Interview with Alvaro Siza

Alvaro Siza – Quinta da Malagueira, Évora, Portugal (1977)

An edited extract from an interview conducted by Manchester School of Architecture doctoral candidate António Oliviera with the 2009 Royal Gold Medallist Alvaro Siza Vieira


AO: What were the principles underlying the Quinta da Malagueira project and what is the importance of vernacular architecture in this project?

AS: … Hidden in the centre of Malagueira there is a street, which was illegal construction in the 1940s. It is no accident that it is put in the very centre of the land where it could not be seen, to maintain the image. I must also point out that at that time, for example, levels of thermal insulation were notrequired; there was no regulation for that yet. So what moved the vernacular model of the courtyard house, which is not the only one in Alentejo, … is the one that is favourable to the budgetary restrictions and the creation of comfort, that is, the courtyard introduces a kind of transition; the climate in Alentejo is harsh, it is very hot and very cold, it also has large thermal variations, so that is an area of transition. The white paint, has also clearly to do with the environment of Évora, with the color of Évora, all white, …

AO: I find the Malagueira is a representative project almost of the Alentejo culture, I do not know if you agree with that?

AS: There are many reasons for each thing in architecture. I have also heard this sort of project being classified as neorationalist, for example, and of course nobody is working today without having the background, even if they deny it, of the evolution of architecture which is usually called rationalism. I do not think we can separate the reasons of architecture by this or that, I mean, there are many reasons combining, sometimes there is even the taste of the promoter, which is something that isn’t often mentioned, but which obviously has influence.

AO: I chose Malagueira for two reasons because on the one hand it has a very strong relationship with the place, with Évora, with the environment, with the ethos, and on the other hand it has almost a vision of the future, for example, because that one element that binds the whole, … I think these two aspects of relationship with the place, and demand for a relationship with the future are, in my view, essential.

AS: Yes, once again I agree, but there are several, but you mean the viaduct. One of the reasons for the viaduct, is really a relationship, it is no coincidence that under the viaduct there is a great pedestrian way and beside it there are cars, I do not like this thing pedestrians to one side, and cars to the other. By the way, in Évora when I got the job, the idea was to make some collective garages, and those narrow paths, between houses, were pedestrian, also because lots of cars was unthinkable in Malagueira, because that was really meant for poor people, and a quick change was not expected, which was a mistake to predict. But what is a fact is that it started, more cars began to appear, more cars, …and people created a very interesting rule, that in front of every house, there is an eight-meter stop for the owner and nobody else, and going along well with this rule, no one violating this rule, then the streets are too narrow for the cars, but there too, as there are no sidewalks, there are no accidents because the car driver cannot accelerate like a Formula 1, he has to drive slowly because otherwise he will scratch the car, hurt people … Oh the viaduct, the viaduct, well, about my saying that there is a parallel between cars and pedestrians, one of the reasons for the viaduct is that I knew from the start that there would be no money for infrastructure.

AO: The very simplicity of the materials of the viaduct?

AS: Out of the same rule not to bury drains, … a network gallery could be made and kill two birds with one stone, introducing a new scale waiting for the equipment, because as you know, there are distributed gaps in the plan, which are designed for equipment, a number of request of the town hall … Put simply no money ever came. What I could not imagine is that until now no money would come, and money still does not come.

AO: Architecture has such adversity outside architecture itself that…

AS: It is not always external, because sometimes it comes from professionals, obstruction by professionals themselves.

AO: The existential place has an important role in the outcome of your projects and works. Do you consider existentialism as thought important in the shape of architecture itself?

AS: Yes existentialism is something that is almost no longer spoken of, but it is not something that is gone, a thought that is not included in the way of thinking today, but I do not know what sense architecture is seeing, but what I find important in architecture, is the attention to how people live and how they want to live. The balance is always variable, ambiguous but it has always some lines of force, which we must try to understand, that is, one of the problems of architecture is the understanding of what is happening and what is happening is always persistence and innovation.

AO: Because the relationship with the site is part of sustainability?

AS: Yes, indeed, indeed…

AO: How do you see the future of architectural creation and its relationship with society.

AS: Well I see a black future, if the trend is to give major strength to every expertise, forgetting that journey I was talking about. If I am right, I may not be… (there is) the gap between the one who projects and the one who will be using the projected product. In all fields of architecture there are also new generations that are normally assimilating the huge increase of information that is coming, and (developing the) means to assimilate this information and I want to believe (in) that.


Three works by Siza

A recent visit to Portugal afforded the opportunity to look at three works from the long career of Alvaro Siza.


Boa Nova Tea House (Leça de Palmeira 1958-63)

This early work by Siza has survived a half-century without officious preservation. Its subtle relationship to its craggy site is matched by the delicacy of its organization and the robustness of its construction. The journey through the landscape continues in the inflection of the plan and nestling section. The influence of Japanese and Scandinavian architecture is manifested in the most Portuguese ways, particularly in the relationship to that alluring horizon glimpsed in a clerestory window as one pauses before descending to the principal rooms.


Faculty of Architecture (Porto 1987-93)

The Faculty of Architecture displays those same narrative qualities applied to an urban scale. Its panoramic location helps Siza frame views of the city and the River Duoro. The individual articulation of the studio blocks are supported by the plaza / podium and administrative wings which line the ascending journey through the building, by linear and curving ramps to the repository of architectural knowledge in the library.


Serralves Foundation (Porto 1995-99)

Again responding to the qualities of its situation, this Museum sits in a beautifully maintained park with views framed from the windows of its generously proportioned galleries. The sober monumentalism of its minimal detailing creates a sequence of abstract vistas that lead the visitor toward the spaces for contemporary art, and out into the garden. Here the white volumes stand as mute counterparts to the varied forms of a nature educated to be natural.

Despite the differences in scale and context of these three projects the element that gives them unity is the elaboration of the journey through the building, as if they are petrified traces of the linear drawings through which Siza represents the world.

More images available on Guttae

Messages from Portugal

Our recent post about Evora has led to some interesting correspondence with Portuguese architects and students. rui-mello sends us some images of the work of Joaquim Massena. The project is a theatre in Oporto. The work of Massena, which appears to be a mixture of new buildings and renovation projects can be found at



You may also like to look at ultimasmag which is an internet periodical produced by Fernando Guerra and contains exceptional photographs of contemporary architecture in Portugal. The latest issue includes pictures of Alvaro Siza’s new winery. From

After recent intermittent or even timid architectural interventions in wineries in the Douro region, this completely new project in the Alentejo brings a practice to national wine production that is beginning to be common in the wineries of countries like Spain, France, Italy and the United States, in which wine production and commercialization start with the buildings themselves, contributing added value, giving them their own identity, beyond creating a more efficient system of production. The return on investment also translates in the marketing of the wine production itself, providing it with an image that coincides with the cult of wine.

Alvaro Siza in Evora



Further to the recent post about James Stirling’s housing in Runcorn we present these images of Alvaro Siza’s project for housing in Quinta da Malagueira outside the ancient city of Evora. Begun in 1977, the neighbourhood is an immediate product of the revolution of the carnations in 1974 and the work of SAAL. The morphology of the original Roman settlement is continued through the design of 1200 low-cost, single family units, with arcades to the public areas. Harvard University Graduate School of Design recognised the design with the award in 1988 of the Prince of Wales Prize.



MSA Fieldtrip Films also features the work of Siza in the very different context of Berlin with the ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ project for the IBA.