard created a visual relationship between them, thus, creating certain proximity between them. Another reason had to do with the nearby trees: a wonderful rhododendron and a giant eucalyptus. While I was working on the project Távora was always on the watch, mainly because he was very concerned about protecting the roots of those trees nearby. The building has a cut on its back that generates an overhang that at first sight may look like a kind of formalism, but it actually responds to the desire to protect the trees in the garden as much as possible. There are always many determining factors in a project, the difficulty lies in discovering those really important ones. Once they are found, the path becomes clear. As a matter of fact, there were many determining factors in that project. C.S.: But when you designed the Carlos Ramos Pavilion, the construction for the future Faculty of Architecture - the FAUP- was not clear yet. A.S.: As a project, yes, it was. However, it was not clear in which plot it would actually be in the end. The new School of Architecture first began in the "Pink House” (Casa “Cor de Rosa”) with its garden and the "Carlos Ramos" Pavilion. Later on, Professor Távora in negotiations with the Dean got to set apart all the land in the next plot for the future School. He also got to save another plot next to the highway, which, disgracefully, is still empty and I wonder if it will ever be used some day. C.S.: In a project the empty spaces, the non-occupied ones, can be important or even more so than the buildings themselves. A.S.: In Porto, as you know, the organization in terraces on both banks of the Douro River continues upstream, and it is a consequence of the necessary structure for the plantations for the Port wine on the river banks. When those terraces reached the city they were converted many times as containing walls in gardens. But this traditional structure of terraces and platforms is nowadays being attacked violently due to the strong real estate pressures. In fact, the terraces of the Faculty of Architecture are the last ones in the city of Porto.
The problem is that there is an urban planning, which has already been executed in fragments, and one which plans a continuous up to 7, 8 story-high river-front constructions. That planning destroys all the traditional structure of terraces which so strongly defines the Douro landscape. The destruction of the terraces of the Douro River is one of the biggest blunders that are being carried out in Porto. The greatest urban problem in Porto nowadays is not so much the construction of a building, that can be better or worse, but the fact that the structure of terraces on the banks of the Douro is being lost slowly but steadily. At the same time this process is destroying the natural relationship that the city has had with the river. C.S.: However, your project, in addition to a clear structure of platforms and terraces it also features an explicit vertical composition. Does the vertical structure of the volume for the projectsâ€™ classrooms responds to a dialogue with the environment or is it the result of a particular program of studies which is also vertical? A. S.: It is above all the result of not wanting to be limited to the immediate surroundings. There are some residential towers at a relative distance in the area, but with a strong presence in the environment. Those residential towers were built in the 1960s, and my own intention was to extend the field of action within the project. I wanted to take into consideration the whole area outside the School. I wanted to expand the field of reflection beyond the Schoolâ€™s plot and somehow get to introduce those distant towers to the plan. The proposal in this sense seeks to establish a certain relationship with those residential towers on the Campo Alegre Street and somehow fit them into the whole composition by going beyond the plot itself. C.S.: In this sense the project responds more to urban issues than to a formal approach. A. S.: Like always, a project responds to many intentions. Another important idea was to open the inner space of the plot downwards the river and that was crucial. That was one of the most unyielding conditions of the plan and imposed a total limit of 20% of the entire surface area for distribution and circulation spaces. That factor is detrimental for a school and it makes itself quite noticeable in the narrow corridors in the entire building. Actually, in that project there was no room for being generous in a fundamental element in a building meant for teaching: the spaces for social interaction. Those are the areas outside the classroom, where one speaks about and exchanges important experiences for coexistence and training.
As a result, all the outdoor areas were designed for social interaction and coexistence that the building could not provide one with. This is why we have the inner triangular courtyard onto which all buildings converge. And, that is the reason why that space needs the accesses towards the river, which were possible thanks to the option of the classroomsâ€™ towers. In effect, that outer space of the building is the area for social interaction among students, one that the school could not accommodate in its interior due to a rigid budget. C.S.: But the planning for the towers also meets certain teaching conditions. A.S.: Indeed, the curriculum in that aspect conditioned it a lot because the program of study consisted of having classrooms for theoretical and practical subjects at 30student maximum capacity. I remember that when I started to design the project I raised the hypothesis that the school would come to grow drastically in the number of students. Nevertheless, the response I got was that we should not be concerned about that because a new school would be built if we ever got to that point. That constant rigid curriculum did condition the project and actually created many problems regarding the solution for the Schoolâ€™s operation. C.S.: Actually, in its origins, the Faculty of Architecture in Porto was a small School, but it soon reached an important international prestige and in no time the building outgrew itself. A.S.: The program at that time was designed for a school for only 500 students. However, at one time it accommodated more than 700 students. I am afraid that now with the economic crisis the number of students will drop once again. It was a project where the Rectorate, as the client, was always very rigid as far as the functions and the allotment for m2 are concerned. In addition, one had to comply with pinpoint accuracy. Many decisions in the project can only be understood by knowing the allotment for the program of uses and m2 accompanying it. C.S.: What was the most relevant aspect in the design of this project, the specific functions of the building or the character of the place? A.S.: Both things. In this case, the topography with all its structure of terraces conditioned the project very much. If you recall, there is also a curved wall in the plot. That wall was almost in ruins but we recovered it because I wanted to keep it and give it
some prominence. From the very beginning that wall was also very important for the project, because it embraces the longer side of the courtyard, and all the buildings are related to it. In addition, there was a very important platform in the final structure of the assembly. One part of the building ends towards the back of the plot in order to protect itself from the noise of the avenue running out in front, while it descends since the street continues onto a slope. The other part of the project opens up towards the river and to the South. Practically, the only two horizontal planes are: the inner courtyard and the platform where the classroom towers sit and stretch between the spaces that accommodate them all the way to the edges of the courtyard. C.S.: Nevertheless, in this project the final solution was also quite far from the initial proposals. A.S.: Indeed. I remember that the first study that I did was a large cube, largely as a reference to the Episcopal Palace of Porto. It was a large cube with a central courtyard. However, I soon realized that the Episcopal Palace works well and it characterizes the profile of the City of Porto, largely because it is surrounded by small houses. The episcopal Palace is a large volume surrounded by small scale constructions, and therefore is an object that simultaneously seems to emerge from both a very compact layout and a small one. In addition, it is also backed by the strength and the conviction which stand for an important institution for the entire city of yesteryear. The project of the Episcopal Palace holds the authenticity inherent to the very reason of the building, and therefore it brings together all the forces that are necessary for its construction. Conversely, those circumstances were not part of project involving the School of Architecture. There were no houses around the plot, and contrary to all, there was a plan for future buildings of poor quality for the area itself. It didnâ€™t even come to formalize as a campus because it was not planned as such. Further, the coordination among the various architects for the different buildings was not even contemplated. The entire environment was therefore devoid of the various determining factors which are necessary for a proposal of a single and resounding body to make sense.
C.S.: If one analyses the elevations of the towers, there is the impression of certain similarities with the likeness of faces. Is this a conscious humorous proposal or a casual result? A.S.: I even got to hear that one façade represented Távora’s face, especially the one with cantilevers over the windows that might remind one of some eyebrows. And they could even resemble the thick eyebrows that Távora had. Obviously, I never thought of building a mask, but apropos of these anecdotes that sprung up, I recall that in the Carlos Ramos Pavilion, where there are two windows and a door with a cantilevered platform, I also heard that it looked like a face and a tongue. And, actually there is some similarity. But what I think is that the face and the body are ultimately and somehow unconsciously implicit in the act of planning. For example, as for the architecture of Palladio one could say that it is full of faces in it. At any rate, there is always a conscious or unconscious link with the human body. C.S. Then can you say that there was a reference of humour in your work after all? A.S.: Actually, the elevations correspond to several constraints. On the one hand there was the need for protection from the sun for a building facing south. But at the same time I did not want to repeat the same solution in the four towers. Therefore, there is a variation in the height of each one but also a different composition in its inner spaces. Actually, each tower has a different height with the intention of introducing the old house that sits on the upper platform of the plot to the entire setting. In addition, there is a variation in the management of the gaps in the façade that has to do with the issue of school’s curriculum. The idea was that students could work for one year in the classrooms facing the inner courtyard. The next school year they would study facing the space for social interaction and in the next school year they would be in the classrooms facing the river, towards the landscape. And, by following the same intention of trying to learn from different experiences, there are classrooms that are also set laterally. As I say, all of this had to do with the intention that the pupils could experience studying and working by facing different specific directions: south, north, west and east. Those are different experiences in terms of sunlight, the presence of the scenery, etc., making them distinct examples of the influence of the outer space over the inner one. And, ultimately the final result is a distinct rating of the different façades of the buildings.
