Alvaro Siza: Five Thoughts on Design Culture

Pritzker laureate Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza (b. 06/25/1933) is the most poetic of the modernists. He is not afraid of globalization, teaches us to listen to people’s desires and encourages us to think better about the future.

About culture and globalization I am often told that globalization will destroy the identity of each country, including in architecture. I don’t really believe in it. Portugal had already been influenced by India and China once – in the 16th century – but this did not deprive it of its own vision. Moreover, then, thanks to India and China, a completely special, recognizable silhouette of Portuguese cities was created. They did not die, but developed and were reborn. And now we no longer perceive that architecture as a threat. Culture now, as then, balances on the brink of preserving its own uniqueness and adapting to new trends. It’s a difficult balance, but a healthy one.

Alvaro Siza, together with Carlos Castanhaira, created an exhibition complex in the Korean province of North Gyeongsang as part of the project of the vast Saya art park.

About the ability to talk about more  Even before the moment when I receive all the necessary information about a new project, I begin to make sketches based on the parameters that I have. Even if I know that in the process everything will change beyond recognition. I usually have assistants who take photographs of the area for future construction, this data ends up in the computer – and I immediately start trying on all my craziest ideas. Of course, things have to change later as we learn more about the details of the project. But you still can’t do without this creative flight of thought. Otherwise, architecture will turn into a solution to one specific problem (for example, fitting into a place) and will lose the ability to talk about more.

International Design Museum on the campus of the Chinese Academy of Arts in Hangzhou. Project by Alvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira.

About the importance of looking ahead It amazes me how architects design cities and buildings without taking into account the future development of the place. For example, when it comes to calculating the width of streets in relatively poor villages and towns, it is necessary to assume that the settlement may not always be poor. And what needs to be taken into account is how residents will get cars and park them, and that the roadway needs to be made wider so that cars can pass each other. We must look at least 10 years ahead because it is so obvious. When high-rise buildings are built without sufficient parking spaces, it is a crime. 

About the feeling of elbow room The most important thing for an architect is to notice not only how people live, but how they want to live. If we proceed only from the conditions that are available to people at the moment, a qualitative leap in the urban environment will never happen. The architect’s task is to understand and capture the desires and moods of people. There should not be a big gap between those who design and those who will live in this building.   

Reconstruction of the National Museum of Sculpture in Santo Tirso. Project by Alvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura. A marble staircase with a skylight leads to the second floor.

About good education If there are white boxes all around, and the task is to build a church, you need to work so that the church looks appropriate in this architecture, and not imitate pseudo-historical models. There is no other way to achieve distinction from surrounding buildings than by mindlessly using clichés. Use volumes of other geometric shapes, for example, leaving the color white, as in most houses. 

Photo:Fernando Guerra | FG+SG, provided by press services

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