Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

An Interview with Alvaro Siza

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

An Interview with Alvaro Siza

Article excerpt

In Portugal, where it seems that everyone you meet speaks knowledgeably and proudly of his work, he is called by his full name, Alvaro Siza Vieira. He is, of course, that country's most famous architect and, in keeping with the crossing of local and global that has marked his entire career, he is also internationally renowned and a recipient of, among many other awards, the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Mosaic sought out Siza because he is both architect and artist: according to what he says, and what he builds, literature and architecture belong inseparably together. The following interview took place on 17 May 2002 in Siza's Rua Do Aleixo office in Oporto, Portugal and originally appeared in Mosaic's special issue Literature and Architecture (35.4, December 2002).


   preamble: n. a preliminary statement or an introductory part
   stating the reasons and intent of what follows; v. lit., to walk
   before, hence to travel, over, f. L ambulare, to go about, take a
   turn, make a tour--walk.

How to prepare for, preface, an interview with Alvaro Siza Vieira? As well as reading, I walked. In the first place, in Barcelona, it was a tour through the imagination of Antoni Gaudi: Parc Guell, Casa Batello, Casa Mila, and, especially, the Church of the Sagrada Familia, that unfinishable poem. During the Spanish Civil War, all fifty-eight of the churches of Barcelona were burned, save, of course, the Sagrada Familia: cast in cement, it survived the petrol to become part of the ravaged Spain that Alvaro Siza, as a boy, visited with his family. Perhaps the most memorable of those visits was the one he made at age fifteen, his first visit to Santiago de Compostela, where, outside the Cathedral of Saint James, watching workmen removing the pavement, replacing old stones with new, he was taken with the question of how we inherit tradition, how it is that to remember is to rebuild--a work that can never be completed. Travelling with this question of tradition, I was on the way, the camino, to Santiago myself, but before that came a turn north, to Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, the cathedral become a museum--or, perhaps, housing the sculptures of Joseph Beuys and Richard Serra, the museum, no longer a mere building, become a sculpture itself. After the flamboyance and verticality of Gaudi and Gehry, the encounter with Siza's Galician Centre of Contemporary Art in Santiago de Compostela is altogether different. Here, in passing from one landscape into another, from the surrounding old city into the new building, one enters a place of respite, wonderfully tranquil, with its white marble and white walls and subtle plays of shade and light--as welcoming and as understated as is the man himself.

To walk through the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art, which is designed as a kind of promenade, is to experience something of the silence that has always tempted Siza. In the catalogue of the exhibition of his work that opened the Centre in 1995, Siza, who is as much a writer as an architect, writes that, when reflecting on architecture, he always draws his example from writers, "and among them, from the poets--those highly competent architects of register and of dream; the inhabitants of solitude." It's a signature remark and an apt prologue to this interview. That the remark appears in the catalogue on a page beside one of Siza's self-portraits--a sketch of himself drawing, a sketch that foregrounds his drawing hands--is also very apt. For, as we conducted this interview, sitting across from each other at a table in Siza's office, he began to draw on the Mosaic brochure I had brought along for him to sketch his points on the page. "Drawing," he says, "is language and memory, the way to communicate construction with oneself and others." I took the drawings away with me, as a memory of that day.

DM Because some Mosaic readers might not be familiar with your work, I want to start, with your permission, by tracking some points in your professional career. …

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