C.S.: There is also an empty platform between the towers as the place for another absent tower. A.S.: After all, the rhythm introduced by those towers is also an important issue. Therefore, there is that empty platform without any tower which turned into a terrace. Actually, a pergola covering it ought to have been built but it never got to materialize. The rhythm of the towers is very important, not only in terms of the different heights. It is also a preparation to introduce the old house on the upper platform to the composition as a whole. Therefore, that empty space, that gap between the towers is essential in order to make the diverse elements achieve a certain sense of unity and order. C.S.: The building has suffered alterations along the years. A.S.: Well, not exactly as far as alterations go. Perhaps, it really suffered some neglect or rather a certain lack of up keeping. Along all this time since the School was built, it hasn’t been painted at all. Nevertheless, it seems that it will happen soon. We shall see. Possibly, the building has really suffered from a certain disorder. For instance, the drafting tables in the studio had a particular order, which had to do with the position of the spotlights in the ceiling. The original proposal was not for a general strong lighting pattern. But one with a specific pattern for the precise position of the drafting tables which had to do with everything: the position of the electrical outlets, the spotlights, the floor, etc. Therefore, there was a good lighting pattern for a particular position. Still, in the current disarray of the drafting tables I doubt that the lighting pattern works that well. Sometimes, the need to make very large models, and especially the increase in the number of students from 500 to 700, has implicitly resulted in some disorder that fits in poorly with the order of the building. C.S.: Távora’s presence at The School of Architecture is both relevant and recognized. Yet, perhaps we should not forget others like Carlos Ramos. A.S.: Indeed. Carlos Ramos was the person who organized the team and was both the promoter and the protector soul of a group of very young architects who he brought together. Távora had this peculiarity of being at the CIAM (Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne). He went to the CIAM meetings and even intervened with some proposal. In
this way, he had direct and contemporary information in terms of the international architectural debate of that moment. C.S.: How could we define the Porto School of Architecture? A.S: During those initial days the Porto School of Architecture was one of trends, although there were very different personalities called in by Carlos Ramos. Nevertheless, there was a convergence towards a certain tendency which was defended in a previous speech by a young Távora, when he wrote about "The problem of the Portuguese House", published in 1947. That study was in some ways a counterpoint to Raúl Lino’s analysis of the "Portuguese House" (1929). Lino was a traditionalist, nationalist, and conservative. So, Távora addressed the issue of Portuguese House in a distinct way, the problem of the vernacular architecture. Lino was a very good architect, but he was the architect of the dictatorship and some ideas that he brought from Germany, where he had studied, dealt with the German romanticism and traditionalism. He even compiled a catalogue dealing with the architecture in each Portuguese region. It was a catalogue with a positive perspective and that introduced models: the Algarvestyle house, the Alentejo’s one and at the same time it touched on the issue of the variety of cultures within the country. Nevertheless, he focused on models that were beginning to be copied literally and then there was also the link to aspects that were related with regionalism and nationalism. This might sound paradoxical, but actually, it wasn't. So, the climate which was created at the School was somewhat in the spirit of seeking the modern. However, without breaking up with the origins. There was never a denial of the origins. That spirit was then reinforced by the appointment of the Department of architecture, where Távora was the Head of one of areas along with other architects such as Antonio Pereira, who was responsible for the southern zones. There was also a work of reconciliation, a renewal of contacts between Lisbon and Porto, although it did not involve the Schools of Architecture. For example, Antonio Pereira was not a professor per se, but he was indeed regarded as one by different personalities within the architectural scenario. Consequently, a whole new atmosphere was created at the School, which meant the contribution from others who brought in considerations such as: the introduction of sociology, geography, which changed the curriculum, plus a research project, was
introduced. Therefore, there was a certain spirit, and indeed one could call it a school of trends. So, everything was changing because it had to change. Times change and so did the School due to its own expansion. The Porto School was a very small one in its beginnings, with very few professors and very few students. However, it grew a lot, and then another dynamic that enveloped other schools came up. The very international panorama has changed so much that today the Faculty of Porto has very little to do with that first School, and barely soâ€Ś, because the past is never lost at all, even if we wanted to. Truly, today the school is very different. Presently, there are many different trends within the same school. C.S.- Apart from the ideological differences that may exist within the School, is there any common point left, such as the reference to a distinct understanding from the trade and the concern for the constructive detail? A.S.: Absolutely, but one must also understand the scenario of the country when the Faculty of Architecture emerged. Portugal was then a country at the edge of Europe with very few external relations, with a much closed political and economic regime. Thus, it was one with a traditional construction industry, with superb craftsmen but a rather basic industry. If we want to look for similarities with other European countries we can find no such aspects. Finland is the only one in terms of a similar context, for instance. Hence, we regard Alvar Altoâ€™s significance for both Portugal and Spain. Perhaps, it was not so much for Spain, because there was an intense industrial development earlier there than in Portugal. This relationship with the craftsmanship marked much the architecture that was done and the very isolation of the country was something that characterized the society. C.S.: As seen from the outside, it seems that a concern for drawing was greater than in the Schools of Architecture in other countries. A.S.- Yes!, It was always like that. You know that the studies here were very different from other countries, for example in relation to Spain. The architecture study in Portugal was administered within the School of Fine Arts, where classes in sculpture, painting and architecture were taught simultaneously. The initial years of the different college courses shared almost the same curriculum in three subjects. We had many common subjects: model drawing in charcoal, live models
drawing, classes in - sculpture - ornament, etc. Those subjects were common during the first two years, but drawing was always a subject especially relevant in our training. That has never been abandoned, and sometime later drawing became the support subject to architecture, as the first tool for architecture. I had excellent professors in drawing. Nowadays, drawing as an academic subject, still has a great relevance in the School of Porto. C.S.: But also an attitude toward the distinct constructive detail. A.S. The issue of the detail that you mention, in the Portuguese case, has much to do with the existence of great craftsmen in the construction. I remember my first work, the two houses in Matosinhos, where I had wonderful carpenters. One was from the south and the other one was from the north of Portugal. At that time I hardly had any training or experience. Those houses were my first work, as a matter of fact I was still a student, and took the opportunity to talk much with the carpenters to see how they worked and how they put everything together. It was common, then. There were very good builders within an entire system of craftsmanship. There were excellent craftsmen. In addition, the work then was carried out within a climate of collaboration, a great identification with everyone, and an excellent experience between who was designing and who built the project. The sheer fragility in certain aspects of education promoted the dialogue with the craftsmen and the builders. The carpentry work is full of difficult details for a recent graduate; therefore the work had its beginning in an atmosphere of collaboration, dialogue with the builders and with the artisans. Somehow the very economic backwardness of the country had its burden for the education. However, it also had that positive side, at least in certain aspects. C.S. The link with The School of Fine Arts marked undoubtedly a kind of education which was very different from the Spanish one for example. In Spain it was more related with the technical schools and the engineering aspects. A.S.: Unquestionably, in Spain for instance, all those technical aspects have much more significance.
The School of Fine Arts of Porto was clearly "Beaux Art" oriented, but it was the new Dean Carlos Ramos who marked an important change with the clear intention of attempting to differentiate themselves from a Beaux Arts school. Without becoming a technical school or giving the technical clout as a Spanish architect has, for example. C.S.: In the beginning, painters, sculptors, architects worked side by side at the School of Porto. A.S.: Yes, indeed, but it was also a time when there was a general interest in the coming together of the arts. Just think of the Bauhaus and Gropius’s work. Carlos Ramos introduced a new subject to the School’s curriculum, "The integrated Arts”. Carlos Ramos was in that sense a Bauhaus man. In that subject the student had to develop a project of free choice, and it would have to do be developed jointly with an architecture student and another one from the painting or sculpture areas. Both of them had to come up with a single project. Ramos insisted much on the integration of all the arts. Nevertheless, it was a subject that didn’t have much continuation, because it was not really the way to do it. However, on the one hand it showed a double dimension to teaching: the legacy of the past. And on the other hand, there was the concern and the interest for an openness that Carlos Ramos introduced. C.S.: At the beginning of your studies you even thought of becoming a sculptor. A.S.: I thought of becoming a sculptor before entering the University. I really wanted to get into the School of Sculpture, but my family thought it was rather risky, without a clear future for me, and maybe they were right. Then in order not to confront my family, I let them know I was going to study architecture, with the idea that it would not produce so many reactions against it nor so many doubts and fears. But at the same time I was thinking that later on I could transfer to sculpture easily. Then, I encountered that exciting moment of changes at the School of Architecture, and I gradually got interested in it and I finally graduated as an architect. C.S.:- I think you are now recovering the facet of a sculptor. A.S.- Yes, it is a combination of a certain release from the depression the difficult work in architecture causes today. This is noticeable in our country, where we face the slow pace of things, the irregularities in contracts, etc. And so, it happens that I received any invitation to do an exhibition. So, as I have never stopped making sculpture, though always in a very marginal way, I found it interesting to return to it more seriously.
I am now preparing an exhibition in Italy. It is for a series of sculptures that will be called: " personaggi " C.S.: Are they figurative sculptures? A.S.: Yes, they are figurative ones and made of wood. They are large sculptures, 1.90, 2, 20 meters high and are all in chestnut wood. C.S.: But do you really make the sculptures with your hands? A.S.: Not really. First I make sketches, many of them, and then with the help of someone who handles any Cad program, we make a 3D computer model. I sit by his side at the computer to work the model and edit at the same time. Once the 3D model is finished we send it to Mr SimĂľesâ€™s carpentry workshop, where a machine carves the sculpture directly from the computer model. So everything is very precise. Anyway, I always like to be present at the time when the machine is cutting the pieces and sometimes I correct some detail. However, to a large extent my sculptures are what one might call the age-of-the machine sculptures. C.S.:- Are the sketches and the drawing in general a working method or a source of pleasure? A.S.- For me the sketches are mainly a source of pleasure. To say it in a better way, they are a source of liberation. At the same time, it is something much more than that as well. I have just read what Alvar Alto wrote on drawing, on the importance of drawing as an exporter of ideas for architecture. And further, on the drawing as an instrument for the control of all elements in a project. The sketch is always a very fast and also a very intuitive instrument. Even when I work on the conception of any sculpture I always make sketches, many sketches. This notebook is filled with studies for a sculpture I am working on. After the solution is chosen from the sketches, I come up with dimensions, the precise dimensions. Then we make a few small models in the studio on polystyrene. I make the corrections on the models, and when the final design is transferred onto the computer everything is already pretty much controlled. The 3D construction on the computer allows me great mobility as for the original
model to turn it around in space, and be able to see it from all angles. In addition, I am able to make the corrections in relation to what I had imagined. Then the 3D model goes to the woodworking machines. But even then, in many occasions it is at the end, in the workshop itself, where I once again make the corrections, especially in terms of the characteristic of the material itself which sometimes suggests changes. For example, the ones which I am working on now are in lumber. They will be exhibited the way they leave the saw. These others will be in polished wood. The sheer selection of different kinds of wood often depends on what is available in the carpenter's workshop. For example, these ones will use chestnut wood, but since weâ€™ve got only 20x20cm pieces in the workshop, the base will be done in this dimension, because you cannot always find wood with very large dimensions. So everything is very accurate, but at the same time one must adapt to the possibilities of the wood or the workshop. C.S.: Many times drawing by hand allows a kind of knowledge other than the one which is done on the computer. It allows a different way of thinking. A.S.: Yes, it is true. Drawing by hand allows above all a great freedom and a great speed to analyse various hypotheses, especially at the beginning of a project. The computer allows one to get into the realism of the construction right away. Therefore, they are different but complementary instruments. The creative part rests more in this initial phase of the drawing by hand, the one of the sketch. Actually, I cannot say that I really make sculpture. I create projects of sculptures, which is not the same. To a great extent, the process is similar to the projects in architecture. Later on, the phases of refining and modifications follow. They can be seen as the result of the difficulty of implementation, adjusting the dimensions, the proportions, the assemblies or solutions that aren't always as one had thought, etc. This model is made with a program that allows one to design directly in three dimensions. Therefore, the corrections are always on a three-dimensional creation, actually it is like drawing in space. C.S.: Browsing through the files, in the beginning of many of your projects, most of the times the initial sketches look like birdâ€™s eye views, where the form is part of a context.
