Alvaro Siza of Portugal Is Named the 1992 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate
Chicago, IL—Alvaro Siza, who has been praised by his peers in Europe as one this century’s finest architects, but is relatively unknown to most of the world, has been elected to receive his profession’s highest honor, the 1992 Pritzker Architecture Prize.
Jay A. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, which established the award in 1979, will present Siza with a $100,000 grant, a medallion and certificate at a formal ceremony on May 14, to be held at the recently dedicated Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, Illinois.
In making the announcement from The Hyatt Foundation’s headquarters in Chicago, Pritzker hailed the choice of the jury that made the selection, saying, “Not since the late Luis Barragán of Mexico was elected Laureate in the second year of the prize have we honored someone whose work has so eluded the international spotlight, but is none the less worthy. Bestowing this prize will help focus public attention on yet another facet of excellence in the profession.”
Siza joins an exclusive fraternity of Pritzker Laureates that includes seven architects from England, Italy, Japan, Austria, Germany, Mexico, Brazil and seven more from the United States.
In making the announcement, Bill Lacy, secretary to the international panel of jurors that elects the Laureate, quoted from the jury’s citation: “The architecture of Alvaro Siza is a joy to the senses and uplifts the spirit. Each line and curve is placed with skill and sureness.” And further, “his enrichment of the world’s architectural vocabulary and inventory over the past four decades” justifies presentation of the Pritzker Prize.
A month after he receives the prize, Siza will celebrate his fifty-eighth birthday on June 25. He has been practicing architecture from his own office in Porto, Portugal for 38 of those years. He is a widower with two children, Alvaro and Joana.
“Every design,” says Siza, “is a rigorous attempt to capture a concrete moment of a transitory image in all its nuances. The extent to which this transitory quality is captured, is reflected in the designs: the more precise they are, the more vulnerable.”
While working on a sizable office building design for Porto, Siza discounted any possibility of blending the new building by imitating its surroundings. The area was too important since it was between the historic center of the city and a bridge that has great significance because it was built by Eiffel in 1866. He explained, “We have gone beyond the stage whereby unity of language was believed to be the universal solution for architectural problems. Recognizing that complexity is the nature of the city, transformational movements take on very different forms.”
Siza, whose full name is Alvaro Joaquim de Meio Siza Vieira, was born on June 25, 1933 in the small coastal town of Matosinhos, just north of Porto, Portugal. Siza studied at the University of Porto School of Architecture from 1949 through 1955, completing his first built works (four houses in Matosinhos) even before ending his studies in 1954. That same year he opened his private practice in Porto.
In 1966, Siza began teaching at the University, and in 1976, he was made a tenured Professor of Architecture. In addition to his teaching there, he has been a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania; Los Andes University of Bogota; and the Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne.
In addition, he has been a guest lecturer at many universities and conferences throughout the world, from the United States, Colombia and Argentina to Spain, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and England in Europe.
In recent years, he has received honors from foundations and institutions in Europe, including, the Alvar Aalto Foundation Gold Medal in 1988, the renowned Mies van der Rohe Foundation Award the Borges & Irmao Bank in Vila do Conde, Portugal (1982-86). In the United States in 1988, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design recognized Siza for his Malagueira Quarter Housing Project in Evora, Portugal that began in 1977, presenting him with the first Veronica Rudge Green Prize, often referred to as the Prince of Wales Prize for Urban Design.
In 1977, following the revolution in Portugal, the city government of Evora commissioned Siza to plan a housing project in the rural outskirts of the town. It was to be one of several that he would do for SAAL (servicio de apoio ambulatorio local), the national housing association, consisting of 1200 low-cost, housing units, some one-story and some two-story row houses, all with courtyards.
Recent projects and buildings in Portugal include, a new College of Education in Setubal, a new School of Architecture for Porto University, a Modern Art Museum for Porto, the rebuilding of the Chiado, area of Lisbon, damaged by fire in 1988, and a new Library for Aveiro University.
In Berlin, his competition winning entry for an apartment building, Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, was recently completed. He has participated in and won numerous other competitions including the renovation of Campo di Marte (1985) in Venice, the renewal of the Casino and Cafe Winkler (1986) in Salzburg, and the cultural center of the Ministry of Defense (1988-89) in Madrid. The Meteorological Centre for the 1992 Olympic Games, in Barcelona, is currently nearing completion.
Siza’s work ranges from swimming pools to mass housing developments, with residences for individuals, banks, office buildings, restaurants, art galleries, shops, virtually every other kind of structure in between.
Quoting from Casabella magazine, July 1986, in explaining Siza’s insistence on continuous experimentation, it was said, “Precisely for this reason his architecture can communicate to us an extraordinary sense of freedom and freshness; in it one clearly reads the unfolding of an authentic design adventure. In accepting the risk of such adventure, Alvaro Siza has even been able to bring to the surface, in his architecture, what one feared was in danger of extinction: the heroic spirit of modern architecture.”
