Portuguese Picnic

July 5th, 2010

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The inaugural meeting of the European Architectural History Network was held at the beautiful Portuguese city of Guimaraes between 17 and 20 June and fulfilled the organisation’s mission to create a vibrant new forum for the study of the complexity and variety of European architecture.

The conference was hosted by Jorge Correia of the University of Minho and his team of ‘sweet, cute and smiling’ student assistants. A diversity of nations (and continents) was represented among the speakers although they were united, as Antoine Picon of Harvard Graduate School of Design remarked, by their shared difficulties with the English Language. Highlights included Paolo Varela Gomes of the University of Coimbra discussing the reception of Portuguese architecture and its relationship to different forms of imperialism, New York University Professor Marvin Trachtenberg’s magisterial reading of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence as an expression of the city’s military confidence at the beginning of the fourteenth century, and a session on “Architectures of the Suburb” jointly chaired by Andrew Ballantyne (Newcastle University) and Elizabeth McKellar (Open University) which ranged from the Palladian Veneto to contemporary Mumbai.

However, the star of the show in every imaginable way was Denise Scott Brown. Despite her advanced years she held the conference spellbound with her subverting of revisionist modernist hagiography and her insistence that the praising of the delights of autonomous architecture should be balanced with a profound respect for social needs and contexts.

Other provocative images evoked included that of the isolated Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise as a new Jerusalem (Jenifer Ni Ghradaigh, University College Cork), an analysis of the urban space of renaissance Mantua (Janet White, University of Nevada – Las Vegas) the documenting of pioneering Czech panel costruction (Kimberley Elman Zarecor, Iowa State University) and a study of the Swedish social experiment in mid-twentieth century Vallingby (Lucy Creagh, Columbia University).

CiA staffer Eamonn Canniffe contributed a paper to the well attended session “Architecture in Nineteenth Century Photographs” chaired by Micheline Nilsen (Indiana University South Bend) which covered amateur and professional photographers and academic and tourist audiences for the then new medium. His abiding memory of the conference, though, was of Denise Scott Brown fulfilling her wish to talk to Portuguese students shaded under a tree in the garden of the Vila Flor Cultural Centre.

The next meeting will take place in Brussels in 2012. The Call For Session Proposals is here.

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Alvaro Siza - Quinta da Malagueira, Évora, Portugal (1977)

An edited extract from an interview conducted by Manchester School of Architecture doctoral candidate António Oliviera with the 2009 Royal Gold Medallist Alvaro Siza Vieira

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AO: What were the principles underlying the Quinta da Malagueira project and what is the importance of vernacular architecture in this project?

AS: … Hidden in the centre of Malagueira there is a street, which was illegal construction in the 1940s. It is no accident that it is put in the very centre of the land where it could not be seen, to maintain the image. I must also point out that at that time, for example, levels of thermal insulation were notrequired; there was no regulation for that yet. So what moved the vernacular model of the courtyard house, which is not the only one in Alentejo, … is the one that is favourable to the budgetary restrictions and the creation of comfort, that is, the courtyard introduces a kind of transition; the climate in Alentejo is harsh, it is very hot and very cold, it also has large thermal variations, so that is an area of transition. The white paint, has also clearly to do with the environment of Évora, with the color of Évora, all white, …

AO: I find the Malagueira is a representative project almost of the Alentejo culture, I do not know if you agree with that?

AS: There are many reasons for each thing in architecture. I have also heard this sort of project being classified as neorationalist, for example, and of course nobody is working today without having the background, even if they deny it, of the evolution of architecture which is usually called rationalism. I do not think we can separate the reasons of architecture by this or that, I mean, there are many reasons combining, sometimes there is even the taste of the promoter, which is something that isn’t often mentioned, but which obviously has influence.

AO: I chose Malagueira for two reasons because on the one hand it has a very strong relationship with the place, with Évora, with the environment, with the ethos, and on the other hand it has almost a vision of the future, for example, because that one element that binds the whole, … I think these two aspects of relationship with the place, and demand for a relationship with the future are, in my view, essential.

AS: Yes, once again I agree, but there are several, but you mean the viaduct. One of the reasons for the viaduct, is really a relationship, it is no coincidence that under the viaduct there is a great pedestrian way and beside it there are cars, I do not like this thing pedestrians to one side, and cars to the other. By the way, in Évora when I got the job, the idea was to make some collective garages, and those narrow paths, between houses, were pedestrian, also because lots of cars was unthinkable in Malagueira, because that was really meant for poor people, and a quick change was not expected, which was a mistake to predict. But what is a fact is that it started, more cars began to appear, more cars, …and people created a very interesting rule, that in front of every house, there is an eight-meter stop for the owner and nobody else, and going along well with this rule, no one violating this rule, then the streets are too narrow for the cars, but there too, as there are no sidewalks, there are no accidents because the car driver cannot accelerate like a Formula 1, he has to drive slowly because otherwise he will scratch the car, hurt people … Oh the viaduct, the viaduct, well, about my saying that there is a parallel between cars and pedestrians, one of the reasons for the viaduct is that I knew from the start that there would be no money for infrastructure.

AO: The very simplicity of the materials of the viaduct?

AS: Out of the same rule not to bury drains, … a network gallery could be made and kill two birds with one stone, introducing a new scale waiting for the equipment, because as you know, there are distributed gaps in the plan, which are designed for equipment, a number of request of the town hall … Put simply no money ever came. What I could not imagine is that until now no money would come, and money still does not come.