Nevertheless, one is surprised by this use of an instrument which is not as natural as the bird’s eye view. A.S.: This has a reason. If your objective is a relation of coherence between the parts and the whole of a project, you’ve got to use an aerial view for better control. In that way the entire body can be analysed in its entirety and you can have a better understanding how everything relates. It is possible to control many different aspects with a simple sketch, but I also follow all with a model, on the computer, the cuts... etc. However, with only a sketch it is really possible to control the whole project and see if the way the parts lead is the correct one. That is, if you want continuity and in the case this is the real intention. Because in other cases, what one aims for is a certain rupture. It is very useful to resolve an idea and analyse the whole thing in a quick way. It is important to do it fast because otherwise one may forget. You are considering one thing and then another and so you forget that analysis. The sketch has this virtue, that in a very quickly way you can analyse it all. Occasionally, that can also lead you to errors. But if such were the case you’ve got the models, drawings, the cuts, etc. That is the fundamental reason. C.S.: As you see it then, the drawing and the sketches are more the instruments for the analysis of the reality, which are more rational and for analysis rather than intuition. A.S.: It depends on the phase. It depends on the timing of the work. For instance, the Iberê Camargo Foundation’s designs which we exhibited at the MoMA in New York, if you see some sketches without any explanation they simply may look like sheer nonsense. I have just read an article by Glenn Murcutt in which who quoted Pallasma in reference to the thinking hand. Notwithstanding, Murcutt stated that the most accurate term would be: "the provocative hand", because there is a direct relationship between the brain and the hand, so that what is done instinctively with the hand, may then prompt reflective operations. Therefore, the exploratory sketches serve primarily not to select the possible paths of the project too prematurely. Everything can be explored, everything should be explored. C.S.: You hurt your right arm not long ago, and now you have to draw and make sketches with the left hand. Besides causing some difficulty one might imagine there has been a change in your way of drawing. A.S.- I really cannot draw with the left hand, at least as an instrument of work. It would
take me too long to learn how to draw with my left hand. It is a complete new and difficult learning process because somehow this is also written in the brain. That is why there are left-handed and right-handed people. I have always drawn with the right hand. If for some reason I have fallen into the temptation towards the attention of the drawing itself, for its beauty, it could have been a study in the evolution of a project. However, that has ended because beautiful drawings no longer make sense; since the freedom of movement until it reaches the unconscious is also inexistent. A certain kind of pressure, which breaks the full freedom in drawing, is always required. The drawing for me is an instrument either to study or to communicate. I no longer have the temptation of drawing for drawingâ€™s sake, for its beauty which is something that I've had at times. Now, that I am unable to use the right hand and I can only draw with the left, I am able to say that in a certain way I am even freer. C.S.: Even though you keep making sketches of horses with the left hand. A.S.: Indeed, I keep on drawing, but in general they are very bad, because my way of sketching is a linear one, and my left hand does not have the necessary firmness, the muscles cannot give the line the pressure nor the right precision. Maybe when I reach one hundred years oldâ€Ś however, right now it doesnâ€™t have that. The sketch gets started with a certain spontaneity, but there's always a moment when the muscle fails, and the line shakes or deviates. I keep on making sketches with the left hand actually because one does not kick the habit... however, most of them cannot be used. Before this accident, I enjoyed drawing with the left hand at times, and was keen on making sketches, because the left hand does not have tricks. Those drawings were basically more authentic, and once in a while they were truly spontaneous, because the left hand is less wise and less educated. Now and again, I have also made sketches with closed eyes and interesting things materialized without the control of seeing, just for the habit, the touch and the link with the brain. One thing that I have learned from the accident is that a well-trained right hand only works really well, if the left one does too. There is symmetry; ultimately, the entire body is involved in the drawing process. In fact, one does not draw with only one hand, but with the brain which involves the entire body. J.R.:- The great drafts artists at times also force themselves to draw with less precise
instruments, specifically to avoid their ability. A.S. Yes, indeed. That is in order to avoid the easy way out. The uttermost case is Picasso, who possessed an amazing talent. I think that when the felt he was close to reach the easy way out, because of such a talent and skill, and which resulted for him to get to the easy solution effortlessly, then the changed. Thus, he had the Rose Period, the Blue Period, the Classical Period and the Cubism. He changed automatically. He didn’t accept to fall into the trap, in my opinion, he abhorred the easy way out. He changed completely whereas many others with less talent were beginning to follow his ways. I recall seeing a wonderful exhibition, in Aix-en-Provence which featured Picasso along with Cézanne. It was impressive to see how they are two completely opposite personalities. As for Cézanne, I was afraid of saying what I am about to. However, after seeing that exhibition there is no doubt that he drew badly, within an academic concept of drawing. Cézanne drew badly. In his first drawings his passion was Ingres Imagine the utter purity of the line and he has drawings which for me are horrible, really horrible, oversized, and historical and he had as reference Ingres when he was still young. But then when he realized that he was not going anywhere. He had to invent the painting and in fact all the modern painting. Every painter says it, the Cubists, etc. Cezanne is at the base of all. He had to find another way where there was no shortcoming, perhaps the ability and the talent for drawing. Thus, he invented the modern painting. The ways are quite variable. C.S.: It is a combination between the physical skill and the intellectual ability. A.S. Yes, indeed. The thinking hand.
5. The Galicia Museum of Contemporary Art (CGAC) - Santiago de Compostela, 1988-93
The specialization in the profession.
C.S.: After all, it seems that we have this tendency towards the denial of the natural light in the museums and an obsession for the control by imposing the artificial light which destroys the space itself. A.S.: Yes, plus the result of working an issue in an unilateral way. No matter how much complex it may be, it must be part of the unit involving a project. The other day we were in the Serralves Museum and we saw how the building can work as an exhibition space without the help of artificial light. One can imagine the moneysaving in terms of costs since in many exhibitions the windows and the skylight blind one. Well, there aren’t many of them either… So, the exhibition is set with artificial light. Even with the work which had already been finished, we had to introduce some extra electrical connections in order to light an exhibition only with spotlights. So in many exhibitions the only lighting is done with artificial light. The natural light is blocked off and only the spotlights are used. For me, that is a difficult logic to understand. C.S.: The debate between natural light and artificial light in the space of a museum sounds like a lost battle. A.S.: Yes, to a great extent. For instance, I have just finished a project for an art gallery for the Júlio Pomar Foundation, which involved the recovery of a former warehouse, where the light was already very harmonic and very well distributed. However, as we had some loft areas the light behind those loft spaces was somewhat less intense and included small spots in the dark. Then I started to get suggestions in terms of reinforcing the artificial light those sites. But it is not an easy issue, because then the light becomes unbalanced. Places become more intense where they were in the dark before. So this kind of intensity brings out a sense of imbalance to the whole and the harmony of the natural light that the building already had. During conversations with the curator of exhibitions, who is not a rigid person at all but a very rigorous one, I was told that there was a Museum in France that it had decided to close at five in the afternoon. That means that there is never any artificial lighting, and it is open only daylight hours. It’s fantastic! In this project for the Júlio Pomar Foundation, the natural light is already very good. The light that comes through the existing windows is quite harmonious and the engineer even did the precise measurements. It showed that the illumination level is really within the desirable parameters for the functions of a Museum. We even proposed this hypothesis for the gallery because of the saving that that would incur. Besides, there is nothing like the daylight. There is no artificial light that has the quality,
and the authenticity which the natural one provides for the exhibition of any work of art. It is true that there are exceptions because there are pieces which need to be exhibited even in certain dark surroundings or even in absolute darkness. However, they are exceptions. It is also possible to find solutions for those exceptions like temporary installations. However, that can be foreseen by designing elements to control the daylight itself, such as the ones that are often set in the skylights to the point of bringing the whole space to total darkness. Most of the curators alter the light pattern. Personally speaking, I find that rather incomprehensible. C.S.: Oftentimes in this of the profession, the quality of the client is a crucial element towards a good final result. During your professional life, which was the most collaborative experience? A.S.: In my professional experience Rudi Fuchs has been the best curator with whom I have collaborated. I worked with him during the design phase of the new Stedeleijk Museum project in Amsterdam, which unfortunately didnâ€™t get built. I met Mr. Fuchs when he was called in as an external consultant for the Direction of the Serralves Museum. Back then, there was a disagreement between the parties - curators and technicians - and as an external advisor he defended our proposal to the client. Then later on, Mr. Fuchs and I collaborated in the design for the new Stedeleijk Museum. However, at that time he was as the client. It was the best relationship I've ever had with a curator. In one of the occasions we talked about the problem dealing with artificial light in the museums. He was really radical about it. He even suggested that the spot lights should be banned. Unfortunately Mr. Fuchs had to resign and our project for the new museum was never carried out. The end of the project coincided with a change of Government and the new Dutch Government decided to change the Director of the museum as well as our project which had already been approved. There were even patrons interested in funding it. So it was both paralyzed and abandoned. C.S.: There is a whole mystique around museums and the museum space, perhaps more than on any other project.
