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Alvaro Siza Vieira Resumed

Posted on 02 May 2009 by Alvaro

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Alvaro Siza (born 1933) is considered Portugal’s greatest living architect and possibly the best that country has ever produced. His works are internationally renowned for their coherence, clarity, and what Siza calls simplism - a quality that recognizes the complexity and contradictions of a project without trying to impose artificial control over them.

Siza was born in the town of Matosinhos, near Oporto, Portugal, in 1933. He studied architecture at the Escola de Belas Artes in Oporto from 1949 to 1955, and his first design was built in 1954. From 1955 to 1958, he worked with architect Fernando Tavora. Through the 1950s, Siza developed several projects in Matosinhos, including private houses, a Parochial Center, a Tourist Office, and a low-cost housing project as well as the acclaimed Boa Nova restaurant (1958-63; renovated 1992) and a public swimming pool in Leca da Palmeira (1958-65). These early projects indicated Siza’s characteristic ability to integrate his designs with the distinct qualities of their environments.

“Embracing the Rhythm of the Air”

Siza’s work, though linked to Minimalism, is considered rooted in Expressionism. These roots can be seen in the formal structures of his designs, which, according to Oriol Bohigas, are “always based on unity of space and volume” and possess “an absolute coherence of function and form.” These qualities are already apparent in the Boa Nova project, chosen in a competition sponsored by the Matosinhos City Council in 1958. The building’s dramatic site on a rocky coastline is integral to Siza’s spectacular design. The completed work, which was restored in 1992, inspired the poem “Alvaro Siza’s Restaurant in Boa Nova” by Eugenio de Andrade: “The musical order of the space, / the manifest truth of stone, / the concrete beauty/of the ground ascends the last few steps, / the contained/and continuous and serene line/embracing the rhythm of the air, / the white architecture/stripped/bare to its bones/where the sea came in.”

In 1966, Siza joined the faculty at the School of Architecture in Oporto (ESBAP), and in 1976 he was appointed Assistant Professor of Construction. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, he continued to design private houses as well as commercial buildings near Oporto. His second swimming pool for Leca da Palmeira displays his brilliant use of space. The design uses a natural rock formation to complement the man-made sides of a large pool placed as if carved out of the sand and rock of the coastline. A smaller children’s pool, changing building, and cafe are also included, and the building is set below the level of the access road to provide an uninterrupted view of the ocean. José Paulo dos Santos has noted in his Alvaro Siza: Works & Projects 1954-1992 that the design contains formal references to Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and to neoplasticist architecture.

Public Housing and Urban Design

Since the mid-1970s, Siza has been involved in numerous designs for public housing. At that time, overcrowding and lack of sanitary facilities plagued many old sections of Oporto, and after Portugal’s revolution against dictator Salazar in 1974, the political group SAAL (servicio de apoio ambulatorio local) responded to urban problems by planning designs to remedy slum conditions. In 1974, Siza worked on renovations for the Bouca quarter that would both resolve the problems that had been characteristic of the antiquated buildings and also fit within the historical context of the site. He used a vertebral wall to screen the project from adjacent railroad tracks. Perpendicular to this wall were four linear terraces of double maisonettes, forming long courtyards reminiscent of the type of neighborhood the new project replaced.

Siza worked with SAAL again in a design for the rehabilitation of the Sao Victor district of Oporto, then embarked on the enormous subsidized housing project in Quinta de Malagueira, Evora, in 1977. This design included 1, 200 housing units as well as institutional and commercial facilities, with a raised service duct, similar to the Renaissance aqueduct that had fed the old city, supplying utilities. “Without grand polemic, ” wrote dos Santos, “the scheme touches on the attitudes and formal achievements of European Modernist settlements but rejects their isolation from their contexts. The absorption of the cultural aspirations of different social classes, the pressures placed on the public space by the car, and the ambivalent requirements for communal identity are convincingly resolved in this scheme.”