AO: Architecture has such adversity outside architecture itself that…

AS: It is not always external, because sometimes it comes from professionals, obstruction by professionals themselves.

AO: The existential place has an important role in the outcome of your projects and works. Do you consider existentialism as thought important in the shape of architecture itself?

AS: Yes existentialism is something that is almost no longer spoken of, but it is not something that is gone, a thought that is not included in the way of thinking today, but I do not know what sense architecture is seeing, but what I find important in architecture, is the attention to how people live and how they want to live. The balance is always variable, ambiguous but it has always some lines of force, which we must try to understand, that is, one of the problems of architecture is the understanding of what is happening and what is happening is always persistence and innovation.

AO: Because the relationship with the site is part of sustainability?

AS: Yes, indeed, indeed…

AO: How do you see the future of architectural creation and its relationship with society.

AS: Well I see a black future, if the trend is to give major strength to every expertise, forgetting that journey I was talking about. If I am right, I may not be… (there is) the gap between the one who projects and the one who will be using the projected product. In all fields of architecture there are also new generations that are normally assimilating the huge increase of information that is coming, and (developing the) means to assimilate this information and I want to believe (in) that.

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Three works by Siza

May 27th, 2009

A recent visit to Portugal afforded the opportunity to look at three works from the long career of Alvaro Siza.

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Boa Nova Tea House (Leça de Palmeira 1958-63)

This early work by Siza has survived a half-century without officious preservation. Its subtle relationship to its craggy site is matched by the delicacy of its organization and the robustness of its construction. The journey through the landscape continues in the inflection of the plan and nestling section. The influence of Japanese and Scandinavian architecture is manifested in the most Portuguese ways, particularly in the relationship to that alluring horizon glimpsed in a clerestory window as one pauses before descending to the principal rooms.

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Faculty of Architecture (Porto 1987-93)

The Faculty of Architecture displays those same narrative qualities applied to an urban scale. Its panoramic location helps Siza frame views of the city and the River Duoro. The individual articulation of the studio blocks are supported by the plaza / podium and administrative wings which line the ascending journey through the building, by linear and curving ramps to the repository of architectural knowledge in the library.

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Serralves Foundation (Porto 1995-99)

Again responding to the qualities of its situation, this Museum sits in a beautifully maintained park with views framed from the windows of its generously proportioned galleries. The sober monumentalism of its minimal detailing creates a sequence of abstract vistas that lead the visitor toward the spaces for contemporary art, and out into the garden. Here the white volumes stand as mute counterparts to the varied forms of a nature educated to be natural.

Despite the differences in scale and context of these three projects the element that gives them unity is the elaboration of the journey through the building, as if they are petrified traces of the linear drawings through which Siza represents the world.

More images available on Guttae

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Porfirio Pardal Monteiro: Church of Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Lisbon (1938)

This suburban church from the late 1930s presents a curious hybrid of architectural languages and materials. Its interior is formed in a gloomy concrete gothic, lit only by dramatic stained glass. This very atmospheric space sits behind a façade which could only be categorized as art-deco, although a rather austere example of the genre as befits its function. The expressive modernity of the individual forms of façade, campanile and baptistery are anchored by a rusticated base which adds much stability to the asymmetry of the composition.

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On the (Lisbon) Waterfront

November 10th, 2007

The Council for European Urbanism (CEU) has informed us about a Symposium concerned particularly with the Lisbon waterfront projects:

The symposium will address the urgent issues raised by the Lisbon waterfront projects in the context of the C.E.U. Charter. We will debate a wide range of strategies for developing waterfronts drawing on examples of notable European projects. After a morning of expert presentations and discussion with participants, the afternoon will comprise themed workshops in which participants will have an opportunity to explore the issues raised in depth. We will close the formal sessions with a short plenary to feed back the ideas from the workshops, as a basis for constructing a Declaration on Waterfront Developments according to the principles of the C.E.U. Charter.

CEU Symposium Website

Messages from Portugal

June 6th, 2007

Our recent post about Evora has led to some interesting correspondence with Portuguese architects and students. rui-mello sends us some images of the work of Joaquim Massena. The project is a theatre in Oporto. The work of Massena, which appears to be a mixture of new buildings and renovation projects can be found at www.joaquimmassena.com.

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You may also like to look at ultimasmag which is an internet periodical produced by Fernando Guerra and contains exceptional photographs of contemporary architecture in Portugal. The latest issue includes pictures of Alvaro Siza’s new winery. From ultimasmag.com:

After recent intermittent or even timid architectural interventions in wineries in the Douro region, this completely new project in the Alentejo brings a practice to national wine production that is beginning to be common in the wineries of countries like Spain, France, Italy and the United States, in which wine production and commercialization start with the buildings themselves, contributing added value, giving them their own identity, beyond creating a more efficient system of production. The return on investment also translates in the marketing of the wine production itself, providing it with an image that coincides with the cult of wine.

Alvaro Siza in Evora

May 26th, 2007

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Further to the recent post about James Stirling’s housing in Runcorn we present these images of Alvaro Siza’s project for housing in Quinta da Malagueira outside the ancient city of Evora. Begun in 1977, the neighbourhood is an immediate product of the revolution of the carnations in 1974 and the work of SAAL. The morphology of the original Roman settlement is continued through the design of 1200 low-cost, single family units, with arcades to the public areas. Harvard University Graduate School of Design recognised the design with the award in 1988 of the Prince of Wales Prize.

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MSA Fieldtrip Films also features the work of Siza in the very different context of Berlin with the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ project for the IBA.