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. They were hand drawn and related with both the variations of volumetry and studies on the different construction details.
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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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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 , "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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
They are born of a passion for the poetic essence of building. 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.
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. So is architecture, although today architects and their products usually aspire to appear assured, without any sign of hesitation.
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. 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. 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,. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Hence, the finished work has the rich character of a report with its multiple layers rather than that of a sudden autonomous discovery. 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.
The creative task is always bound to seek this rationally impossible reconciliation. 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? 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.
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.
Piscinas en el mar, Álvaro Siza Vieira in conversation with Kenneth Frampton
To work outside of our usual location, our country, our town, calls for an extra effort in order to understand the different problems that may arise, which are sometimes not so different from the usual ones. It is also characteristic of his work that he enters into confrontation with nature in an apparently elegant but challenging manner, without wanting to submit it to his will. Indomitable, unpredictable nature and its infinitely rich geographical conditions are sought out by him, just as he also searches with his pencil for the essence of the subject preoccupying him. He analyzes its complexity by sketching it and looks for the seeming randomness of what is revealed to him. Siza devoted much of his time to this project and, during the course of several years, was put in charge of designing the final project. It was in this climate that Siza developed his own language, which is attributable only to him.
Emphasis, Frampton says, should be on topography, climate, light; on tectonic form rather than on scenography i. Frampton draws on phenomenology for his argument. This is revealed by the rational, modular, neutral and economic, partly prefabricated concrete outer shell i. He notes, for instance, feeling the contrast between the friction of the brick surface of the stairs and the springy wooden floor of the council chamber.
Siza, the Buster Keaton of architecture
There is also a reference in that to the human body. Save this picture! AS: I think so. Maybe in the wrong way [Laughs. When I am asked to present a lecture, I always choose to talk about one particular project because I like to explain how ideas come about. Boa Nova Tea House.
Alvaro Siza : Complete Works