“Every design,” says Siza, “is a rigorous attempt at capturing a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances. The extent to which this transitory quality is captured comes through in the designs which will be more or less clear: the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”
While working on a sizable office building design for Porto, Siza discounted any possibility of blending the new building by imitating its surroundings. The area was too important since it was between the historic center of the city and a bridge that has great significance because it was built by Eiffel in 1866.
He explained, “We have gone beyond the stage whereby unity of language was believed to be the universal solution for architectural problems. Recognizing that complexity is the nature of the city, transformational movements take on very different forms.”
Siza, whose full name is Alvaro Joaquim de Meio Siza Vieira, was born on June 25, 1933 in the small coastal town of Matosinhos in the mountainous north of Portugal, a country where it is said that every summit has the Atlantic Ocean as the horizon. Matosinhos is near Porto, an important seaport built on the site of an ancient Roman settlement Portus Cole from which the name Portugal was derived.
Siza studied at the University of Porto School of Architecture from 1949 through 1955, completing his first built work (four houses in Matosinhos) even before ending his studies in 1954, the same year that he first opened his private practice in Porto.
In recent years, he has received Gold Medals and other honors from numerous Foundations and Societies in Europe, including what is considered to be Europe’s highest architectural honor from the Mies van der Rohe Foundation and the European Economic Community. The latter award was for his 1982-86 project, the Borges & Irmao Bank in Vila do Conde, Portugal.
In the United States in 1988, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design recognized Siza for his Malagueira Quarter Housing Project in Evora, Portugal that began in 1977, presenting him with the Prince of Wales Prize.
The government of Evora, in 1977 following the revolution in Portugal, commissioned Siza to plan a housing project in the rural outskirts of the town. It was to be one of several that he would do for SAAL, the national housing association, consisting of 1200 low-cost, single family row house units, some one-story and some two-story units, all with courtyards.
In 1966, Siza began teaching at the University, and in 1976 was made a Professor of Architecture. In addition to his teaching there, he has been a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania; Los Andes University of Bogota; and the Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne.
In addition, he has been a guest lecturer at many universities and conferences throughout the world, from the United States, Colombia and Argentina in the Western Hemisphere to his neighboring Spain, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and England in Europe.
Recently completed projects in Portugal include mass housing in Evora, a new High School of Education in Setubal, a new School of Architecture for Porto University, a Modern Art Museum for Porto, the rebuilding of a burned area of Lisbon, a new Library for Aveiro University.
In Berlin, his competition winning entry for an apartment building, Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, was recently completed. He has won numerous other competitions including the renovation of Compo di Marte in Venice, the renewal of the Casino and Cafe Winkler, Salzburg, and the cultural centre of the Ministry of Defense in Madrid, Spain. The Meteorological Centre for the Olympic Village in Barcelona is also nearing completion.
The range of Siza’s work is from swimming pools to mass housing developments, with residences for individuals, banks, office buildings, restaurants, art galleries, shops, virtually every other kind of structure in between.
Quoting from Casabella magazine, July 1986, the correspondent concludes that Siza insists on continuous experimentation. “Precisely for this reason his architecture can communicate to us an extraordinary sense of freedom and freshness; in it one clearly reads the unfolding of an authentic design adventure. In accepting the risks of such adventure, Alvaro Siza has even been able to bring to the surface, in his architecture, what one feared was in danger of extinction: the heroic spirit of modern architecture.”