The architecture of Alvaro Siza is a joy to the senses and uplifts the spirit. Each line and curve is placed with skill and sureness.
Like the early Modernists, his shapes, molded by light, have a deceptive simplicity about them; they are honest. They solve design problems directly. If shade is needed, an overhanging plane is placed to provide it. If a view is desired, a window is made. Stairs, ramps and walls all appear to be foreordained in a Siza building. That simplicity, upon closer examination however, is revealed as great complexity. There is a subtle mastery underlying what appears to be natural creations. To paraphrase Siza’s own words, his is a response to a problem, a situation in transformation, in which he participates.
If Post Modernism had not claimed the term, and distorted its meaning, Alvaro Siza’s buildings might legitimately have been called by that name. His architecture proceeds directly from Modernist influences that dominated the field from 1920 to 1970.
While Siza himself would reject categorization, his architecture, as an extension of Modernist principles and aesthetic sensibility, is also an architecture of various respects: respect for the traditions of his native Portugal, a country of time worn materials and shapes; respect for context, whether it is an older building or neighborhood such as the Chiada Quarter in Lisbon, or the rocky edge of the ocean in his swimming club in Porto; and finally, respect for the times in which today’s architect practices with all its constraints and challenges.
Siza’s characteristic attention to spatial relationships and appropriateness of form are as germane to a single family residence as they are to a much larger social housing complex or office building. The essence and quality of his work is not affected by scale.
Four decades of patient and innovative form-making by Siza have provided unique and credible architectural statements, while at the same time surprising the profession with its freshness.
Siza is a teacher, not only at the university where he obtained his education, but also as a guest lecturer throughout the world, fanning the intense interest his designs generate, particularly in the younger generation.
Siza maintains that architects invent nothing, rather they transform in response to the problems they encounter. His enrichment of the world’s architectural vocabulary and inventory, over the past four decades, provides ample justification to present him with the 1992 Pritzker Architecture Prize, as well as the good wishes of the jury that he continues his transformations.
Ceremony Acceptance Speech
It is still hard for me to believe that I have been this year’s recipient of the Pritzker Prize, the prestigious award from The Hyatt Foundation already given to some of the architects I admire most.
The aim of an architectural prize is supposed to be, above all, that of supporting and celebrating perfection. I have yet not been able to reach perfection.
I remember a talk that took place many years ago with my friend Fernando Tavora, my teacher at the school of Porto. In it he mentioned his perplexity at the imperfections of the Brunelleschi cupola when seen from a certain angle. He expressed first a certain disappointment, which was followed by a feeling of understanding, of discovery, of plenitude.
I am not, however, referring to the dissatisfaction of an artist, which is a feeling that is often with me. I am referring to concrete and material imperfections: cracks on walls, a certain discomfort, irregular stuccoes, or bent woods, in sum, the rigor that has not been attained.
On the other hand, I am referring to the lack of sensitivity that either hampers or despises the search for beauty, be it the beauty of harmony or contrast.
The professional life of architects is nowadays affected not only by those imperfections, but also by difficulties or impossibilities in the making of architecture.
I always felt professionally divided between the hard and difficult challenge to answer the needs of the greatest number of persons on the one hand; and the attraction for single opportunities (which are apparently closer to the viability of architecture).
In the end both hypotheses complement each other, being indispensable to one another.
The various circumstances that surround architectural commissions, with their stigmas of specialization led me until recently to project above all—in a fragmentary way—the urban tissue made of apparently banal elements that shape the majority of the area of any city or territory.
This is far from being a modest task: it aims at re-encountering the lost spontaneity, the joy of spontaneity and of difference; the uninhibited and collective competence to find or model the place for exceptional urban episodes.
I dream of the moment in which such an intimate and collective need will not be dependent on a degree in architecture.
At the moment, and not only in my country, the need and the way to add quality to things that are banal and repetitive—as a condition to enhance the beauty of the city and of its monuments—is facing profound transformations, that, perhaps at the moment, are quite painful, but which are essentially more than promising, fascinating and creative transformation beyond apparent frontiers:
—neither high technology nor the sound knowledge of craftsmen—the old support to architectural creation—but an in-between situation in which we must be involved;
—a situation of death and rebirth under a form which we nervously exploit, questioning and dipping into the real.
I want to express that the Pritzker Prize gives my heart some serenity. The message is clear to me: it is acknowledged that our condition is transitional, different from environment to environment, yet universal; gradually freed from the narrow concept of centre and periphery.
All my gratitude to the Pritzker family, who love architecture as Art, celebrating it in that condition; who appreciate it by its integrity and not by its lateral views.
I express my thanks to the members of the jury who—constantly and without reserve—search for that integrity.
My thanks to my family and to my friends—colleagues, collaborators in the studio, clients and others here present or not, to all those that honor me with their presence in this room.
After all I dare to understand the reason this prize has been granted to me. I feel happy and proud. Thank you very much.