By Eva Bjerring
Álvaro Joaquim de Melo Siza Vieira or better known as Álvaro Siza, is perhaps the most renowned Portuguese architect of the 20th century. Siza’s profile is embedded within the Modern movement, yet he maintains an approach that is both subjective and unconventional.
Born in 1933 and raised in the coastal town of Matosinhos just north of Porto, Álvaro Siza studied at the University of Porto School of Architecture and upon graduating in 1955 established his private practice. In 1966, Siza was offered a teaching position at the university, and by 1976 became a tenured Professor of Architecture. However, it was not until the 1980’s that Siza garnered attention from the international spotlight.
Siza’s continuous experimentation communicates a sense of freedom within modern architecture. His work spans across boundaries, from mass housing developments, to swimming pools, single dwellings, banks, restaurants, and art galleries.
In addition to the cultural and social issues of architecture, geography and climate are of deep significance to Siza’s mindset. His concepts and designs do not have a pre-established language nor does he intend to develop one. He stated that his designs are, “a response to a concrete problem, a situation in transformation in which I participate”.
Following Portugal’s independence from the dictatorship of the Salazar regime in 1974, Álvaro Siza would enter a defining moment in his career. Álvaro Siza was commissioned by SAAL (servicio de apoio ambulatorio local), the national housing association, to plan a housing project in the rural outskirts of Evora. Siza’s attempt of integrating the demands of low cost housing with the affinity of Portugal’s recent events captures a delicate tension.
Other works in Portugal include the new College of Education in Setubal, Porto’s Serralves Foundation Contemporary Art Museum, the rebuilding of the Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon (damaged by fire in 1988), the library at Aveiro University. In other parts of Europe his projects include the Schlesisches Tor apartment building in Berlin, the renovation of Campo di Marte in Venice, the Ministry of Defense in Madrid, and the Meteorological Centre in Barcelona for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Siza has continued to be a visiting professor and guest lecturer throughout the world, from the United States, Colombia, Argentina, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, and England. He has received honors from the Alvar Aalto Foundation (1988 Gold Medal), the Mies van der Rohe Award for the Borges & Irmao Bank in Vila do Conde, Portugal (1986), and was the first recipient of the Veronica Rudge Green Prize (or Prince of Wales Prize of Urban Design) presented by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design , for the housing project in Evora.