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Alvaro Siza



Porto, Portugal


Interviewed by Rodrigo Fadel

Alvaro Siza drawing
Architect Alvaro Siza
Siza is a Portuguese architect, architectural educator and a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Commissioned after winning an international competition in 2010, Siza and Juan Domingo Santos unveiled designs for a new entrance and visitors center at the Alhambra in 2014. In 2007 the Brazilian Government awarded him the Cultural Merit Order Medal. More recently he was awarded the RIBA's Royal Gold Medal and the International Union of Architects' 2011 Gold Medal. Siza was awarded by the Venice Architecture Biennale (13th Edition) with the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement (2012).

Why did you decide to become an architect?

Actually I wanted to be a sculptor but my family thought it was a bad idea. At that time sculpture was that the human life, misery and so on, those romantic things.  So I went into architecture as it was in the same school.  The school was going through a really good phase with the director who called on good, young architects to teach. The atmosphere was very good and I ended up staying in architecture.

Is there an Alvaro Siza trademark, something that identifies your projects as an “Alvaro Siza project”? 

For me the architectural expression of a project depends very much on where it's done. Doing a project by the sea is not the same as doing a project in the mountains. I’m a very conscious of the context in which I'm building, its history and geography.

Natural light and shadows are always present in your designs is that a conscious choice or mere chance?

Architects think about light a lot. Because it's not only a question of light it's about creating the conditions for comfort, it's about the problem of energy consumption. When we design we have to create the best conditions. In houses there is a need for variation in light. You have to understand the relationship with the exterior, the protection of the exterior, having wide open spaces and having spaces almost in darkness to be restful and comfortable to look at. 

Things that in the history of architecture have carried a lot of weight, and which in modern architecture have temporarily lost a little weight. The Alhambra, for example is a Palace where the system of light is particularly carefully thought out and particularly alive, as there are parts burning in sunshine - rooms open to patios with lots of light and sunshine -and other rooms, further to the interior, In darkness. All of that is essential for creating a united community.

Indirect lighting features prominently in your designs. If this to create a sacred, mysterious atmosphere or are there other reasons?

It's fundamentally for comfort. Having a spotlight shining in your eyes as you often find in museums, for example stop you getting the best for you. Plus it's bad for the object on display in terms of conservation. For example, a drawing should be displayed in extremely low light. I often see them in exhibitions with spotlights pointing at them. So everything is a matter of clarity of space and also comfortable lighting.
Alvaro Siza drawing

Many of your constructions are in white concrete. What influence do artificial light and natural light have on colour?

I have done many white buildings but also green, blue, red and every colour you can imagine, It depends on what is the best circumstances circumstances. For example in the South of Portugal, the style of those buildings is generally white because that helps to reduce the effects of the sun, so it benefits the interior. If I'm building in the Netherlands for example, where the light is not so strong, I will probably choose other colours. 

So, you see, the cities, and even the relationship with what already exists are different. For interiors I often use white paint, although it is never actually white. Pale colours help to like the space very well and allow better use to be made of it, with less energy consumption.

Artificial light, natural light what do these two mean to you? 

Natural light for as long as possible, the more the better, not least for reasons of energy saving. Artificial light as much as necessary.  In some countries there is still an enormous amount of energy wasted on dreadfully bright lighting. There is a trend, also in interiors to use more and it ends up being unpleasant. I feel myself compelled to react to this problem, the trend to use more.

You are already an inspiration for a new crop of architects. What advice would you give these young professionals? 

Constantly ‘invent’ enthusiasm because without enthusiasm this profession is really dull! And with enthusiasm it is wonderful! Often in the midst of all the difficulties, obstructions etc it requires a great effort to keep the flame burning and sometimes you have to invent it.
Interview published in Luminous Magazine 4/2009

Luminous magazine

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