Forming a Whole with Ruins

Siza’s interest in urban design soon brought him to projects outside of Portugal. In the late 1970s he worked on an urban renewal design in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, and in 1984 he won first prize in the International Building Exhibition (IBA) for the rehabilitation of an entire block in the same district. The project (Schlesisches Tor) was to have maintained the block’s mix of residential and commercial space, but, because of financial considerations, the developer made several changes in the design. The finished project, though, does retain the curved, wave-like facade of the corner building. Doug Clelland commented in Architectural Review that the scheme knits together the existing fabric of the site well, but “lacks the presence and assurance of the decayed nineteenth century block across the street.” Indeed, Siza himself has remarked that “The problem is to form a whole with ruins.” This attention to the past, according to Kenneth Frampton in Design Quarterly, is a quality that distinguishes Siza’s approach from that of many contemporaries. He emphasized that in all of Siza’s collective housing projects there is the “potential for establishing a critical interaction between the new and the ruined.”

Among several other public housing projects are Siza’s design for the Guidecca district of Venice, which was first in the 1985 international competition for controlled-cost subsidized housing in the Campo di Marte, and his design for 106 low-cost units in The Hague. The Netherlands project, noted dos Santos, refers to the brick tradition of such architects as Michel de Klerk and J. J. P. Oud, but also shows the influence of Mendelsohn.

During the 1980s, Siza expanded his international repertoire when he was invited to enter several international competitions, including the Expo 92 in Seville in 1986; Un Progretto per Siena, Italy, in 1988; Bibliotheque de France, Paris, 1989-90; and the Helsinki Museum, 1993. He obtained first place in the Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, Berlin in 1980; restoration of Campo di Marte, Venice, in 1985; redevelopment of the Casino and Cafe Winkler, Salzburg, 1986, and La Defensa Cultural Centre, Madrid, 1988-89. During this period, he also worked on several institutional and commercial projects. His Banco Borges & Irmao in Vila do Conde, Portugal, is notable for its vertical identity and its dramatic rotational character, with all the interior floors visually related as in Le Corbusier’s Carthage villa. “JoaÅo de Deus” kindergarten in Penafiel, Portugal, is built on a plinth to respond to challenges of site and to integrate the structure’s various uses.

Wide Range of Concerns

Siza’s range of architectural interests remains especially broad, from residences to churches, schools, shopping centers, libraries, museums, and even, most recently, furniture. His design for the Oporto Faculty of Architecture, a monumental project, is nearing completion. This comprises several buildings placed along the banks of the River Douro in an arrangement that, according to one critic, suggests an allusion to the Acropolis. Another has noted the influence of Austrian and German architecture in this design, pointing out that Siza’s precision of scale is complemented by the architect’s “subtle understanding of the surroundings.” In fact, Siza vigorously opposed a plan to construct a major automobile throughway along the riverbank, arguing that unobstructed river frontage is integral to the Faculty of Architecture’s overall design.

Among Siza’s other unusual projects are a water tower for the University of Aveiro (1988-89), designed as a reinforced concrete slab and parallel cylinder which rise out of a reflecting sheet of water, and the cylindrical meteorological center for the Barcelona Olympic Village (1989-92), built on the beach of the city’s Olympic Port. Critics admired the way in which the design for the meteorological center “has both presence and autonomy with respect to the grand dimensions of the neighbouring volumes and the scale of the Port’s quays and harbor wall.”

Other projects of the late 1980s and early 1990s include La Defensa Cultural Centre, Madrid (1988); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1988-93); the Rector’s Office and Law Library for the University of Valencia (1990); the Vitra office furniture factory, Weil-am-Rhein, Germany (1991); and the Contemporary Art Museum, Casa de Serralves, Oporto (1991).

One of Siza’s most important ongoing projects is the reconstruction of Lisbon’s historic Chiado district. This area, the principal civic and commercial space for the neighborhood, was heavily damaged by fire in 1988. Seventeen buildings had to be redesigned based on historic plans. The project was complicated by damage from tunnel excavation under the site, which badly weakened the foundations of several buildings, especially the ancient ruins of the Carmo Convent. Siza has been active in seeking solutions for this damage.

International Renown

In addition to his major design projects, Siza remains deeply committed to teaching. He has participated in numerous conferences and seminars throughout Europe, North and South America, and Japan. He has been a visiting professor at the Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne, the University of Pennsylvania, the Los Andes School, the University of Bogota, and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design as Kenzo Tange Visiting Professor. He continues to teach at the Oporto School of Architecture.

