Portugal Pavilion, Lisboa © José Duarte


The research project called 'The Critical Monumentality of Álvaro Siza – Projects of urban renovation after the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition' (Expo98) aims at identifying, characterizing, debating, and reflecting about the works of Álvaro Siza, within the urban policies launched in Portugal in the early 2000s.

The starting point of the research is an analysis of the Portugal Pavilion via the urban renovation of the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition. Designed without a specific post-Expo programme, the Pavilion can be seen as a test case of Siza’s architecture and a reference in Portuguese architectural culture, envisioned as a symbolic setting for a representation of Portugal during the Expo98. In this sense it cannot dismiss a predominantly analytical and interpretative work, capable of mapping and qualifying its qualities and concepts. The building can be described as a flat, low structure located at the furthest reaches of the Olivais dock, which integrates a wide area covered by a light concrete canopy, configuring a public square that opens onto the river and serves as a venue for all kind of events.
The facade parallel to the river features a colonnade and portico at its extremities. The Portugal Pavilion provides a contextual framework for the relationship between the city and its riverbanks through a repetition of classical elements that invoke a secular vision of the city of Lisbon, such as we see in Praça de Comércio square, which came about following the reconstruction of the city after the earthquake of 1775. The Pavilion is also a reading of the public space, creating paths of light and shadow, in direct relation to the entire urban renovation project planned for the east of Lisbon, that before Expo98 were a repository for industries in decline. The Portugal Pavilion is a distillation of the ‘myths’ of the Portuguese history of architecture, in dialogue with references from the modern movement.

Both the urban transformation and the architectural discourses of the Lisbon World Exposition prompted new urban strategies set in motion after the major 1998 event. The Polis programme (the Portuguese programme for the urban environment) enacted by the government in 2000, was the most important mechanism for implementing an approach to urban renovation road tested in Lisbon, to other twenty-eight cities from the north to the south of Portugal. It aimed at improving the quality of life and included urban requalification and environmental recovery initiatives, mainly regarding green and public spaces and the development of architectural works of reference.

The dynamics engendered by Polis framed the conception of projects of major strategic importance for each city’s transformation. Álvaro Siza was commissioned to work with four of those municipalities, qualifying the urban space through projects of varied dimensions, under different programmes. This being the case, it is important to study Álvaro Siza’s intervention on each of these occasions, from the Portugal Pavilion of Expo’98, to the subsequent urban renovation projects for Atlantic Park in Vila do Conde (2005), Leça da Palmeira waterfront in Matosinhos (2007), and also in the structuring buildings he himself designed, such as the Municipal Library in Viana do Castelo (2008) and the recent Nadir Afonso Contemporary Art Museum in Chaves (2015).

This project ‘The Critical Monumentality of Álvaro Siza – Projects of urban renovation after the 1998 Lisbon World Exposition' seeks to articulate the relationships produced by urban interventions and buildings upon the specific contexts they engage with. The distinctive feature of this paper is as a critical analysis of the idea of monumentality in Álvaro Siza’s works. Three overlapping analytical focal themes will be used as methodology: territory, urban and architectural culture, and social impact of interventions.

For the purposes of this research, the above-mentioned examples will be the main study cases, from which comparative hypotheses will be drawn in order to measure the impact of the project and the architectural culture resulting from these experiences. Comparative assessments will also be made with other Álvaro Siza projects that were part of similar urban renovation initiatives, carried out after other major events from the last decade of the 20th century, e.g. the Meteorology Centre in Barcelona (1992) designed for the Olympic Games, and the Hannover Pavilion projected for the 2000 World Exposition, and actually rebuilt in Coimbra, in central Portugal, in the course of the Polis programme for that city.

The architecture of Álvaro Siza gained international prominence in the 1970s, after the democratic transition in Portugal. Publications such as L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, Architecture Mouvement Continuite, and Lotus Internacional (Rousselot & Beaudoin, 1978; AAVV, 1976; Vieira, 1976; Gregotti, 1978), featured his work from this period. In particular, L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui (Byrne, 1976) in 1976 dedicated an issue to the theme of Portugal, with a broad overview on ‘a new architectural statement’. ‘The Passion of Álvaro Siza’ was the title of a special section dedicated to him, with focus on his social housing.

