Architecture, Portugal

Meeting Alvaro Siza Viera

In the summer of 1998, I graduated from the University of Florida School of Architecture and decided to take some Post Bac courses with the University of Washington. I signed up for a summer session in a study abroad program in Portugal. Growing up with an interest in Architecture and with family from Portugal, I already was aware of the internationally known, Pritzker Prize winning, Alvaro Siza Viera. So when I found out that he was going to be a guest speaker, you could imagine my excitement. We were already studying in buildings that he designed. So it was a good day when he came to speak to us.

It was an early morning. I was sitting at the school’s cafe with a fellow student, Ines Castelo-Branco (now a renown architect in her own right). As I looked out the window, I saw Alvaro Siza pulling up in his car…a little Fiat??? or other small car. He pulled into his spot. He sat there for a moment, looking down…maybe reading  or making a last minute note / sketching. And then I noticed his car slowly rolling forward. Oops he forgot to put his parking brake on. The car continued to roll slowly and then…bump it hit the car parked in the spot in front. He couldn’t have been going more than 5 mph. But in a classic move, he put the car in reverse, moved it about 5 feet back and then continued what he was doing.

A few moments after, he joined our group in the Cafe. He sat down and had a quick espresso and then we all moved into a lecture room. The space was simple…but did have two large boards. As he began to talk, he sketched. It was almost like his hand, mind, and mouth were connected. It was amazing how quickly the two boards were filled…and then wiped down and filled again. It was truly a privilege to be in his presence, even more so to hear him speak. In the weeks after, our group traveled throughout Portugal and some of Spain. During our many road trips and the rest of my stay in Europe, we visited many of Siza’s projects. Below are some of the many that I saw. They were simple, clean, and expressive examples of contemporary minimalist / modernist architecture. It was great to see work that I still find inspiring…