Siza’s distinguished work has been widely recognized. In 1982, he was awarded the Prize of Architecture from the Portuguese Department of the International Association of Art Critics, and in 1987 he received an award from the Portuguese Architects Association. In 1988, Siza received the Gold Medal for Architecture from the Colegio de Architectos, Madrid, the Gold Medal from the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Prince of Wales Prize in Urban Design from Harvard University, and the European Architectural Award from the EEC/Mies van der Rohe Foundation, Barcelona. In 1992, he was awarded the prestigious Pritzker Prize from the Hyatt Foundation of Chicago, for lifetime achievement. That same year, Siza was also named Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Valencia. In 1993, he won the National Prize of Architecture from the Portuguese Architects Association and was named Doctor Honoris Causa at the Ecole Polytechnique Federal de Lausanne. In 1996, he received the honorary title of Fellow, American Institute of Architects.

In May 1996, a major retrospective of Siza’s work opened in his home town of Matosinhos. “Alvara Siza-Buildings and Projects” included models of many of the architect’s projects since 1980, as well as pieces of his furniture, drawings, sketches, and photographs. Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio attended the exhibit’s opening ceremonies. The show, which was scheduled to travel to Tenerife, Sardinia, Brussels, Brazil, and the United States, was expected to draw more than 150, 000 people.

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1996 Church of Macro de Canaveses

Posted on 01 May 2009 by Alvaro


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igreja2Av. Dr. Manuel Pereira Soares 10 4630

Marco de Canaveses Portugal

The Church for Marco of Canaveses, is only a part of a religious complex that foresees an auditorium, the catechesis school and the house for the parish priest. The Santa Maria Church in Marco de Canavezes is part of an overall complex that, together with a planned Parish Center, will form a small urban square.It was the parish priest Father Nuno Higino’s personal decision to call on Siza, and to invest himself fully in this very ambitious project.
The proposed plan by Alvaro Siza, with the church playing a central role, will ensure that the other buildings will be in concordance with the pre-existing scale of the neighbourhood. The façade (17.5 x 17.5 square meter ) is in three sections with two projecting towers. The 10 meter high temporary grey steel doors will eventually be replaced by bronze doors. “The visit to the place already chosen had disturbed myself deeply: it was a very difficult place, with great quota differences, lofty to a highway with a lot of traffic. As if it was not enough, that area was marked by buildings of terrible quality.

The construction of this parochial center is also the construction of a place, in substitution of a scarp very accentuated. The church pronounces in two levels: a superior, of the assembly, and an inferior, of the mortuary chapel. As they show the access courses to the two quotas, they are decisively two spaces with different characteristics. The mortuary chapel is almost the foundation of the own church: it creates a stable quota, it fastens, so that the church can lean on. Besides, with their granite walls and the monastery, it establishes the distance in relation to the highway. This inhabited platform owed therefore to appear as “built nature.” But it is also very important the placement, in face of the main access, of the parochial center and of the parish priest’s residence. These volumes define a great “U” that opposes to a small “u” formed by the two towers, the one of the steeple and the one of the baptistery. It appears, like this, the necessary space for the great vertical volume of the facade. At the same time, it becomes possible a relationship with the constructions of small climbs that surround this acropolis. Like this, the churchyard is demarcated.

The initial reference was a construction that already existed, a residence for the third age, of a correct and ordinated architecture , located in the superior quota of the scarp and with a very significant extension in relation to the highway. Starting from this new level, everything else went pronouncing, resisting the complexity of the existent constructions and allowing the creation of a churchyard finally, open on the beautiful worth of Marco de Canaveses. Let us hope that new constructions don’t come her to lean on the terrible ones that already exist and stay opened, that is essential.

The great door of the church, with its ten meters of height, should exist in relation to this vast view. The entrance is made, usually, through a glass door, under the right tower, while the big door is only open in special circumstances. After the lateral movement of entrance, the perception of a low and long window, on the right side, that allows the view to the exterior. In that instant, if it doesn’t seat the diffuse light that arrives of the high openings in the wall curves and sloping to the, left: They see each other, still and immediately, it is worth it and the constructions in front. The window contradicts the withdrawal atmosphere that are habituated at a church and for this reason it generated controversy. The same with the placement of the statue of the Virgin, that is almost as high as the followers and is not agrees in pedestal. Though surprisingly, a theologian, very dear in Porto eulogized the respect for the actuais beginnings of the liturgy, that accentuate the function of mediation of the Virgin between God and the men and by consequence among men. Is facto the statue of Our Lady has an intermediate position: put in the extremity of the window and submited to a very intense light, it introduces the space of the altar, that who enters doesn’t notice immediately. Three steps elevate the plan of the celebration, that ended with two doors, for which enters clear light, filtered by a high chimney. This disposition dialogues with the light bath on the curve forms of the lateral limits of the apse and on the space of the church in general.