In 1983, the increasing regard for Siza was also the subject of Kenneth Frampton’s seminal article ‘Prospects for a Critical Regionalism’ (Frampton,1983a). The dialogue between ‘Universal Civilization and National Cultures’ addressed by Paul Ricoeur in 1961, sustained a theory of ‘resistance’ transposed by Frampton to architecture (Frampton,1983b), to which he associated Siza’s practice. In that sense, the crisis of modernity and the claim for a ‘return of the real’(Foster, 1996), can be regarded as reading that is key to qualifying the context in which Siza’s architecture engaged with the strategies of urban improvement implemented after Expo98. The specificity and power of Siza’s architecture result from his sensibility of space and place, hingeing on a discourse between the global and the local, avoiding any superficial gesturalism towards the iconic.
    Siza’s architecture has questioned the idea of monumentality, in the same way that Ignasi Solà Morales did in his essay 'Weak Architecture' (Solà-Morales, 1987). Solà-Morales advocated for weakness of a second role as the ultimate condition to come to terms with contemporaneity. According to his argument, monumentality resides in “the taste of poetry after having read it, the taste of music after having heard it, the pleasure of architecture after having seen it”. Accordingly, it could be said that Siza’s architecture chooses to be ‘tangential and weak’, rather than ‘aggressive and domineering'.

In the case of the Portugal Pavilion, as in the projects designed within the scope of the Polis Programme, some of the principles addressed by Siza in his first ever waterfront projects can be observed. In the Boa Nova Tea House and the Leça da Palmeira Swimming Pool, concepts of ‘homely’ and ‘unhomely’ were explored in the spirit of Vidler's 'Architectural Uncanny'(Vidler, 1992). For the Tea house, Siza applies concepts from the the Survey of Popular Architecture (1955-1961), ‘an ambitious mesological study of the relationship between society, space and nature’ (Muñoz & Seoane, 2002). The building is a nuanced approach to the idea of a shelter, protecting the users from the sublime Atlantic, through the warmth of its materials and the intimate control of scale. Alves Costa has already made reference to this dual condition, referring to the juxtaposition between the ‘almost monumental geometry’ of the external access, and the cramped dimensions of its entrance porch. This duality ultimately induces in the observer a reverential, quasi-religious state of mind, culminating in a ‘final encounter with the landscape, now tamed and controlled’, offered at a ‘comfortable distance´ (Costa, 2011). The swimming pool in Leça da Palmeira offers a tense sequence of spaces, characterised both by light and shadowplay and by the roughness of the Brutalist concrete. As in the Tea House, Siza engages in a careful, and coincident exploration of time and movement. Alves Costa has stated that, the flow of circulation has been designed as a transitional path between a ‘universal order’, ‘one that is accepted without any sentimentalism’, and a ‘private order’, considered ‘a selected and controlled section of nature that is emphasised by the obligatory passage through an architectural order of austere geometry’ (Costa 2011). The spatial phenomenology expressed by Siza in these two waterfront interventions, exploring a nuanced appropriation of architecture, would be serve him well in his subsequent architecture.

In the Portugal Pavilion, he explored the relationship between the building and its surroundings. Overriding any notion of centrality within the framework of Expo98, the building looks for an integration within the public space, conciliating the large scale of the built environment, with the micro scale of its implementation. Combining a ‘discretely classical’ (Frampton, 2000) peristyle with a 75-metre cable-hung concrete canopy roof, the building creates a diversity of public spaces which merge themselves with the pedestrian pathways provided by the masterplan of the former Expo enclosure. The expressionist quality of the building is evoked using common materials, which emphasise the simplicity of its architecture. The interior brings to mind a large house, suggesting sequences of rooms and environments. According to Frampton, ‘here we have a single work that both alludes to the classical and counters it through an overtly tectonic display of engineering form’, an example of Siza’s ‘architecture of critical resistance in which the universal is balanced with the local at all levels, political as architectural’ (Frampton, 2000).

