CURTIS, W., Álvaro Siza. Obras y proyectos. Electa-CGAC, 1995

Siza, the unclassifiable master

This far into his career, very few people would dare to question the Portuguese master, Álvaro Siza, as a staple architectural reference for the 20th and 21st century.

The Mies van der Rohe Award, the Pritzker Award, the RIBA Royal Gold Medal… Álvaro Siza is a collector of the best awards that an architect can aspire to, thanks to a style which has permitted him to project architectural icons in every decade from the fifties until modern day.

He has been categorized as a minimalist, essentialist, contextualist, rationalist, pragmatic… all of which only prove that he is impossible to classify. Álvaro Siza is just as minimalist as Mies van der Rohe was and he is just as much a rationalist as Adolf Loos. He is as much a contextualist as Távora or Alvar Aalto and he is equally as pragmatic as Wright or Le Corbusier.

Because he is all of them.

Álvaro Siza was Távora in the fifties to ennoble the traditional Portuguese architecture and provide it with a halo of permanent modernism in his Casa de Chà (Tea House) in Boa Nova. Shortly afterwards he was Aalto in the sixties in achieving that architecture and its surroundings were one in the same, with his Piscinas das Mares en Leça de Palemira, generating a landscape constructed of light and diffused limits.

When Portugal opened itself up to the world after the Claveles Revolution, Álvaro Siza was Le Corbusier in the seventies for traveling and getting to know history so that he could then transform it with his social apartments of SAAL.

Álvaro Siza was Adolf Loos towards the end of the eighties showing FAUP – the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto – from a rationalism very essentialist and also disinterested in artifice.

In the decade of the nineties, Álvaro Siza returned to be the Távora of contextualism and the Aalto of tradition to project the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporáneo (Galician Center of Contemporary Art – 1993). He didn’t wait long to afterwards become another version of Le Corbusier, yet this time more purist and more pragmatic which allowed him to design a religious space completely laden with symbolism and light as seen in his Iglesia de Santa Maria en Marco de Canaveçes (1996). Then, in 1998, he finished once again being the most minimalist Mies van der Rohe with his Pabellón de Portugal for the Expo de Lisboa.

In the first decade of the 21st century, Álvaro Siza was Frank Lloyd Wright  to be able to turn himself fully organic in his design of the Fundación Ibere Camargo, whose formal syncretisms, without doubt, recall the Guggenheim of New York.

Fundación Ibere Camargo, Álvaro Siza. Photo: Fernando Guerra

Museo Guggenheim Solomon R., Frank Lloyd Wright

Museo Guggenheim Solomon R., Frank Lloyd WrightAnd as if all this were not already a lot, the path of Siza has also taken him to momentarily be Bruno Zevi for his organic architecture; he has been José Antonio Coderch for his constructive honesty and for his defense of conciliating tradition and progress based on learning from popular architecture; he has been Luis Barragán given that, as William Curtis said, “Siza proved various times that he was, in the same was as Barragán, one of the few modern architects capable of creating a purely architectural place.”1

He has also been Louis I. Kahn all the time to study, understand, and be capable of modeling natural light as a construction material, managing it to serve the constructed space.

Álvaro Siza has been all of these masters and many others during the seven decades leading up to be Álvaro Siza. It is precisely for this reason that in the upcoming decades he will stop being everyone else to be simply himself.

Or maybe, even easier to believe, is that he has simply been Álvaro Siza, he has been himself all along.

Text translated by: Kaitlyn P. Delaney
Notas de página

CURTIS, W., Álvaro Siza. Obras y proyectos. Electa-CGAC, 1995

Arquitecto formado en la U. Europea de Madrid y la New School of Architecture and Design de San Diego (California, USA). | MArch bajo la docencia de Álvaro Siza, E. Souto de Moura, Aires Mateus, Carlos Ferrater o Fran Silvestre (con quien ha colaborado) entre otros. | Actualmente desarrolla su Tesis Doctoral sobre la materialidad de la luz natural y su carácter cinético en la obra de Siza, lo cual compagina con el trabajo del estudio (www.raulgarcia-studio.com)

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