The natural illumination varies with the time, depending on the position of the sun, and it is going from the projection of the drawing of the ray of light to the silence of the aspersion: a great interval, rigorous and tangible. The assembly of all of the elements is, evidently, coherent. Though this order, characterized by some existent contradictions, it was built in a slow and laborious way. There were not pré-defined ideas, given by priori. What is now readable is the result of the decantation of certain reflections of the space, today so difficult, of the church. This difficulty is because of the a series of important alterations in the liturgy: think of the celebration of the mass, that now finds the priest turned to the assembly. Such a change transforms the carácter of the celebration entirely and it annuls the sense of traditional space organization, in their several forms and in its slow and permanent evolution. At the same time, this new condition doesn’t justify the interpretation of the church as auditorium. Almost all of the recent projects doesn’t deepen this aspect properly. It was indispensable, consequently, a reflection of the conditions, we could say functional, of the space of the church. However the discussions with the theologians put in evidence the contradiction that involves the several interpretations today. And so it is an unstable program, still to be solved. Though it was evident the need to create a projection of the celebrant, a communion with the assembly, without, unavoidably, if it created its own distance of any auditorium. For this reason I proposed, for the apse, curvatures no longer concave but convex. It is also in this case not a pré-conceived idea, immediately derived of the variation of the liturgy: it is an intuition, born of a series of demands, among the ones which the need to conserve the relationship among the objects and the movements that are part of the celebration.

In the space around the altar a series of elements that participate in the ritual exist: the pulpit, the own altar, the tabernacle, the chairs of the celebrants and the cross, the ones which slowly took form and they defined the space later, in the respect for the movements, pré-established, of the mass. Like this the church acquired form as a sculpture in negative, in which it went establishing continuity relationships and tension among several parts. The plan of the course that, in the inferior floor, links the exterior to the mortuary chapel is the result of the study of what happens in these spaces. It was decisive, in the reality, the knowledge of the meaning of the funeral in the area of Minho.

When I visited the wonderful crematory cemetery of the Dutch arquitecto Pieter Oud, I had the possibility to attend a funereal cerimony I verified that the atmosphere and the relationship of the people are decisively different from what happens in Portugal.

Here, during the funeral, the family and the close friends are very close to the deceased, while many other people, like neighbors stayed at a certain distance, naturally with smaller pain and emotion. It became necessary a sequence of spaces with different characteristics.

Also for this reason I thought of a monastery, in which the people would smoke, talk or eventually, why not, talk of businesses: it is a way to react to that certain discomfort at the encounter, so direct, with the problem of death. This reacção to the pain is not, for instance, in the funerals in Holland, during which it dominates the total silence. The monastery is followed by a first gallery, quite wide, marked by the entrance door, the wall curves and goes down by the apse. Few meters ahead it open up, to the left, another gallery that has, in the bottom, a vertical window from where you can see the highway again. I don’t know what is the connection between this window and the horizontal window of the superior level, but I have faith that the vertical position of the one that is in bass, in the embasament is owed in search of the necessary sensation of the weight, of the gravity. The course finishes at the mortuary chapel, that communicates with the first gallery thanks to a horizontal window.

The people that are in the interior have, the perception of the ones that enter or leave, exactamente as it happens in the superior level, it finishes like an opening that allows the view of the monastery. One returns then, once again, to the starting point, with the noise of the water of a source. In the yard is imposed with private relief the presence of a stairway, that leads again to the superior level. In this project, the unit is checked by the courses that finish in the starting point, circularly. The final sensation is really of a closed place, well delimited.

It always impressed me the obsessive invitation to the meditation that we feel in most of the churches. In fact the openings are frequently put to such height to doesn’t allow look at the exterior, at the same time that the use of the stained glass windows eliminates the continuity and the transparency. ON the other hand, I think that the recent modifications in the liturgy contrast with this vision of closed and segregated space. When I began to study the program, I quickly understood the enormous reach of this rupture in the secular continuity of the tradition. Though I think that this aspect doesn’t have any parallel one in the real life of the Church, in the relationship between the church and the society. For this reason, and in spite of the necessary adaptations, I tried to preserve the continuity with the tradition. And so, observing the carácter of this church sincerely, it seems evident that its conception is substantially conservative. This intention emerges with clarity of the drawing of the plant that in fact expresses a rigid axialidade.