A.S.: Yes, it is true. That was something Mr. Fuchs and I also talked about many times. We talked about the problem of the naturalness of the museum space and about the non-consecration of the museum space. For instance, in our project for the new Stedeleijk Museum, all the doors were a little more than two meters high. During a discussion with another member of the team of the museum, the hypothesis of having to exhibit a very large piece came up. In case that one faced the assumption that it might be necessary to exhibit a large-scale piece by Richard Serra, Fuchs replied:” Serra has large- scale sculptures but he also has smallscale ones...” The other representative of the museum insisted on: “How about if we ever wanted to exhibit a large-scale one?”. Fuchs kept his position: "Then we’ll have to find another museum…”, Actually, I think that his response was above all to provoke. In fact, the Museum’s old building has huge windows through which you can get almost anything in with the help of a crane, as it is often done in theatres around the world. C.S.: It sounds as if there is a latent conflict between the museum curators and the architects. A.S.: Actually, there are many preconceived ideas concerning the museums. For instance, that everything has to be in large scale, almost close to majestic. I remember another interesting discussion while we developed that project. Fuchs proposed to put skirting boards in the exhibition halls. As a matter of fact, there are many people who can actually get irritated with these details. For instance, we didn’t use any baseboard in the Museum of Santiago de Compostela. Oh, my God... what a sacrilege!!!.... While in reality, it would be technically impossible to have any baseboard in the Galicia Museum of Contemporary Art (GMCA). That’s because there must be a gap, a cut in the wall to use it as an air inlet for the return system of the air conditioning. The place where a skirting board ought to have been is in fact an air inlet, which makes it technically unfeasible for one... But these solutions which are technically very elaborate, and which go against the norm, usually create a rejection. Once I was invited to the opening of one of the exhibitions, and as I opened the door, there was such a strong draft which almost threw me off. What had happened? The curator simply got annoyed by the appearance of those cuts at the base of the walls. He then covered them with plaster panels. That in turn, interrupted the circuit of air conditioning, whereupon the system pushed air. Because the exit was sealed, it created an overpressure in the room. So, by opening the door, a violent air current was created, and risked blocking the circuit and even
damaging the mechanical elements of the air conditioning system. The great paradox is that at times, in order to host an exhibition from another institution, the receiving museum has to prove that it has a sophisticated air conditioning control system which can guarantee certain levels of humidity, temperature, light etc., Nevertheless, the curator of the exhibition comes round and claims false aesthetic criteria or just lack of reflection which override the whole system. C.S.: With the risk that this may even affect the pieces themselves. A.S.: Well, in this case the result was not so violent, because in fact, the spaces are ample and everything is connected. There are sliding doors but they are always open most of the time, because they only close while the setting up of any exhibition or at its opening. Even still, it is true that neither the humidity level nor the temperature could be the required elements for a museum of international standing. C.S.: At times, it feels like as if the architecture was an imposition that bothers one. A.S.: There is the widespread idea that architecture in museums cannot compete with Art. Ultimately, the desired is that the museum should be ugly in order not to overshadow what is exhibited there. Obviously, if it is a real quality exhibition, nobody pays attention to the architecture. On the other hand, in case it is a mediocre one, then that is when the comparisons arise. I believe a museum space must be one of quality. It has always been this way. There are even current museums that were not originally conceived as exhibition spaces, and no one questions them. For instance, the Louvre has a Baroque architecture, a period and a mighty one. I never heard anyone say that the Louvre is not an adequate space to exhibit works of art. C.S.- In general, it seems that we are living in a time when the preferred is a neutral architecture, characterless, anonymous and orphan of an author. A.S.: Well, in practice is not always like that either. For instance, the Center Pompidou, even though it is not an anonymous architecture, it does respond to the concept of a flexible space with generic facilities. So that, each exhibition may alter it at will. Anyway, the architect Gregotti told me that when he had to organize an exhibition there, I think it was a Dali one; he found that despite the flexibility of the place, it turned out to be quite difficult to organize an exhibition. That was because the space was so large and somewhat non-uniform that it called for a rather strong intervention. That, in turn, created the issue of the economic cost and consequently the sheer difficulty of the final project.
I once attended a magnificent exhibition of Calderâ€™s works at the Centre Pompidou. Nevertheless, there was a problem. For instance, when you walked among Calderâ€™s birds with this whole idea of weightlessness, what you got to see in the background were the tubes for the facilities in the false ceiling. All those machines superimposed beside Calderâ€™s purity looked all the more violent. That exhibition featured hilarious things, such as, in order not to disturb the purity of the assemblage, they had designed a security system based on sound beeps. So, whenever someone approached any of the pieces, the alarm went off. So, to achieve a certain spatial purity and avoid any marks on the ground, a considerable acoustic impurity was created by filling up the room with annoying beeps. Those are the paradoxes of the purists. C.S.: Another issue which is getting more relevant, but less talked about, is the artificial light. A.S.: It is also important to analyze the artificial light in relation to the natural one, because there have been many experiences on natural light. Yet, the research on artificial light has only been developed in recent years. Take, for example, the recent studies on the different types of light bulbs, on energy costs, on the color, etc. Truly, this is a very extensive theme as well as an exciting one. I remember that when we were working on the project of the Serralves Museum, I proposed to place just one lamp on a side wall in a space where there is only a narrow staircase. However, the specialists said it wasn't enough. But at the end of the project when we did the luminosity tests, the light was unbeatable. The two walls are white and very close to each other, so the light rays bounce off the walls and light everything perfectly, with just the brightness coming from a single light bulb. One cannot treat the light in isolation. Although lighting specialists are badly needed, the project has to be the result of a joint effort in which the architect has to relate all the different issues that affect a building. Those aspects may at times even be antagonistic and contradictory in certain moments. C.S.: However, the artificial light creates the problem related to the consumption of energy, which is a matter of concern these days. A.S.: That is an issue that worries me, especially the need to save energy and also the waste lighting up the cities. Actually, the problem is approached from the generality by specialists who work with
defined parameters mostly in terms of the industry itself. Whereas, other factors such as colors or the type of wall surfaces are not considered at all. It really impresses me that there are streets and interior of buildings, where the lighting has such intensity that it even disturbs one. In fact, it has become a popular element, probably concerning votes and hence political profitability. This has to do with the fact that the brightness level in the streets is related with public safety, as if safety itself had anything to do with the level of illumination of the space. There is a big contradiction in all this. On the one hand, they are not technical tips but psychological perceptions that paradoxically end up as technical norms. They even become regulations, which turn to command the brightness levels. In that way, it is fundamental to bring together all the distinct aspects of a project. C.S.: Doesnâ€™t the specialization of the profession makes one lose control of the result? A.S.: In the past there was only one person that was responsible for the whole project. Nowadays, everything is based on team work. It is necessary to create teams that have consistency. However, at the same time the capacity for dialogue is necessary not to dodge any of the problems that are related to the architecture. C.S.: But part of the problem of lighting is that it is under the interests of a powerful industry which does not always respond to the real needs of the users. A.S.: Yes, especially in the commercial projects, when there are solutions that are difficult to understand from the point of view of the user. I am now calling to mind the project of the Chiado Shopping Center, in Lisbon. The only thing you can see upon entering, are the lights in the ceiling. There is the argument that the light level is very important for the perception of the colors of the objects that one is selling. So, a very intense lighting needs to be enforced. However, even on a sunny day, those same lamps remain lit, even though they may be just behind a large window. Therefore, there is a big contradiction between recommendations from the point of view of consumption, the perceptions and the habits. C.S.: The abuse of the artificial light doesnâ€™t happen only in the shopping malls but also in the museums. A.S.: That is true. There is also this habit of installing spotlights on each work of art in the museums. In addition, there is always an adverse reaction against proposed indirect lighting, even if that has been previously tested and measured with appropriate
instruments. Personally, I understand that direct light projectors are to some extent an attack on the integrity of works of art, because for instance, when Picasso worked on his paintings, I'm sure that did not use halogen spotlights in his studio. So we agree that the volume of a sculpture is a whole which is perceived and created with different light conditions, which change with the time of day, with the season of the year, etc. Therefore, in my opinion it is totally inappropriate to exhibit pieces with the intense effect of a timely spotlight, which has no real correspondence with the reality of the piece, and neither with the reality of the circumstances that involved the creation of the work of art itself. The lighting pattern using direct light projectors has become close to a universal requirement in all the museums. C.S.: In a sense the Museum of Santiago de Compostela - GMCA - was the beginning of a way to solve the problem of artificial light in a museum. A.S.: For the project of the Santiago de Compostela Museum - CGAC-, we designed a system of an indirect lighting pattern for the exhibition halls. However they are lamps that need to be projected on a particular angle in order to bathe the entire wall evenly. There are solutions that require careful and constant maintenance of the systems, which nearly always cause a sense of rejection. At the Serralves Museum we got to an agreement whereby some rooms have indirect lighting according to the model we had already developed for Santiago. Other rooms are illuminated with a more conventional solution. I think that's a good choice. The experience that we learned from the Santiago Museum was very important; however at Serralves we improved it. For instance, we gave more height and changed the proportions of the light platform which hangs from the ceiling. In that sense, the light had a better angle of incidence on the pieces hanging on the wall. Notwithstanding, despite the previous experience, the specialists insisted that in the center of the rooms, at the points that are under the light platforms, the brightness would still be poor. Curiously, when they were mounted permanently and one could actually measure the levels of light at different points, it was in the middle of the room where there was greater level of brightness because of all the accumulated light bouncing off the four
walls. It was something that no specialist had been able to foresee. Recently I attended an excellent exhibition of portraits by Bacon at the Serralves Museum. However, each piece was protected by a glass panel, so the ceiling projectors turned the glass surface into real mirrors. All you could see was your own face reflected on the glass. You would have to find a special position; otherwise you could not see the picture. The only thing you could see was your own face reflected on a glass panel. The Pomar Foundation, which we have just concluded, will work mostly with natural light, because in Lisbon even in winter youâ€™ve got enough daylight. In addition, there is an artificial lighting system ready for any timely support if it is necessary. However, you really don't need it. C.S.: The natural light is something which is best known and most studied. However, there is not much experience on how the artificial light really works in relation to the space. A.S.: The world of artificial light is still an experimental field. It is also one to be reflected upon what someone really intends with it, since daylight is not homogenous either. The same incidence of light is not present in one spot and in another. Nobody complains about this either. If it is necessary one reinforces the lighting with a lamp in a dark corner, but nobody is annoyed with that. Actually, the artificial light should not be homogeneous either. One should not attempt to achieve something completely uniform, because lighting must have relationship with the organization of the whole project as well as with the objectives of each space. We have had this problem in the Naples subway project. It has been a rather difficult problem to solve, although I count on the collaboration of our Porto lighting engineer. I believe we will find a solution. C.S.: Excuse me, could you explain in more detail what was the problem with the project of the underground in Naples? A.S.: The problem is that in all the galleries of the project, whether they are access galleries or at the station itself, the legislation obliges an identical light intensity everywhere. The same light intensity in one room is even required in opposing corners. That overrides a very important aspect of the architecture, which has to do with the control of the space through the variation in the light intensity. There is a regulation in Italy that obliges the same light level everywhere in the same space.