Several studies have been dedicated to the process of urban transformation prompted by Expo98 and the Polis programme. 'The City of Expo98' (Ferreira & Indovina, 1999) provided the urban project’s inaugural critical reading, as the result of data collected from the Observatory 'Expo 98 in Lisbon. Likewise, analyses of the Polis programme (MAOT, 2000) have been addressed in several research studies, detailing the main achievements of the programme (Pestana et al., 2009) and analysing the connection to European urban policies and governance frameworks (Partidário & Correia, 2004). Despite those studies, the relationship of Álvaro Siza’s architecture with policies of urban renovation has not been addressed quite so extensively. His work and thought gesture towards an ethical, humanistic and cultural approach of urbanity, in contrast to the manifestation of the ‘generic city’ (Koolhass et al., 1995). This research project aims to addresses this gap.


This research project encompasses two general goals and four specific ones.

General goals

The first goal aims to discuss the importance of the Portugal Pavilion within the scope of Expo98, reflecting on its ensuing episodic neglect and the current rehabilitation and adaptation project.
The second goal aims at a comprehensive reading of the works of Álvaro Siza in the context of urban renovation processes developed in the course of the Polis programme and other similar initiatives, while debating their impact on the urban and architectural context.

Specific goals

To study the processes, plans and strategies of the cities’ transformation in which the selected works were implemented, understanding their connection to overall national territorial policy-making and competitive strategies.

To analyse the selected works in their broad urban context, mainly addressing their relationship to the waterfront setting and to specific water elements, thus decoding the architect’s creative process.

To analyse the selected works in terms of the commission assigned and how it was translated in terms of spatial configurations, seeking to understand the impact of the work on the architectural culture of the area.

To analyse the current uses of the selected architectural works, assessing how they are being utilised and experienced, and how far they meet users’ needs, enabling new insights into the social impact of the interventions

To study the re-use and adaptation project of the Portugal Pavilion, addressing its functional redefinition combining a heritage-based perspective with the meeting of contemporary needs.

The methodology applied in this research project will be substantiated over three key chapters.

The first chapter will be dedicated to the gathering and systematisation of data, related to the Portugal Pavilion and the other case studies. The first chapter will also be dedicated to framing the context of the urban interventions (Expo98 and Polis), their main strategies, and key technological and conceptual decision-making, both architectonic and political.

The second chapter, of an interpretative and analytical nature, will be focused on the development of several phased tasks, based on three main research areas, namely: 1) Urban and Architectural; 2) Social; 3) Conceptual.
Finally, the third chapter will be devoted to the presentation, dissemination, and public discussion of all the results manifested during the course of the study.

The three chapters that provide a framework for this methodology will be developed over the twenty-four months established for the completion of the research project, overlapping during the course of the project time frame. Therefore, the first chapter will be developed during the first six months, through the dynamic management and systematisation of primary sources and hypotheses initiated by the research team. The second chapter will be developed between the third and eighteenth months. The third and final chapter will be developed during the last six months.

This research project shall draw from the analysis of the Portugal Pavilion as part of the urban transformations planned for the area where Expo98 took place. The building will be thoroughly evaluated from a conceptual perspective, as a masterpiece of urban renovation of the 4 km riverside of East Lisbon. The Pavilion was granted the status of a Monument of Public Interest in 2010 (Ordinance 240th/2010, 30th of March), due to its relevance to the overall panorama of contemporary Portuguese architectural heritage. After Expo98, the Pavilion closed its doors to be a venue for only sporadic events, a set of circumstances that contributed to its neglect. During the last few years, it was suggested in the media that it would become the headquarters of the Portuguese Ministers Council, or a museum for architecture. In 2015, during the subprime crisis, it was also recommended that the building be sold to help pay off the public debt. Finally, the affiliation of the building with Lisbon University to create a centre for university studies was announced. The adaptation project, developed by Álvaro Siza, preserves the overall design of building with new uses including a congress centre, an exhibition centre, an area for international students, services areas and a general upgrade of infrastructures and technical systems.

