Strangely enough, Siza and Souto de Moura also live in the same building, a block designed by the latter.


A Kind of Magic

It’s Sunday. I arrived early so I decide to wait for a few minutes in the street. After a short wait, a taxi turns into Rua do Aleixo and pulls up in front of number 53, where I’m standing. The door opens and Álvaro Siza gets out. He’s slow of movement but still agile for an 85-year-old. He agreed to receive me in his studio, and suggested Sunday “because the studio is quiet, and we can talk  better”.

The taxi driver takes his leave with an ‘Obrigado, Maestro’ – Siza is often said to be the only living Portuguese person known outside Portugal apart from Cristiano Ronaldo. By the time he closes the car door, and without giving me time to see where it came from, he’s already got a lighted cigarette between his lips.

He invites me to go in with him through the garage door leading straight to the lift.

The studio is in a building Siza designed himself, and which also houses the studios of Souto de Moura and Fernando Távora (who’s now been relieved by his son, José Bernardo Távora). Siza’s own son once had a studio here, too.

Interestingly, the layout of these studios, either by chance or design, is totally hierarchical: the maestro Távora’s is above that of his disciple Siza, and Siza’s is in turn one floor higher than that of Eduardo Souto de Moura1.

We go into the studio. Inside, this too has a hierarchical distribution. Siza’s study is in the middle, forming an atomic nucleus around which everything else revolves. At the sides there are two large work zones.

Siza offers me a cup of coffee – which, to my surprise , he prepares himself – and, after sitting down and pulling across the ashtray, he invites me to start a conversation for which he’s stipulated no conditions whatsoever.

The once bustling studio is now much more peaceful. Depending on the period, the number of people working here varies between five and ten: there’s the person in charge of the archives (donated in 2014 to the Serralves Museum in Porto, the Fundación Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal), Siza’s secretary Anabela, the IT technician, the cleaning lady, architects, interns … The different projects are coordinated by the staff architects, putting into practice Siza’s sketches and ideas. Perhaps the most important part of the studio is the collection of models.  Models are made in all scales for each project, covering everything from the surroundings to interior details. Together with the sketches, they constitute the most useful instrument for Siza: he’s a creator who seems to think with his hands.  The models fill the left-hand area of the studio, while the right-hand side is occupied by computers. The walls are covered with sketches and, here and there, plan drawings. Each drawing is dated, digitised and archived.  Siza’s notebooks, always with those trademark black covers, are also stored away in strict chronological order.

Siza doesn’t compete in tender processes anymore because “if you have work you can’t spare the time that’s needed, and it interferes with other projects already underway”.

He often walks around the studio as if he were alone, seemingly lost in his thoughts and making ironic comments or joking with whichever member of his team happens to be there, exercising his peculiar sense of humour.

And then he sits down at his desk, silence fills the room and the master begins to draw, as if he were a medium in a trance.  His hands seem to take on a life of their own, one clenching the perennial cigarette and the other caressing the paper in what seems a totally random manner. The result, like Queen’s song from 1986, ‘is a kind of magic’.

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página

Strangely enough, Siza and Souto de Moura also live in the same building, a block designed by the latter.

Arquitecto por 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 entre otros. | Doctor Sobresaliente Cum Laude por la U. Politécnica de Valencia. Actualmente compagina la actividad investigadora con el trabajo del estudio (www.raulgarcia-studio.com)

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