ABOUT THE PROJECT
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 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.
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 et.al., 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 et.al. 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).
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This research project encompasses two general goals and four specific ones.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The first phase is devoted to setting up the project’s conceptual, practical and institutional framework.
Preliminary Research corresponds to the first part of the survey that will be dedicated to the gathering and systematisation of information related to the Portugal Pavilion and the above-mentioned cases - Leça da Palmeira Waterfront, Atlantic Park in Vila do Conde, the Municipal Library in Viana do Castelo, Museum Nadir Afonso in Chaves - and a first review of the related bibliography on the processes of Álvaro Siza’s work practice and a contextual overview.
The selection process of research fellows will be undertaken during this period, as well as all the contacts with the agents, consultant entities, and institutions involved in the research.
A general meeting will be held with the entire research team. This discussion will provide a conceptual and methodological framework for the collection and sharing of information and reflection between team partners.
SECOND (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)
For this phase, its main sources will be the municipal archives of Lisbon, Vila do Conde, Matosinhos, Viana do Castelo and Chaves. Also, the Directorate of Cultural Heritage archives will also be consulted.
This task will set up an analytic approach to the selected works of Álvaro Siza - Atlantic Park in Vila do Conde; Leça da Palmeira Waterfront in Matosinhos; Municipal Library in Viana do Castelo; and Nadir Afonso Contemporary Art Museum in Chaves, including the Portugal Pavilion (classified as a Monument of Public Interest) as a central part of the urban renovation of the east Lisbon’s 4 km riverside. The recent renovation and adaptive reuse project of the Portugal Pavilion (Council of Ministers Resolution n.º 65/2018) under development by Siza himself, commissioned by the University of Lisbon, will also be subject to analysis.
Each project will be broken down according to:
(a) its programme and configuration (building and public space).
(b) the commission demands and restrictions and how they were addressed by Álvaro Siza;
(c) technological solutions and materials as an extension of Álvaro Siza’s architecture practice.
(d) the distribution of spaces, scales and uses.
(e) the integration of the projects within their urban context (visual axes, accessibilities and connections with the surrounding urban fabric and other relevant aspects).
(f) the significance of project to the overall urban redevelopment strategy.
This phased task will be mainly based on sources from institutional archives (central or municipal) involving the study of relevant plans and territorial strategies, the project’s drawings and textual documents and other contextual data. Additional bibliographies will also be considered. An in-depth interview will be carried out with Álvaro Siza focused on his work’s development. The interview will be part of the research’s final publication.
With this analytical approach it is expected to be able to achieve an overview of the different case studies in relation to the processes, plans and strategies of urban transformation set in motion by Expo98 and after by the Polis programme. This focus is relevant considering the redevelopment actions were expected to establish reference works at a municipal and national level, at some level addressing urban frailties and the expectations of commissioners. Based on this task, it is intended to decode the architect’s creative process in parallel with an overview of each work within an urban context, constituting a solid ground to reach new conclusions that can be subject to a debate on Álvaro Siza’s ‘critical monumentality’.
THIRD (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)
For this task, the main sources will be critical observations of Álvaro Siza’s built works and their engagement with users.
The aim of this phase is to understand how the selected architectural and public space works are utilised and experienced in everyday life. This task will have an interpretive and analytical nature, focusing on the study of the day-to-day functioning of the built works.
Each work will be the subject to a post-occupation analysis including:
(a) its usages and activities.
(b) the works’ aesthetics and iconic visuality.
(c) aspects of comfort and appropriation.
(d) the current spatial usage, adaptability features and its interaction with new interventions,
(e) in the case of the Portugal Pavilion, a detailed analysis on the building’s current configuration and usages will be combined with an analysis of the transformations prompted by the adaptation project in progress.
This task will be mainly based on the works themselves, through fieldwork and testable research on the users’ experiences, including observations of the building or public space.
The design use and operating conditions (within different timeframes), spatial monitoring and questionnaires and / or interviews with users.
As a result of these observations, there will be produced: (1) visual and technical material using tools such as Space Syntax and/or local surveys, representing the readability of the spaces and the evaluation of the usage by the user; (2) photographic records as an illustrative tool for usage patterns and user experience of the space.
Based on this study, it will be possible to explore the relationships produced by urban interventions and buildings with the specific contexts in which they operate, to better understand how the projects of Álvaro Siza are appropriated by their users and by the city, analysing the social impact upon the general population and how the work itself is experienced from a user’s point of view.
FOURTH (01.04.2022 to 31.03.2023)
For this phase, the main sources will be the Canadian Center of Architecture archives, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation archives and the assets that currently exist in the Álvaro Siza studio.
This phase aims at establishing relationships and associations between the selected works of Álvaro Siza, namely that of the Portugal Pavilion with his existing practice and other relevant architectural project designs and languages.
In these comparative studies, the research and identification of ideas, themes, and ways of designing buildings and urban spaces resulting from the experience of the 1998 Lisbon World Exhibition is the final goal. In particular, connections will be sought with similar designs for other major events, as is the case of 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.
This phased task will focus on the identification of the architectural references influencing the selected works and the correlation between the architect’s past and present projects. It is also intended to find out if these architecture projects have served as a reference for other architects and have had an impact on the history of architecture in Portugal and beyond. The work will be structured as an analogical atlas, inspired by Warburg’s Mnemosyne, bringing together images from Siza’s own practice and seeking affinities with other less expected reference points. A summary of the atlas’ hypotheses will be part of the research’s final publication.
This phase will mainly be based on Álvaro Siza Vieira’s archive at the CCA (Leça da Palmeira Tea house, Ocean swimming pool, Leça and Boa Nova coastal development plan, and Viana do Castelo Public Library) and FCG (Portugal Pavilion), currently housed in his architecture studio, for the study of drawings and textual documents. Additional research on references from previous interviews and bibliography will be collected.
Through the relationships established, the intention is to dissect and to reconstruct the architect’s design process, identifying the phases of Siza’s practice and to understand its development in the way of making architecture.
FIFTH (01.04.2023 to 17.09.2023)
For this phase, the main source material will be the Riverfront General Plan for Lisbon.
This task aims at comparing key developments in the fields of urbanism and architecture, following the major events of the late 20thcentury in Europe, more precisely Lisbon after Expo98; Barcelona and Seville, respectively after the Olympics and the World Exposition, both in 1992; and Hanover after the 2000 World Exposition.
Studies will be carried out, in the course of this phase to answer questions such as: i. How the design culture and the face of these cities have changed; ii. The way that these major events have been given as arguments for further urban development and expansion, after they took place; iii. How these major events have contributed towards the improvement of the population’s living conditions and the urban competitiveness of cities; iv. How these major events have established the grounds for economic and urban development in the current moment, v. How the model for the great world events has recently been used as a justification for urban development policies in Europe, namely in cases such as Zaragoza 2008, or Milan 2015.
Paulo Tormenta Pinto
João Paulo Delgado
José Luís Saldanha
Sandra Marques Pereira
José António Bandeirinha
Raquel Henriques da Silva
CM de Viana do Castelo
CM de Vila do Conde
CM de Matosinhos
CM de Chaves
Circo de Ideias
Luís Sousa Teixeira
This project is funded by FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (SIZA/CPT/0031/2019)