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Ensemble of Álvaro Siza's Architecture Works in Portugal

Date of Submission: 31/01/2017
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Porto, Lisboa, Évora, Aveiro, Oliveira de Azeméis, Marco de Canavezes, Évora, Campo Maior, Leça da Palmeira, Matosinhos, Póvoa de Varzim, Vila do Conde, Ovar, Setúbal
Ref.: 6224
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The architectural work of Álvaro Siza Vieira is exceptional and of universal value for an ever-growing number of reasons which overlap in unusual fashion. They make him one of the protagonists of contemporary architecture. His architecture is unmistakable, specific, and incomparable. The integrity and the physical, esthetic, and historical characteristics of his work make it an example of unmatched authenticity and genuineness. The universal and exceptional value of his work is the result of that ensemble of characteristics and qualities.

Description of the property

The work of ASV has been ongoing for over 50 years, consecutively and uninterruptedly. It has crossed two forms of government in Portugal, and has received public recognition. The quality of his work is evident, and it has maintained the compositional coherence and the unalterable direction of his beautiful, sober, dry and clean-cut (but simultaneously complex) architecture. 

The work of ASV goes through several fashion eras and paths that followed the modern movement, without ever straying from the theme and the compositional process that characterize it.

“The quality of Siza Vieira’s work goes beyond the astonishing realization there is so much talent growing (albeit grievously) within one of the most provincial backgrounds in Europe, poor in recent architectural tradition, and socio-politically backward and reactionary. Nor do I believe his work ought to be forcefully read as a mere reflection of the severity, poverty and humiliation that has built the silent humanity of the Portuguese people; even if this is quite clear in Siza’s work. I believe his architecture deserves the risk, which one always wants to avoid, of the encounter with the contradictions of a concrete subjectivity. Not in an intimate dimension but in the one of the history of its relationships with the world around it, of the small work occurrences, of the many disappointments and exclusions, of the difficulties in understanding the part of the context that lead to uncompensated isolation; (as in the time of international vanguard) by a high-level solidarity. And also his patient and profound passion, full of trepidation for architecture: he found a place, surely interior, but adjusts with his hands the quality of the margins despite knowing what is essential is elsewhere: on the right, on the left, upwards: outside.”

Vittorio Gregotti, Architect, Professor of Architecture at the University of Venice – Italy.

The architect is alive, healthy, and working. He is aware of the relevance of his work and collection to understand and to study architecture. At this moment the security and preservation of his work for future study are guaranteed:

“It is my desire that so many years of work can become useful in many ways, as a contribution to the research and debate on architecture, particularly in Portugal and with a perspective opposed to isolation – as it is already taking place today and this is indispensable.”

In this context, ASV has recently decided to donate his archive to “three institutions of recognized standing, value and importance. They offer a guarantee of preservation, study and promotion” of the collection: two Portuguese institutions, the Gulbenkian and Serralves foundations, which already have the experience, quality and capacity to develop or enlarge their respective archives, and a foreign institution, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), in Montréal, “an institution of unmatched experience and prestige with a sustained series of activities”, which is “recognized for its experience in the preservation and presentation of international archives”, in his own words. CCA, which will care for “a large portion” of the archive, was chosen because it will make it “accessible alongside the work of other modern and contemporary architects”. CCA is one of the world’s foremost international architecture institutions and already possesses archives from other renowned architects such as Aldo Rossi, Peter Eisenman or James Stirling. In addition, Siza himself has ensured that CCA “will be open to collaborate with Gulbenkian Foundation and Serralves Foundation to establish a consistent cataloguing system and to share the research and related programming”.

Besides the restricted domain of architecture, ASV moves around effortlessly in the world of design (he draws for almost every one of his mobile projects and other utilitarian pieces such as lighting; he was asked to create a specific glass for Port Wine) and sculpture. ASV wanted to be a sculptor when he was younger, and this is an interesting dimension in his work.

The Ensemble of Álvaro Siza's Architecture Works in Portugal was selected taking into account the typological, temporal and geographical diversity and the representativeness of his vast work, according to the nature and characteristics stated here.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Besides the numerous projects all over Portugal that encompass all architecture areas (individual housing; group housing; neighborhoods and city areas; various buildings – banks, wine cellars and enotourism, sports and multipurpose pavilions, restaurants, swimming pools and health resorts, museums, schools, universities, libraries and churches; urban renewal and rehabilitation; town-planning), ASV has also done important work all over the world.