The survey will be extended to incorporate Álvaro Siza's projects that were integrated into the Polis programme. The study will allow us to understand what is under investigation across different scales of operation, from the territory to architecture. On the one hand, Atlantic Park in Vila do Conde and the Leça da Palmeira Waterfront in Matosinhos correspond to macro-scale interventions, where Álvaro Siza planned the public space and urban renovation. On the other, the Municipal Library in Viana do Castelo and the Nadir Afonso Contemporary art museum in Chaves were planned at the scale of the architecture, where Siza had to take into consideration specific programmes and areas that had been previously delimited.

a) The Atlantic Park in Vila do Conde (2005) project was coordinated by the Parque Expo company in partnership with the Municipality of Vila do Conde. The project was incorporated into the existing urban fabric, between the Lord of Navigators Church and the boundary with Póvoa de Varzim, the former designed by Alcino Soutinho. Álvaro Siza was designated the seafront as far as the Chapel of Our Lady of Guia. For that area, Siza proposed an area for urban redevelopment, the preservation of the surrounding dunes and two low-density buildings: an activity centre and café-bar.

b) Leça da Palmeira Waterfront (2007) was originally conceived by Álvaro Siza in 1974. At the time, he intended to give precedence to pedestrian and road access, besides preserving the natural characteristics of the landscape, and granting continuity to the seafront of Leixões harbour designed by Fernando Távora and Francisco Figueiredo. In 2007, Siza returned to his original idea, projecting the promenade from the bar of Leixões towards the south, as far as the Cape of Boa Nova, close to his Tea House building towards the north. This waterfront pathway, which also passed close to his swimming pool project, establishes a boundary which engage the urban areas with the beaches.

c) The Viana do Castelo Library (2008), is integrated into the plan designed by Fernando Távora for the city riverfront, in an area delimited by the Lima River and the historical centre. The library is a two-story building, which integrates a complex structural system of steel beams reinforced with white concrete. The building typology is ordered around a central patio, which allows natural light to flow through all areas of the library. The reading rooms occupy the first floor offering panoramic window views of the surroundings. Technical and service areas, rooms for the consultation of special titles, and archives were on the low level, accessed from the library entrance.

d) The Nadir Afonso Museum in Chaves (2015) nestles on the banks of the Tâmega river in a flood area. Álvaro Siza raised the building, supporting it through walls which sit on concrete “stilts” reminiscent of some of artist Nadir Afonso’s motifs. The building is a long structure in white concrete, its shape dictated by the interior sequence of exhibition spaces.


FIRST (18.09.2022 to 31.03.2022)

SECOND (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)

THIRD (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)

FOURTH (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)

FIFTH (01.04.2023 to 17.09.2023)


Paulo Tormenta Pinto


Ana Tostões


Alexandra Saraiva

Ana Brandão

Elodie Marques

João Paulo Delgado

José Luís Saldanha

Pedro Baía

Pedro Pinto

Rui Póvoas

Sandra Marques Pereira


José António Bandeirinha

Raquel Henriques da Silva

Magda Seifert

Inês d’Orey


Afonso Julião Simão

Bárbara Lopes Monteiro

Bernardo Gaspar Vicente

Carlos Pinto Marques

Cátia Meireles dos Santos

Daniel Cunha Gomes

Daniela Gonçalves Flores

João Passão Ovelheira

Luísa Santos Martins

Madalena Carvalho Lopes

Maria Fróis Antunes

Mariana Almeida Brito

Marta Vieira da Fonte

Miguel Pereira Almeida

Ricardo Esteves Ferreira

Tomás Gomes Oliveira





CM de Viana do Castelo

CM de Vila do Conde

CM de Matosinhos

CM de Chaves


Circo de Ideias


Ana Resende 

Luís Sousa Teixeira


This project is funded by FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (SIZA/CPT/0031/2019)






On the 27th of October 2021 was held by the architect and professor Miguel a critic session of students' work in progress.
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   Projects of urban renovation after the 1998 Lisbon Exposition