During more than five decades, Álvaro Joaquim Melo Siza, 79, has earned the respect of his peers worldwide for the work that reflects the “heroic spirit of modern architecture”.
Siza’s aesthetic vision was shaped by the traditions and natural resources of his native country. As a young man growing up near the historic seaport, Porto, he debated whether to become a sculptor or an architect. After seeing Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí’s work in Barcelona, he chose architecture. He completed his first project, four houses in Matosinhos, in 1954, while still a student at the University of Porto School of Architecture. After graduating, Siza joined the atelier of architect Fernando Távora who proved a powerful influence on his art and future working methods.
Siza opened his own practice in 1958, the same year that he began one of his most famous works, the Boa Nova Tea House and Restaurant, set in the rock formations on Portugal’s north coast. Since then, among his many internationally recognized projects are the Leça Swimming Pools, Leça de Palmeira (1961-66); the Malagueira Quarter housing project, Évora (1977-1998); the Bonjour Tristesse residential complex, Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, Berlin (1980-84); the reconstruction of the Chiado district, Lisbon (1988-); the Galician Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago de Compostela (1988-93); the Portuguese Pavilion at Expo ’98, Lisbon (1995-98); the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London (2005); the Ibere Camargo Foundation, Porto Alegre, Brazil; and, the forthcoming project to design the Interpretation Center of Angra do Heroism in the Azores.
Siza’s work has earned him medals and honours from organizations around the globe. Most recently, he was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) 2009 Royal Gold Medal, the International Union of Architects 2011 Gold Medal and the Luso-Spanish Prize for Art and Culture (2011). In 2012, he was chosen to receive the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in Architecture of the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice.
Intent on sharing his theories with his fellow professionals, Siza has combined teaching at leading universities with practising architecture for most of his career. His mission has been to inspire a new generation of architects: “It remains to us to attempt, to continue the construction of beauty,” he says.