In a single project, the architecture of ASV is able to congregate, allude and epitomize, in its conception processes, every period of architecture, from the Renaissance (rigor, discipline and the erudite interpretation of classical culture); Mannerism (the cultivated manner with which he revisits and reinterprets that classical culture); Baroque (the movement and the sensuality of the curve); Rationalism and Modern Movement (the decorative heritage, the radical simplicity, the subtle use of the materials in their natural state, without the harshness and rigidity of some of his drawing); and Postmodernism (because he subtly models and goes around the static compositional rigidity of the Modern Movement, introducing all the classical influences aforementioned, and some degree of provocation as well).

Keneth Frampton, in Poesía y transformacion: La arquitectura de Álvaro Siza, describes Casa Avelino Duarte (1980-84) in Ovar as a “modest suburban house that Siza transforms into a small palace, with a unique expression, combining the necessary feeling of intimacy with the character of an aristocratic and upper bourgeoisie grandiosity, which one seldom finds in a contemporary house.”

 Keneth Frampton says he finds in Siza’s work “something paradoxically distant from Portuguese culture”, namely “an almost oriental taste that simultaneously evokes Islam and Shintoism”, as well as “references of archaic and Mediterranean character, of Cretan derivation, almost.”

 “I have always had the impression that Álvaro Siza’s architecture is based on the archeological logic of the architecture of old, which he knows and can interpret in unique fashion.” Vittorio Gregotti.

The architecture of ASV goes beyond the modern movement when it incorporates volumes, rhythms, and asymmetrical shapes in the rigor and symmetry of its outlines (as the church of Marco de Canavezes and Escola de Educação de Setúbal), curves (banks in Oliveira de Azeméis and Vila do Conde, Casa Duarte in Ovar), illusions (the lake of Adega Mayor, where a perspective illusion artificially prolongs its dimension, making an allusion to mannerism) and some degree of provocation.

In fact, Siza is a (the) post-modernist because he was able to renovate and reinterpret Modernism, creating a genuine and original method of composing in architecture, coherently revisiting and summarizing styles, trends, and ways of creating architecture during a period (between two world wars and going into the 80s) of profound social, political and esthetic changes. All this is plainly added by his imprint and his method, deeply rooted in the rigorous manner with which he interprets places, programs and the “time” of each situation.

“I say there are two things we need to think about. First, it is not just the drawing or the potential relations that are established that signify the renovation of an area. It is the initiatives that we try and are able to capture. It is also time. An area, rich in centuries of activity, overlapped by interventions, by patina, actually disappoints the person in charge of the project after it has been recuperated. Me, in this instance. When I would stroll there, after all was finished, everything clean, I would still remember that complexity of the Chiado area. But I would always think: ‘Of course! It is that other far better architect, which is time’. And, in fact, time is working and introducing what complexity is, what the ideas that spring up are. And I am truly satisfied in that regard.” 

His importance is recognized nationally and internationally. He has received the most important national and international honors and awards (Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1992), and there is an extensive bibliography on him, authored by some of the most important art and architecture critics in the world (Moneo, Gregotti, Frampton, Oriol Bohigas, among others) who have systematically studied, researched and analyzed his work.

 He is the founder of many “trends” and “mannerisms” which attempt to comment and recreate his work. He has followers and has influenced young architects all over the world, with his way and method of doing architecture.

ASV has been the object of extensive scientific research for national and international master and doctoral theses, which recognize and validate all the merit and quality of his architectural production. Furthermore, he has also taught in several national and international schools of architecture (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the University of Pennsylvania, Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Harvard University, among others). He has been conferred the title of Honoris Causa Doctor by 18 national and foreign universities.

Criterion (i): The works of ASV considered are masterpieces that have been selected from an extensive collection which encompasses all of his work in Portugal. They cover a period of roughly 50 years, crossing two antagonistic forms of government (dictatorship and the shift to democracy in 1974), and integrate and epitomize the esthetic and philosophical principles of the Modern Movement, from its origin to the development and metamorphoses currently taking place. The singularity of his work also lies in the fact he was able to epitomize and incorporate these esthetic and architectural principles with the traditional Portuguese knowledge of construction (materials and techniques). For these reasons, the work of ASV, represented by this diversified collection of works, is a singular example of the human creative genius. The work of ASV in Portugal has reached a global dimension, making him an international reference among the most important architects worldwide during the whole period in which he has been active. Even today, at the age of 80, AVS continues on his creative path, ever unstoppable and ever surprising.