Contextualy, the verticality of the interior is very strong. In fact, in spite of the ship being ofasquare section, the articulation certain elements, such as the two openings behind the altar, it gives the sence of elevation. Several discussions would come to reinforce this continuity idea with the canonic espaciality . The theologians’ pieces of advice were constant and decisive. And so for instance, the baptistery, initially put beside the altar, was later deviated close to the entrance, so that announced the presence of the assembly. Besides, once of the procession of the celebrants has to travel the longitudinal axis of the church, it became necessary the presence of a door, in the wall it curves.

The ritual of the celebration demands, evidently, certain options in the treatment of the space and in the organization of the courses. On some of the interior walls tile was used. It was necessary a resistant baseboard, that obviated the problems of the cleaning and of the maintenance. In the first moment I had thought wasn’t the best about a covering in wood. But this choice soon I thought, because it would have annulled the verticality of the wall and overcoat because the reflection of the light would have been inadequate.Then I thought then about the tile that, produced artistically, conserves a surface slightly irregular; that allows peculiar reflexes of light, while the committees, that are left empty, manifest a sensitive presence.

The continuity with tow and the unit of the color is cut for that presence and for those reflexes. In a first phase, the tile flanked the whole church; then, the wall curves to arrive at the soil, the solution the problem of contact with the doors, was its limited use. One of the objectives that one could not abdicate consisted exactly in avoiding that the details were so evident that it competed with the structure of the space. I worked intensely in the relationship, encounter and transition of the materials. The tile has the function of solving the problem of the continuity, lessening the existent ruptures. The way to solve the problem of the continuity. Lessening the existent ruptures. The way which these three materials are linked - wood, tile and tow - is very special, and there are probably things, that I cannot describe, that appeared to me by the experience of the space, during the construction. In the chapel baptismal I have intention of drawing - inside the wall of the access - illustrations with about six meters of height, deformed according to the perspective. These characters, that together represent Christ’s baptismo, they are of a decisive importance, in this space exceptional, high and narrow, and they will be stylized in way the one that don’t result excessive. They will have a very strong presence, in a dark blue or in black, in way they emphasize her/it in the white tile. I already finished the drawings, but I didn’t have courage of giving begin to the accomplishment: I still have need of time.

The elements that should be drawn are still many.

The own cross was only put after the inauguration. In a first phase I had thought about a cross in wood, with a work of the outlines not very well defined and with volumes, that suggested Christ’s illustration. Then the drawing passed by many other phases, much more simplified, to define, finally, in a cross in that, in the encounter between vertical and horizontal, in the form of the vertical and in the vibrations of the wood, it is immediately evident the human presence. Now I want to cover it with a sheet of gold. The cross was put in a position sincerely gaged, close to the altar, and with light. The sheet gold will give, then, a larger dematerialization and, not demanding protagonism, will react imprevisivelmente with the space. Returning to the exterior, it is noticed a solid presence of the granite that, in this area, is one of the most important elements in the landscape, in the Nature and in the construction. In this project, the platform in granite appears as necessary counterpoint to the lightness and a great geometric conciseness of the white volume. In some hours of the day the church almost seems it dematerializes: some times it seems to disappear, other times in other occasions, it almost stands out violently. And so it was necessary a base that arrested it to the soil.

I had already been in Turkey, where I had studied the Pré-Columbus constructions, that evidently left the mark in certain volumes so accentuated.

Completion 10-1996
Floor area/size 3477 m2
Architect Alvaro Siza Vieira
Associate architect Edite Rosa
Structural engineer Eng. João Maria Sobreira
Services engineer Raul Serafim & Associados
Structural engineer Humberto Vieira
Structural engineer João Araújo Sobreira
Structural engineer Jorge Silva
Services engineer José Sousa Guedes
Associate architect Rolando Torgo
Client Parochial Centre of Marco de Canavezes
Project ID 1122
Latitude/Longitude 41°11′02N -9°51′07E

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