Blog TWHS Visits

Works of Álvaro Siza

Álvaro Siza Vieira is a contemporary Portuguese architect, who has been productive since the 1950s. His works can also be found abroad: in the Netherlands, Brazil, Italy and the USA for example. However, he built mostly in Portugal, in the region around Porto where he was born. A broad selection of his work is on the Portuguese Tentative List as “Ensemble of Álvaro Siza's Architecture Works in Portugal”. So during my recent trip there I interrupted the long drive between Braga and my next overnight stop Vila Viçosa with a visit to two of his built works.

The first one that I chose to visit lies in Vila do Conde, a small seaside resort between Braga and Porto. I had to go to the city center, where there is a branch of the Borges & Irmão Bank which was designed by Siza Vieira. Parking closeby did not work on a busy Saturday morning, but I found a spot a few blocks away for 0.45 EUR per hour.

Siza’s building is not difficult to recognize, it is something white and Le Corbusier-ish with many windows in a street with mainly traditional buildings. That contrast with its surroundings is conscious: “a dialogue with and distance from the urban fabric”. You actually have the best view of the building from the sidestreet, it shows the intriguing all-glass elevator shaft. Much more is not visible from the exterior. As it is a public building, one could go in posing as a customer but the bank seemed closed to clients on a Saturday. The bank building and its architect were the 1988 winners of the Mies Award, an European architecture award.

The second structure lies about 5 kilometers away, in Pavoa de Varzim. I drove there along a coastal road and noticed beaches packed with people. With a bit of puzzling on Google Maps I gathered how to find the Casa Carlos Beires. It is located in a residential area with more interesting modern buildings. It lies in a very ordinary street and the neighbors watched me when I got out of the car and walked over to the house. I had seen pictures of the yellow building beforehand, otherwise I wouldn't have recognized it. The address is Rua Doutor Alberto Pimentel 43 but there is no house number visible.

This Casa Beires is one of Siza’s earliest and most defining works. It is a family house with a courtyard and walls partly made out of glass. However, one wonders what has happened to it: the large trees in the garden obscure the view from the street and you cannot walk around it (it is fully surrounded by neighbouring plots). I found the gate closed, but there is a bell and a letterbox so it seemed inhabited. Recent photos of the courtyard shows it looking very run down. However, apparently an over 90 year old lady still lives there among her memorabilia and old furniture.

Álvaro Siza Vieira is seen by some as one of the greatest living architects. Despite the fairly recent deaths of contemporaries IM Pei and Zaha Hadid, he still has to beat the likes of Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas and Moshe Safdie to receive that honour. He won the prestigious Pritzker Prize already in 1992. But I find it doubtful that his reputation would be enough for a WH recognition: what has his influence been on the work of others for example? And which of his works do really stand out? Certainly the current list of 22 possibly included works would need a lot of trimming to be convincing.

Els - 19 July 2020

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meltwaterfalls 20 July 2020

I’m not sure that 22 sites would be the number involved and half of them are just educated guesses, but having looked back over the nominations I would still stand by that list.

I think it would take quite a fair wind for these to end up being inscribed, as enjoyable as Siza’s work is I wouldn’t put him in the same category as the 20th/ 21st century architects that have already had buildings inscribed.

Els Slots 19 July 2020

While writing, I also was a bit in doubt about the 22 locations and how we reached to that conclusion. The description on the UNESCO website mentions 14 different towns/regions, so 22 might not be a bad guess. Our list of 22 was compiled by meltwaterfalls when we were adding locations to all twhs: check this forum link (I will add a link to it in the blog text).

Rafabram 19 July 2020

I didn't know this nomination has 22 components. I just did my count and I visited 8 of them. I have very mixed feelings about this TWHS. For sure they chose too many buildings, and a lot need to drop off. Also I think there's a time question, some of his most relevant buildings are very recent and it's just too early to consider most of his work as a WHS. My opinion is they should focus on Matosinhos buildings (Boa Nova tea house and Piscinas das Marés), his early works, and I can see more clearly the OUV of this "complex": it was a very peculiar approach of modernism, with an influence that still remains today.