Lighting is a field in architecture that has been abandoned a little due to the appearance of artificial light. I don't want to generalize it either because it is also true that there is much research on natural light. However, in the common practice, the artificial light has been gaining control within that global vision and this concern for absolute equality, a kind of blind populism in relation to artificial lighting. C.S.: increasingly, the fields of construction are the ones where the industry presents such a force that overrides an independent vision. A.S.: Yes, but it is also true that there is a large development by the industry for the optimization of the artificial light. Almost every month something new is brought forth. For instance, the evolution with led light has been impressive in relation to its color, the size of the support, etc. There has been a new development which has to do with scientific research and technological developments. In addition, there is the need to launch new products for consumption. Nothing is black and white either. The developments are not always necessary and we, the architects, have to work in the midst of these situations that are a bit contradictory. C.S.: The project of the Museum of the Galicia Museum of Contemporary Art (CGAC) comes after the Bonaval Park project, which may bring out the question if they are two different projects or are different parts from a single one. A.S.: actually, they are two separate commissions, even though it was essential to develop them simultaneously. It was thanks to the influence of the then Mayor, Xerardo EstĂŠvez, that the projects were finally developed concurrently. I think the issue of the garden came up when I was asked to do the museum inside the garden, with the idea of a building set back in relation to the street. I don't know if you remember that..., However, I realized that that was not a good solution. Since it was a public building it should be seen from the street. I also thought that the project could solve the problem that had been created when the stone wall which limited the land plot was brought down. Therefore, the building arose on the same line where the old wall previously stood. In that way, a connection with the church on the foreground is created. However that first proposal on the position of the building caused a great rejection. One could even say some fear. That in fact, begins to be a usual response of fear in contemporary architecture.
Basically, everyone expected me to place the new building a bit more set back because there were fears in terms of the impact that the building could have on the Santo Domingos de Bonaval Church. The church dates back to the XIV century, and is also a national monument. But finally, we got that option of setting the building on the street level to be approved. So, the faĂ§ades of the two buildings, the convent of Bonaval and the new Museum, related to each other by defining an entrance gateway in the garden area. The museumâ€™s setting is highly conditioned by the composition of the garden lines as well as the alignment of the street that formalizes a triangle between both of them. C.S.: Both the museum and the park are projects that were developed around their vertical paths around an emerging movement. A.S.: Indeed, the garden is built on platforms that are adapted to the topography at different dimensions until one reaches the Oak Grove at the top. This trajectory is organized by the use of an upward motion by means of stairs and ramps. Somehow, that same structure and paths are also used inside the museum, as one enters a central triangular space in triple-height. After that, the trajectory is largely similar. Therefore, the projects for the museum and the park are very much related to each other. C.S.: However, the garden was both the old orchard and the garden of the monastery. A.S.: The project of the Park is largely a restoration, even though not exclusively. For the project of the park we did diggings in the plot looking for the foundations of the old walls. Some of them were still standing while others had to be redone because they had disappeared for the most part, or at least were no longer visible. In fact, the definitive system of stairways and ramps is not exactly like the one which existed in the past. Nevertheless, it responds to the same idea: the ascension along a path of ramps and stairs in a zig-zag way going across distinct platforms. C.S.: The water and its movement through the terraces feature a rather important role in the design of the garden as well as of the walls and ramps. A.S.: Indeed, one of ascending paths goes by a spring of water, which is almost magical, a hole in the ground under a tree from which the water flows out. Other springs were also found and could be restored. In addition, the granite channels
that were used in old times for the irrigation of the old orchards were also found. This water element, as it appears in Bonaval as well as in other gardens is very indicative of the relationship with the topography. Therefore it is a big help for the understanding of the land and the natural paths to walk around the garden. Later on, the possibility to add the cemetery and that glorious space enclosed with niches also came up. This made the total ascending towards the oak woods possible by turning and passing behind the apse of the monastery. Then one would get back to the starting point. C.S.: But is the idea of an ascending path in zig-zag one that comes from the pattern of the park or does it start in the museum and moves as an idea to the design of the park? A.S.: Actually, they were simultaneous because they were parallel projects. There is a feeling that this building - the museum - which is at the end of the path, needed another floor and that there would be a similar system of ascent that ended up onto a terrace from which one could contemplate the historic city. C.S.: In addition there is Chillida’s sculpture which was an important piece as a connection between the two. A.S.: Yes, naturally. Chillida called me one day to tell me that they had invited him to make a sculpture for the park, and that he wanted to meet with me in the place itself. Chillida was a remarkable character, a person of great charm. After a first encounter, he went out for a stroll in the garden and I took the opportunity to get to the museum, which was still under construction. In fact, I went to the building because I didn’t want to interfere with his thinking. At the end of the day he called me because he had selected a place to set his sculpture. It was in the highest zone, at the end of the upper path and before entering that way going down behind the monastery. There was an empty space and once at the site, he told me: "I will set the sculpture here, The Music Door, because from here you can see the whole city and the towers of the Cathedral". After having said that, we began to descend through the garden in search for the exit. However, as we were going down he came to a stop in the middle of the way and told me: "No, I don’t think that place is good at all. Tomorrow we’ll have to come back". We went back to the hotel, and the following morning we repeated the same thing. He went to the garden and I towards the building under construction. At the end of the day we met again, but by then he was visibly quite satisfied.
Chillida had already chosen the final place, a terrace halfway up in the path of the garden: "This is it, here. This is where it is fine. From here one can see at the same time the towers of the Cathedral and your project". After having said that he added...-I don’t know if you recall that the museum has a small terrace in the back, and a sunken area as well -. And so he continued: "it is as if one had retrieved the piece that is missing in your building and had set it here". The way Chillida chose the place for his sculpture demonstrates quite well the outstanding ability he had to interpret the space. He knew how to set an object in place. He was a master at that, no doubt about it. And that sculpture was the closure of the project, which made the bridge between the new and the old. The sculpture also serves to make one pause in the park’s ascending path. C.S.: In the GMCA, there was also an important moment related to the finish of the façade. Would it be either in granite or in marble? That was a debate which brought out other issues. A.S.: I wasn’t that familiar with the city of Santiago de Compostela at the beginning of the project. I only had the memories of my holiday trips with my parents when I was still a child. I had that impression of one city all built in stone, all in granite, beautiful, and which gives the city an incredible historic unit. Nevertheless, I was also aware that in the past, when it wasn't ashlar stone, it was always stone and plaster and also painted in white. Thinking about it and also thinking about what it means to build a contemporary building in an old city, one has to consider this time as one when the options for local materials no longer feature a compulsory condition. And neither should it be the best solution. In a globalized world, where communications make any material accessible, the stone can come from anywhere; the local one means something else. I thought of materializing the building in marble, then, in white marble. However, I soon realized it would create a tremendous reaction. So, I decided not to burn all my cartridges in this controversy. Then, I opted for a granite façade, what is commonly known as the Santiago stone. But the irony appeared when we came to the issue of the finishes in the interior of the building. Spain and Portugal are countries where there are very good granites and marbles. For obvious reasons, I decided that I didn't want to use granite in the exhibition areas. I proposed to use Spanish marble, but as it so happens in every
project, that one presented financial difficulties as well. A research was done in order to find out which the cheapest white marble would be. And it turned out that the cheapest one came from Greece, the Thasos marble. It was tailored-cut in Greece and brought to Santiago to be placed on the floor. Let me be honest. I don’t remember when I changed the idea, but I do know that it happened because I realized that I was going to create such a controversy. It is also possible because I started to be criticized. There were people who thought it would be a crime not to build something in the center of Santiago which was not built in granite. C.S.: The conflict between the contemporary and the historic city center is still present. A.S.: Yes. I think that there are only two options when it comes down to it: you either opt for a mimetic solution, for the unit, which, by the way, was the best solution in the project for the recovery of the Chiado district, or you opt for a contrast. I don’t think Intermediate options work well. The Chiado district, to some extent, is a part of the setting of the "Baixa", in Lisbon. In fact, it is rather an extension. The "Baixa" project, in reality, is a unique building, where everything is prefabricated in accordance with a project type. I do not think that there was another option because in the 18 buildings that were damaged by the fire, it didn't make sense to introduce the "new architecture" there. The problem didn’t have anything to do with architecture, with "new architecture". The issue there dealt with social revitalization, which involved the recovery of the Chiado district’s role within the city. The difficulty was to establish new relationships with the city of Lisbon, including some that had been cut for two centuries as a result of the great earthquake in 1755. On the other hand, though, when the reticle of the "Baixa" district meets the downhill, that topographic challenge, the spaces of open project and the unfinished spaces appear. There are several interesting points, for instance the connection between the Southern door of the Carmo Church and the Baixa district. Curiously, just after the fire, I went to the upper zone of the neighborhood and saw the door of the church and mentally built an invention: the best thing would be to create a system of ramps and stairs with the Baixa district, one that would establish clearer and more direct relations between the upper dimension with the lower one. Then, I started to work on this idea. However, one day a historian who collaborated with project team came up and brought us an old engraving of the door. And there it was, however in a schematic way, the representation
of a staircase. And I finally found out why, the reason why it was really there. It was because the constructions have strength when they have the fairness of the intervention. You can knock them down, you can destroy them but they stay there. There is a kind of inertia, of memory that remains and stays always present. So, on the one hand I got quite sad because in fact I had not invented anything... but on the other hand I was very happy because the invention that really counts is the one which follows the old paths. C.S.: In the GMCA you bring out a constant issue in the architectural works. You suggest the debate between buildings that have been designed by a project architect and then by its different users, the different curators who alter the building in the architecture regardless the author. The debate between the work of authorship and to some limited extent an open artwork. A.S.: I believe in architecture as an open work of art. Itâ€™s inevitable because at some point the author dies. He disappears... but then we are faced either with the problem of preserving the monuments literally or to be able to introduce alterations in it and keep it open. For a long time it was understood that conservation of monuments should be an open concept. Take for example the Portuguese Gothic churches that feature large fragments from the Baroque or the Renaissance. Those elements provide high density to the buildings. And then in the 1940s the trend of pulling everything down in order to recover the original purity became the norm. Basically this whole debate about an open work, the work of authorship is overcome with a background of quality. That is, the quality of the material, the construction and also the conceptual quality. One example of this is the Porto Cathedral from the XII century, to which a high quality Baroque volume was added later in the XVIII century by Nasoni. However, unfortunately today it is not always the case. The interventions nowadays are done a posteriori without consulting the author. However, the worst part is the lack of the minimum quality, the sheer disasters. There is not that assurance in the quality of those who are subsequently called in. In addition, there is fear. This fear is one of the determining factors in contemporary