Criterion (ii):
 ASV epitomizes, integrates and merges in his work the internationalist influences of the modern movement, with classical tradition, geometrical rigor, traditional architecture and the respect for the location, the landscape, and humanity as main elements. These human values, clearly identified and recognizable in his work, enlighten the universal dimension of his contribution to progress and to the improvement of architecture and town-planning.

Criterion (iv):
 The work of ASV, in the way it epitomizes and merges several currents and esthetic principles, along with the traditional component of techniques and knowledge, always with the objective of respecting humanity as a user, and the places as the constructive background, has given a priceless contribution by clarifying the esthetic and architectural symbolic impasse that was created between modernism and post-modernism. In other words, it was created between the historical period of the social and political movements of the early century and the period that started with the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the hegemony of global capitalism.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The architecture of ASV adds a sublime and radical (in the literal sense of root) way of understanding places where it is projected. The buildings, their ways and connections to their surroundings, are the object of careful preparation, by studying the characteristics of backgrounds where they will be planted, “in a constant effort to complete rather than destroy the geological structure of the place” (Vittorio Gregotti). Just as Siza has mentioned several times, “architects do not invent anything; they transform reality”.

Nothing comes about when it is experienced individually, but always in relation to its connections, its contiguities, in the sequence of the events that leads to that experience, to the memory of previous experiences. Afterwards, the same process sinks in the exterior and the execution is first and foremost the modification and potential of the existing context, as it is possible to recognize there the physical condition of the place and of the environment (and its temporal dimension, i.e., in this case, historical), elements with which the architect has discussed the project, at length.

 Vittorio Gregotti.

ASV uses materials in erudite fashion, and integrates in his “archaically austere” architecture traditional Portuguese materials and construction techniques, (the wood in the tea house and the thin frames in the Beires house, the guillotine windows, the zinc in roof casings and various details, the tiles (baldosas) and terracotta bricks, the Viúva Lamego tiles in Pavilhão de Portugal, the partitions, the Portuguese stones in most of his works) side by side with several and subtle citations of “international” solutions like the large outside glazing of the bank in Oliveira de Azeméis, among others.

He uses drawing in the finishing and in the coatings, with exquisite minimalism in the details, inventing trims, connections and transitions in the materials in coatings, steps, skirting boards, gratins and other construction solutions, with exclusive solutions, at times, provocative, irreverent, surprising and “good-natured”. This particularity is significant and specific in its work, and originates in the “know-read” and “know-how” of our artists and artisans, which makes the finishing surprisingly familiar. Other compositional and construction solutions are also characteristics of ASV: the lintels in some balustrades or in sequences of pillars, (in Escola Superior de Educação de Setúbal): a squared profile centered on a beam; it is an irreprehensible solution and classically sober. However, by slightly rotating the element, he maintains the “classicism” and the simplicity of the drawing, but creates a subtle movement, invisible, unnoticed, baroque, cheerful or manneristic, of somebody, who despite knowing the rules, challenges them, delicately transgressing them. These are the details that distinguish singular architectures. As if they were the fragrance and sound of architecture. They are feelings felt by the users even though they are unaware of the compositional processes. ASV is able to do social, economic architecture, with elementary means, overcoming the enormous difficulty of doing it well with little means available. This process, simple but complex, is only within the reach of great masters.

ASV understands, interprets and intentionally uses in the benefit of the solutions the importance of time in the consolidation of the spaces in architecture.

“As much as time and people change cities, there are marks that, if we can read them, will linger and can give consistency to the projects.” (ASV)

All these characteristics, material, esthetical and technical, are integrally verifiable in the collection of works proposed.

Comparison with other similar properties

ASV revisits and quotes, constantly and intentionally, clearly, eruditely but analytically, sometimes even humorously, in a unique and genuine way: Alvar Aalto, Corbusier, F.L Wright, Mies V. der Rohe and Adolf Loos.

There are other architects whose work is referable and comparable to some of the characteristics of Siza’s work, namely Barragán, Niemeyer and Moneo. Some of them already have work registered on the list, like Óscar Niemeyer and Luis Barragán. However, no other known case gathers and accumulates all these characteristics, qualities and singularities that define the work of ASV in Portugal and in the world. Therefore, we believe that the collection of works we are considering, for the qualities and singularities aforementioned, will be a significant contribution from Portugal to the enrichment of the representativeness, quality, and credibility of the World Heritage List, in the context and respect for the UNESCO Global Strategy, established in 1994 and constantly updated by the work of the World Heritage Committee, of the State Parties and the consulting organizations.