architecture that I mentioned before. So there is not a clear criterion. Some of them are selected to not alter them. While others seek to find a program that may be adapted to the preservation which is never a thorough one. And yet, it is meaningful. As for the others there are interventions without order or any intention. Therefore, it is not a matter someone can take an outright position. Nevertheless, I do believe that we must be open in terms of attitude. The buildings have to be naturally open projects. In addition, there will be future generations with other needs. Whatever shall finally happen with this opening is difficult to control. Surely, it will not be always successful because sometimes it means a loss. Specially, since the contemporary architecture, rightly or wrongly, does not have the respect and admiration the architecture of yesteryear had. It may well be the weight of time promoting the past. In Santiago, in the GMCA something like that has taken place. Quite recently there was an intervention, without my knowledge, and which in my opinion, is a disaster. The lighting system was totally altered. A system of indirect lighting was installed with a false ceiling and full of halogen lamps. This change entails an increase in the consumption and the modification in the character of the space itself. In the bookshop and in the CafĂŠ, for example, some changes have also been introduced. In addition to them, there have been others in the furniture throughout the building, etc. However, this happens everywhere. Not long ago, I received a letter from the former director of MADRE - Museo dâ€™arte contemporane Donna Regina â€“ in Naples. That Director was made redundant after a political change in the Government, after an article he published in press. The MADRE is a museum established in the old Palazzo Donna Regina, and where recently the main door was painted in yellow and the library in black. The former Director wondered what the position of the Department of Monuments of the city would be. The Superintendence for the Cultural Heritage of Naples, the Department for the Cultural Heritage of Naples has a reputation of being relentless. As I said, the reactions are very variable on the importance of the cultural heritage, even though they are specialized agencies and independent ones. That is because in the end, they are highly dependent on politics, and the decisions are more political than scholarly ones. Rarely the decisions arise from the study of history but often out of
political interests. C.S.: There is a trend dealing with the specialization within our profession, not only in terms of lighting matters as we talked before. Notwithstanding, one begins to hear specialists in interior architecture and soon it will be exterior architecture. A.S.: It is a real plague. I personally like to work with landscape designers. In fact, I need them because I do not command all the aspects that are related with the culture of the soil. In addition, I do not have any objective training on the landscaping issues. Therefore, I both need and enjoy working with landscape designers. Now, always with the idea of teamwork and bring together working teams within an understanding of interdisciplinary teamwork. And why not include a landscape designer, an interior designer, a structural engineer and an air conditioning engineer? What I think it doesn't work out is when it is thought that the architecture can be divided into watertight compartments: indoors, outdoors, landscape, urban spaces... then that is a disaster! That is the denial of the architecture because the architect is not a specialist. The architect is, in fact, a specialist of not being one. Therefore, I am not going to try to make a comparison with an orchestra conductor, as it often occurs. No, that is not the case. It is a concentration of knowledge, which is neither completely dispersed nor convergent. But I believe that it is traditionally in the vocation of an architect to manage the convergence of knowledge. In the case that a specialist is responsible for the façade and the other one for the interiors, the result will never be a good one. Take for an example, a house by Adolf Loos. How can anyone imagine that that irregularity in the openings of the façade, which then is perceived as perfection itself, can be autonomous? The façade is a result of the internal order, it cannot be otherwise. Who can imagine that a specialist will design the façades, and the other will design the interior areas? Loos’s work is an extreme case that demonstrates in a clear way, how ludicrous any attempt to fragment the profession can be. Nevertheless, this false specialization begins to be a plague that is the result of a campaign which has to do with corporate interests and with a belief in the specialization. That doesn’t exist in other areas, and in my opinion, the last sector this
could ever occur was in architecture. It is a contemporary plague that we are suffering and against which one has to react. A draft law was submitted to the Portuguese Parliament for its approval. It stated literally: the architects are responsible for the exterior, the interior designers for the inner zones, and the landscape architects for the outer space. I don't understand how the architects’ Association didn’t take any position on that. Nevertheless, there were colleagues of mine who were informed of the proposal and met with the Prime Minister because the law had already been passed by the Parliament and was waiting simply to be brought forth to the special commissions. The President asked them only one question: Why do you come now only at the end of the process? Actually, nobody knew anything about that. At last, it was possible to halt the process, because it had already been approved and no one knows how they were able to stop that. In reality this fragmentation of the profession is already taking place. For instance, if you have to design a hotel, there’s not practically one where this kind of work is done in collaboration with decorators, because the client imposes his own. They simply say: the architect knows nothing of this and then a decorator is called in. It's the end of the profession! C.S.: Nowadays, something which was unthinkable before is also beginning to occur. The positon of the architect or architects project supervisor(s) who have designed the project is separated. Now you have people or distinct teams without any relationship whatsoever. A.S.: It’s another plague! Please, do not talk only about these plagues. That is also taking place here in Portugal, especially in the public works. Whoever the promoter of the work may be, the City Council or whoever, hires a management team who’s got more clout over the work that the architect himself. I have been to projects and have found mistakes. I have asked for rectification and then the management team came and contradicted us: "No. That cannot be changed". Then you call the developer of the work and there is no support either. Without having to mention the interested agreements that also occur, and that involve at times the builder and the managers of the work without generalizing it. But often they are more than evident. As for the fact of taking away the opinion of the project architect, I state once again: It
is the end of architecture. Nothing like this had ever happened before. C.S.: Largely the profession of the architect comes from the master builder. A.S.: Yes, it is true. There used to be a true fusion. However, it used to be like that until recently. Until these construction managers appeared, I never had any problems with the builders. I remember when I started in this profession, about 50 years ago; the architect had to go to work to tell if this or that was wrong. And I do not accept the way it is now, because if the constructor himself went to the site then and saw that a wall was not well built, he would pull it down out of his own volition. There was a collective spirit of commitment towards the final quality of the work. However, none of this occurs now.
6. THE SANTA MARIA CHURCH AND PARISH CENTER - MARCO DE CANVESES 1990-96
The light and the arquitecture.
MARCO DE CANAVESES C.S.: In the making of the Canaveses project, one can notice the strong presence of a priest who is a great defender of architecture. A.S.: He was there during the whole project. I say he was because Father Nuno Higino is no longer there. The project of the church was only possible thanks to him. I was told that even during in the selection of the architect, he proposed my name to be the architect for the project of the church. However, this proposal was not well received by the high hierarchy. He then took the radical position that if I was not the author of the project, then he would not accept the appointment for that parish. We even didnâ€™t know each other, but Father Higinio was familiar with some of my projects and had a very clear position about it all. Mr. Higinio is very much keen on architecture, to the point that he took up architecture courses in Spain. His former training was in Philosophy but he wrote his thesis in architecture. He is no longer a priest but a professor. This may well be a result of their differences within the hierarchy itself. Now there is another priest, an excellent person too, but maybe without the passion for architecture that Higinio had. I remember that when we built the parish center after having built the church, and under the supervision of the parish priest during a work visit, we realized that the plastering had not been done according to the specifications of the project. And, due to its poor quality we feared for its durability and recommend that the builder should not be paid for the final phase and that the plastering should be redone as specified in the project. Nevertheless, the priest paid for it. Therefore, the parish center does not have that the same construction quality like the church. C.S.: This is also a reference point regarding the importance of the client on the quality of architecture. A.S.: Actually, the client is the first architect. If the client is not interested in the quality, in the current conditions surrounding the building, it is impossible to get quality architecture. Nowadays, the work is under the control of the management teams who are more concerned about saving costs than the quality. If that team does not have a more complete picture, surreal situations may occur, where the author of the project comes to the work and sees that something has not been done as it should. He may then recommend it to be redone, but then the management team decides otherwise, and simply there is nothing to say. That is because the economic managers are those who
really control the work. The architecture of quality is not possible today without a good client. C.S.: After being in s the Canaveses Church, it seems imperative to talk about the importance of the light in architecture. A.S.: Light plays a fundamental role in architecture. When a faรงade is designed there are openings which have their own reason. That has to do with the need of the indoor lighting, but at the same time with the very expression of the building. An opening has relationship with the internal structure because it has much to do with the movement, with the environs and with different expectations for each space. However, it also relates with the external reading of the building, because in reality in architecture everything is related to everything. Light is a topic that is not fully independent. On the contrary, it is related to all the components in the achievement of architecture. C.S.: In an increasingly specialized world, if one regards architecture as a global knowledge, it is almost like an old profession. A.S.: In my opinion the specialization of the space is a questionable issue, because many times during the lifetime of a building, the use of the space is modified. In some cases even the entire program is altered. In any case, I think that it is always desirable to respond in the utmost rigor to the functional aspects of a building in order to achieve a kind of liberation from them, and try to achieve timeless buildings. Although not everyone considers the durability as an asset to architecture, there are very different opinions about it. From the "futurists" who advocated that each generation should have its own expression, its own architecture and this included the demolishing of any previous architecture. To the sheer economic attitudes that believed that the buildings should not last more than twenty years so to promote the growth and development of the economy. However, I feel closest to the principle that one of the assets of architecture is the durability as well as flexibility. C.S.: The topic of natural light is one which there is not so much research but one with much reflection. A.S.: There is much literature on the subject. Accidentally, I was reading a very
interesting book recently. It was specifically about the light, written by an Austrian historian, Hans Sedlmayr. Sedlmayr was a great thinker, but unfortunately, he was also sympathetic to the Nazism. Nevertheless, he wrote a series of very interesting books whose central theme was the decline of architecture and somewhat a frontal attack on Modern Architecture. He deals with much care and intelligence on the different dimensions of the problem of the light. C.S.: The light is conditioned on the one hand through a gap, but on the other hand also how it is materialized through the materials. In the baptistery of Marcos de Canaveses Church, for instance, the light is reflected on a surface with tiles and the light seems to vibrate. A.S.: Light has much to do with the materials, but also with colors, the materialâ€™s own color or of the paintings. It's very different to have a gap through which the light falls on a white wall, than to have it fall on a black cloth. The result is very different even if all those reactions are important. I insist that light is not a subject that can be considered in isolation. C.S.: What examples in architecture would you point out in relation to the treatment of the light? A.S.: The masters of lighting are in the Arab architecture. Take the Alhambra as an example. It is wonderful, but in reality any Arab house at any remote site is an excellent illustration of the treatment of light. The Arab house uses the courtyard, which is one of the elements employed to tame the light. In the Alhambra, for instance, in order to enter any of the palaces, it needs to be always done through a courtyard with an intense light. Then you find some door frames that soften it in relation to the first place. It is a sequence of opening and entering another room with less light and then you go back into a patio. That is a gradual and total light treatment to achieve a certain kind of assimilation. In general terms, we can say that in the movement from the outside to the inside, there is a sequence that goes from intense light to darkness. But, naturally, it has to do with human behavior in pursuit of his shelter either in the house or in a Palace. However, if one follows the rules in a faithful way, the person will end up with the same light everywhere. J.R.: Could you tell us one specific aspect on the lighting of the Canaveses Church? A.S.: Just one single aspect would be difficult for me to point out. However, there are several aspects I think I can actually talk about. In fact, there were many decisions to solve the lighting of the church. Some of them
were the result of professional experience and the study of references. Therefore, they were mainly memories. However, they were the result from dialogue with specialists, so there is not a single aspect. Indeed, we can talk about concrete solutions. On a sunny day, for example, the large entrance door opens and people can attend the religious ceremony from the atrium. Therefore, on those days there is a particularly penetrating light that reaches the interior of the church. However, on the days when the door is closed the church is lit up mainly with zenith lighting, the light coming from the top. It has more to do with the tradition of the churches throughout history. We all have the image of the large Mannerist churches with a number of windows at the top. C.S.: Is history the most constant reference when you design? A.S.: Oftentimes, solutions have to do with historical references but also with childhood memories. I remember when I was doing the project I had many visions that came from the memory, childhood memories, because most of us were initiated in the Catholic religion: the baptism, the christening, going to church on Sundays, etc. I remembered when I was a child and went to mass in the Matosinhos Church, I was greatly impressed by those windows that appeared at the top of the building surrounded by a few railings. I saw them and I wondered what they were for. How did one get there? Those windows somehow disturbed me. That childhood experience was engraved in my memory with such intensity that it came back to me when I was working on the project for the church. It was to such an extent that I felt the need to somehow reproduce that living experience. It was then transformed into a spatial issue that was the result from memory, the childhood: The creation of those upper windows with an access to them. Another idea was how to avoid the view of direct light. This had to do with the fact that it was impossible to see the windows in the Mannerist churches, with the effect of the perspective created by those enormous walls. And that's one of the reasons - I do not say that it is the only one- which made me opt for the inclination of the lateral wall at the same time that I intended to create a sense of depth. Therefore, whoever is there doesn't see the light proper. One sees the illuminated environment, instead, but not the direct light. C.S.: In addition to the physical aspects of light in relation to the space, light evokes a symbolic dimension in a church. A.S.: Yes, absolutely. I'm really talking about references and memories.
Notwithstanding, references are also imperative because this project is after the Second Vatican Council. It was the moment when the Catholic Church changed many of its principles and among them the ritual of the ceremony. In the new ritual, there is a change of a crucial moment which is really important. It’s when the priest turns towards the parish and destroys completely the secular tradition of the organization towards the altar, where he used to turn to. This change in the ceremony introduced after the Vatican Council II, completely changed the reading of the space. And as a result, in the Marco de Canaveses Church instead of having a background with a richly decorated altar, there is an entry of light, a stream of light,. That light continues all the way down to the chapel in the basement, producing an effect of, how I should put it ... less sharpness, a kind of vibration of the light behind the altar and the priest. But as you see, the solutions come from many different origins and much of what I may say is based primarily on the results. It is not much more than acknowledging some results, and it occurs that the acknowledgment of the experiences is also important. C.S.: Are the memory and the personal experiences important luggage when you project? A.S.: Absolutely. The memory and the personal experience are essential. Another living experience which had its origins in my childhood’s memories was a feeling of choking when I was in my childhood’s church. The Matosinhos Church was a dark one. It was a dark environment where one couldn’t see anything from the outside because the door also has a windbreaker that cuts all direct light. The lighting is done simply though some very high windows. For a child, that caused a feeling of great asphyxiation, almost claustrophobic. And this is one of the reasons why the idea of that horizontal window came up: at eye level looking towards the valley. A long window covering the entire length of the space and at the same time it was an entry of light. In fact, it introduces the presence of the landscape to the interior. It is also true, though, that there are other motives as well. It is like the expression of the building itself. As always in architecture the solution is the combination of ideas and options that mingle and lead towards a certain proposal that does not respond to an idea in particular, but rather to the sum of several intentions. To a large extent that window was intended to break the isolation, that memory of choking in my childhood, at the same time that it has to do with the conversations with
theologians, who insisted on this idea of a church directed toward the community. As you can see, there is always more than one reason for a decision, the opening, the landscape, the community, the light, etc., etcâ€Ś C.S.: Were there theologians in the designing process? A.S.: Yes. During the discussions related with the project there were two theologians participating in it. They were quite intelligent, but many times they didnâ€™t agree with each other. Anyway, it was an interesting debate. It was also Interesting because there was always a certain level of ambiguity between the resulting transformation, the moral one, the programmatic one as a consequence of the Vatican Council II and the conservative values that were linked to the long history and to the stability Catholic Church itself. During the debates with the theologians there was always a difficult balance between tradition and the contemporaneous. And I imagine that the project in the end will also have something to do with that debate. C.S.: But the lighting in the Marco de Canvases Church is also supported with artificial light. A.S.:Yes, naturally. It is a set of solutions. In addition to natural light, there is the artificial lighting via a number of spotlights that are situated on that wide wall where the upper windows are opened. It is a wall with some thickness and allows placing a few spotlights that project light towards the ceiling without being seen. Therefore, they throw indirect light over the whole space which is always more restful than the direct light. The long window on the lower level is the main element of direct light. Itâ€™s a line of natural light that according to the position of the person also changes its effect. If the person is sitting, kneeling or standing, the eyes are at different levels, which may not look at the outside or if the observer stands up then it is possible to see the landscape. C.S.: The view to the outside is in a sense an unorthodox proposal in the traditional space of the church. A.S.: There were some very conflicting views about it. There was one person who after making a great compliment about the design of the church, said: "The only problem is that in this chapel I cannot concentrate".
There is the notion that architecture, in this case religious architecture, must fully constrain the spirit, manipulate, condition the spirit of the believer, who in some cases regards it as a divine concession. Another way of looking at it, is that the person is concentrated when he really reaches a genuine thought, and then in that state he could also look at the landscape, because this can sometimes mean a rest or even a reunion with other values which surely the Church doesn’t reject at all. C.S: When you work with light, what kind of influences do you feel stronger, the experiences and childhood memories or the work of other architects, such as Aalto and Wright? A.S: Childhood exerts a great influence in everything, even in our behavior and in the state of the spirit. Childhood leaves marks on us that never disappear. Especially for us who work in the world of art and literature. Childhood is there, and somehow it is always present. Those are years that leave an important footprint in a person's life. That is the reason why education is such a transcendent subject, so determinant, essential for the individual and for society as a whole. J.R.: I always wondered about the meaning of those high windows in the Marco de Canaveses Church, without apparent access, but now it seems clear. A.S.: Basically these are the fundamental ideas, but there are also other aspects, such as the problem of efficiency, how to take advantage of the maximum reflection of the roof. That is why it is white. I don't know if you've noticed that the opening on the façade reaches the ceiling. There, the amount of light is so high that one could read without difficulty. This central issue of adjusting and controlling the zenith lighting has a beautiful example in the design of the library at Viipuri by Alvar Aalto. J.R.: A number of especially bright churches come to my mind, where there is also a feeling of awe as you might have in Aalto’s Church of the three crosses. However, there are also others such as the Lewerentz Church or the Rochamp Church by Le Corbusier, which are the opposite as churches in darkness A.S.: The Church of Rochamp has those stained-glass windows that shed a colorful light, but it also has a fundamental element which looks like some chimneys of light that characterize it, which in my opinion are clearly heirs to images of architectures that Le Corbusier, at the some point, saw in Northern Africa. Although, he uses them with a completely different function. The Arab houses in certain areas have a very wise ventilation system, which are a kind of chimneys that have exactly this form of Le Corbusier’s light chimneys. I even
think that I've seen a sketch by Le Corbusier about those constructions that were made during one of his trips to the North of Africa. Perhaps, either consciously or unconsciously in Rochamp he used these ventilation chimneys to introduce the light into specific points instead. C.S.: The light in the chapel of the Quinta de Saint Ovídio’s house also appears in a rather distinct manner differing from your other projects. A.S.: The chapel in the Quinta de Santo Ovídio is a very small space. Actually with very little it is possible to light up the entire space. Practically, by just opening the door it is possible to illuminate the whole space. The door has a leather screen that protects it from wind but that allows it to be open. Therefore, there is always an entry of light through the door. In addition, there is a small gap and a cross engraved on the concrete walls that is really another opening that sheds light on the background. You have to be aware that we have very intense light in Southern Europe, whereas in countries such as the Netherlands or Finland the northern light is very different. In general, the light there is less intense, and evens the color of it is distinct. From place to place, light changes dramatically, it is something completely different. If we were able to design a building in the middle of a forest, for example, the problem would be completely different. C.S.: Yes, for instance, Barragan’s house, where the light is filtered by nature. A.S.: Yes, yes, for example. We are now developing the project for the Alhambra, which is a very difficult one in terms of lighting. That is because I do not want an overflowing light since the project is in the monumental complex of the Alhambra, and do not want that our proposal becomes a cry for the new within the Alhambra, therefore I want a filtered and very warm light. In addition, there are those light variations in the palaces of the Alhambra that are masterful. The problem is that in our project the areas are quite large. The entrance hall, for example, is 15 meters wide. Therefore, those spaces are difficult to light only with natural light. In situations like this, I work with different lighting hypothesis and always with the support of a light engineer who transforms our hypotheses into a computerized model which confirms to us if the solution is adequate or not by using software. Light is a very complex problem and the rigor is essential to limit the risk of failing. C.S.: A last question: who was the first critic who wrote about your work outside Portugal? A.S.: Actually, in terms of significant importance it was Gregotti, then Bohigas,
followed by Huet, then Frampton. I think this is the right order. I think I am not mistaken. Then there were many others. But, in fact, the first one was Gregotti in Contraspazio. Then, Bis Bohigas wrote in Arquitecturas and Bernard Huet, in Architecture d'aujourd ' hui. Later on, Frampton also wrote with much continuity. Now, though, to be precise the first publication about my work outside Portugal was in the Spanish magazine, Home and architecture, in Madrid when Carlos Flores was the Director, who I came to meet many years afterwards. The magazine featured an article written by Pedro Vieira de Almeida and Nuno Portas with an introduction by Carlos Flores, even though it wasn't a critique proper, but it was indeed prior to the publication of Constraspazio. Then, Carlos Flores wrote a beautiful letter to me, which I still have and in which it ends like this: "May you keep on fighting!". Many years later I met him in Madrid. He was also the author of a series of books on Spanish popular architecture C.S.: And, how about the first exhibition abroad? A.S.: The first exhibition outside the Iberian peninsula was in Denmark, at the School of Architecture in Aarhus, where there was an architect from Porto I knew, and who organized this exhibition. I do not recall very well when the first exhibition in Spain took place. C.S.: Could that be at the Galicia Museum of Contemporary Art (GMCA)? A.S.: I donâ€™t remember that well, though. I would have to check in the files with Chiara. Then there was one in Paris, at Centre Pompidou, and another one in Germany. C.S.: The practice of the profession has been changing very rapidly. A.S.: In Portugal, there has been some discussion on a new distribution of work and responsibilities within the world of the construction. This distribution is supposed to allow engineers to sign architectural projects, but it will also prohibit architects to perform certain functions that were traditionally of their responsibility. For instance, in case this law is approved, the architects will not take responsibility for the execution of the work. The architect may not even be the coordinator of the project. The project coordinator shall be an engineer who is specialist in that function. It is a preposterous proposal, a senseless one. However, that proposal was presented and I do not know if it has already got to the Parliament. Surely that it will lead to many protests, but I doubt of its success primarily due the force the organizations of engineers have achieved. In addition, it will succeed because I fear architects today care less about these matters.
C.S.: It is a tendency of overvaluation of the economy over the quality that occurs, but not only in Portugal... A.S.: Yes. I'm talking about Portugal, but unfortunately it does not happen only there. For example I have just had a case in France that after having finished the project I got one letter in unacceptable terms. The local engineer wrote to tell me that the only thing they wanted from me was the talent, meaning the image of the project. Therefore, I would have to leave all the construction details to specialists. Just incredible! I was forced to respond to the client to let him know that if someone with that kind of mindset was going to be my partner, I would have to withdraw my project and so it could not be built. Totally unacceptable. Obviously, one cannot waive the details of the design. This has to do with the fact that although we have the cooperation from engineers and a local architect, the terms have to be those. The authorship of a project must involve the design and control of all its parts including the construction details. Souto de Moura has told me a worst case. He won a contest for a project recently, and he was told to design just a basic project because the construction project would be developed by the constructor. The approach was such that he had to give up the work. It is a general thing. There is a tendency that the architect is the creator of the image and nothing else. The only country in the European Community where this trend is not followed may be Germany. Over there, for example, the well-known exemption of fees does not occur. Although, I am sure that in other Northern European countries, like Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, there is also a greater respect for the work of the architects. However, that is the general trend. We may face a struggle for survival, and this is not an exaggerated statement. A series of conferences with different architects took place recently in Porto. I was able to participate in a panel discussion with Moneo, and someone raised the issue of the contemporary social relevance of the architects, their presence in the media, etc. It is true that architecture has much presence in newspapers, but in general the idea that prevails socially, is that architecture is a luxury. It has been taken for granted that the evolution of the subject in our time, beginning in the 1920s, 1930s, grew out of the need for the involvement of architects to solve the problem of public housing. In those moments of political illusion there were large housing programs and the architects were called to meet that need. The origin of the so-called modern architecture was really the social housing. However, public housing is not built in Portugal anymore. And in the rest of Europe this isnâ€™t an urgent problem either. Consequently, the perception that the architects
are not necessary, or at least that they are a luxury item begins to be perceived. The public relevance of our profession is artificial. There are many events, conferences and news in the press. But, the reality is that the presence of architecture in the day-to-day of the society doesnâ€™t exist. C.S.: However in Portugal one still feels a respect for the quality of the public space, which deals with a concern that still manifests itself in the quality of what is built and the architecture itself. A.S-: These are remnants from the past, the remnants of a period that is linked to political evolution. For instance, there are deserted and uninhabited streets in Porto nowadays. There is a program of rehabilitation for the old part of the city. But in fact, what has this program done? Nothing. The city is deserted after certain hours. There has been a loss of population in the city center. The current population downtown is identical to the one in the 1930s, which gives you an idea of the phenomenon that Porto has been suffering from. Anyway, on Fridays and Saturdays the few residents who remain living in the city center have to leave. That is because there are performance stages set up in the center of the city for live music. That is the result of a program called "City Entertainment". During that time you get to the downtown Porto and you find huge canopies in different places to "entertain the city". There is a street in Porto with many galleries, the Miguel Bombarda Street. If you happen to go there when there are vernissages in every gallery, on that particular day the street will be full of people, and Porto looks like a fascinating and vibrant city. However, you go there the next day everything is empty and the galleries may be even closed. In fact, everything looks kind of fictitious. C.S.: The city of Porto has changed a lot with the construction of the new SĂĄ Carneiro Airport. A.S..: The new airport has brought with it the phenomenon of tourism generated by the "low cost" flights that now arrive at the Porto airport. Those are flights that create weekend-only tourism, and as a result of this new type of tourism, those spaces once dedicated to local commerce close. Instead, cafes and restaurants open, but this scenario does not respond to the real rhythm of the city. We will see how this ends, but everything looks rather like a fiction. C.S.: You've undertaken many projects abroad and always with teams of local architects and engineers. A.S.: Not always. For example, in Spain I always carry out projects with my team of engineers from Porto, GOP engineers. In China and Korea, the projects are usually
undertaken with local engineering teams; however, they always accept the collaboration from my Porto engineers as consultants. I do not have a fixed structure, it depends on each country, but all the work of construction details is always carried out here. Sometimes, even the furniture is not only designed but that is also manufactured here by the carpenter Mr. Simões. C.S.: Have you ever felt challenged in your own authorship? A.S.: Not really. I have never had that problem. For instance, in Brazil I was very lucky because the client was indeed one of the most powerful entrepreneur of the country as well as friend of the painter Iberê Camargo to whom the museum was dedicated. And that entrepreneur asked Niemeyer to collaborate in our project. The reason behind this has to do with the problem that in Brazil the Portuguese degree in Architecture is not recognized. Supposedly, there are agreements and political conventions, but in fact the universities fail to validate the studies. They are working conditions that only serve to whom agrees to make a design, deliver it and forget about its construction, and therefore, the quality of the work. The same thing happens in Angola. Presently, the only place where I can work comfortably, and where I feel recognized for it is in China, and particularly in Korea. C.S.: Is there any kind of building that you would like to do? A.S.: No, I am not concerned about that. All problems are interesting as long as there are conditions to tackle them. I do not usually enter competitions and the few I've done weren’t because they related to an issue or another. Presently, I am working on a very small project for a single-bedroom one-family house. What I really like is to be able to treat different themes of distinct scales. C.S. I do not remember who said that competitions are for horses and that good architecture could never be the result of one. A.S.: Normally I don't like entering contests. In order for me submit work in my last contest - Alhambra of Granada, 2011 – I actually had to be convinced. In the end I was very lucky because we paid much attention to functional problems. It so happened that the jury was also much concerned about all of those problems. Our big concern was how to solve the daily attendance of 1500 people without altering the character of the whole. I think that is why we won. In general, the other projects were also good and beautiful. However, I think that ours was the one that worried most about the problems of functionality in such a rigorous manner. But that attitude is not normal in the competitions.
C.S.: There have been other very controversial contests precisely for the opposite. A.S.: Yes, there was also another one around the same time in Andalusia where there was a program and a specific plot of land. Nevertheless, in the end a proposal with a part of the program out of the plot, which was the object of the competition won. Perhaps it had a more potent image than the other proposals that faithfully followed the program. What happened is that the Mayor became fascinated by the power of the image, and in the end the proposal which didnâ€™t even complied with the bases won. Consequently, the winning project will not be built at all because it does not comply with the regulations of the area. Itâ€™s just incredible. C.S:. The stories related to the contests tend to be dark ones. A.S.: I stopped with them. In addition, I have never entered many of them because if you have one work you cannot really devote the necessary time to them. That creates difficulties to other projects in the development phase. In order to submit a good proposal to a contest a lot of concentration is required. Eduardo Souto de Moura indeed enters many contests, but he has a fairly large studio. He has a studio with 15 collaborators. Presently, we are only 9. Eduardo enters the contests by invitation, which normally tends to be well paid and it helps keep the study economically. But Eduardo has lots of energy and travels abroad each week. Notwithstanding, he also has begun to be a little disappointed. He won a big contest for a tower in Milan a little while ago. But unfortunately, in the end it will not be built. He also won the contest for a skyscraper in China, but at the time of signing the contract, he was told that they actually didnâ€™t want one tower. They wanted 14 identical towers, so he finally had to withdraw his project. Recently, he won one contest in Belgium for a crematorium which is very well built. He has won many contests, but several of them do not get to be built, so in the end it is both a disappointing and very frustrating task.
Texts by the authors. David Cohn, Kenneth Frampton, Juhani Pallasmaa, Souto de Moura, Juan Rodriguez and Carlos Seoane Drawings by Ă lvaro Siza Photographs by Juan Rodriguez
Published on Sep 2, 2015
SIZA by SIZA Texts by David Cohn, Kenneth Frampton, Junani Pallasmaa, Souto de Moura & Carlos Seoane about Siza´s work. Photographs by Juan...