goto Appendx main menu Alvaro Siza : Robert Levit
text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | notes
previous page 

Architecture is the background to life lived. As in Le Corbusier's example, it retains the marks of our human use of it. Landscapes, rooms, and streets are filled with voluble human activity—people promenading, talking, buying and selling. Other scenes retain the clues of someone's recent passage: rumpled clothing sits on a chair, laundry is left hanging to dry. Inanimate things retain their obdurate separateness but are criss-crossed and marked by human activity. Buildings and landscapes thus appear both remote and enmeshed in the resulting tangle. 

These drawings create the peculiar sense that we hover just before the drawn scene. They suggest the physical presence of the voyeur at the very site of the sketch. In literal terms, in some drawings Siza allows his own feet and hands—hands caught in the act of sketching the drawing we are now looking at—to enter into the drawing's frame. 

Architecture thought of as the consequence of the relationship between work and life, and the reconceptualization of the subject according to notions of sensation and the promenade—these are the two fields of thought through which I would like to Appendx 3 page break 84 | 85 examine some projects of Siza's. Although the chosen group of works cannot exemplify the full range or complexity of his entire opus, it does touch on persistent and central themes. 

One of the reasons the vernacular was able to represent to Tavora and his colleagues their notion of a natural language had to do with its historicity. As an accretive process that maintained the evidence of the historical circumstances of its making—the topographical conditions to which it responded, and the accumulated agglomerations of an architecture continually added upon without erasure of preceding layers—it represented an architecture revealing the process of its own becoming. Maybe it did not so much demonstrate the naturalness—whatever that might mean—of its forms in relation to life itself; however, its archeological qualities suggested the historical record of life's needs. Such effects depended on the passage of real history. But there is a manner through which Siza's architecture produces an analogy, or more properly, a representation of this process, although producing an effect quite different from the original. As a representation, it is not the thing referred to any more than a Appendx 3 page break 85 | 86painting of a landscape is a landscape. The very self-consciousness of the metaphorical construction of this historicity also leads to certain complications. There is a nagging self-consciousness—legible in the architecture—that suggests that the archeological metaphor also reveals the loss of the very continuity or natural historical process that it seeks to represent. The act is estranged from the very foundations that set it in motion. 

16. Swimming pool, Leca da Palmeira (plan)
17. Swimming pool, Leca da Palmeira (view from rocks)
18. Swimming pool, Leca da Palmeira (view of angled wall)
19. Swimming pool, Leca da Palmeira (overall)
20. Swimming pool, Leca da Palmeira (pools)
One of Siza's early projects is the beach-side public pools in Leca da Palmeira (1961-66) (figures 16-20). One portion of it is a series of intermittent parallel concrete walls and slightly sloped roof slabs running in parallel—some at a slight angle—and backing onto the face of a concrete boardwalk. The roofs (when they exist) and the walls form few closed corners but instead, in de Stijl fashion, slip by each other. Of those closed corners visible in the plan, many are in fact buried underground and thus hidden from view. Roof slabs reach beyond the edge of walls or are separated by deep reveals that create the illusion that they float—independent of the walls below. The beach itself is full of large formations of craggy rocks, and the various swimming pools are formed by the conjunction of the open figures of low concrete walls and the rock formations. Other elements amid the rocks are cast concrete stairs, ramps, and platforms, whose regular shapes are set within the rocks and sand and dive into the beach's jagged formations. 

This architecture is intimately calibrated to its site; the pools hold water only through the collaboration of existing rock formations and the newly cast concrete walls. The group of parallel walls at the back of the site are like a delaminated extension of the boardwalk, its edge echoing in layers into the territory of the beach. And concrete is made from sand. Nevertheless, there is something alien about this architecture on the beach. The hard-edged forms of the concrete planes—straight or, in one small instance, smoothly and geometrically curved—do not enter into endless negotiations with the particulars of the terrain. Those portions of the project that enter into the territory or rocks stop and start as dictated by the natural formations, but they do not become distorted in an attempt to accommodate themselves. Walls, platforms, and roofs do not fuse with the landscape, but form a kind of interrupted tracery over it, a kind of drafted graffiti. And instead of a literal historical accumulation of artifacts deposited over time, they offer something more akin to the primal markings of a draughtsman over the territory. They seem more like the emblems of drawing than of building. Appendx 3 page break 86 | 87

21. Mies brick country house (perspective and plan)
Yet this drawing is no simple matter either: The syntax of slipping planes and spatial porousness has something of that original spatial generality, or placelessness as it has been called, that was a quality of the de Stijl vocabulary; it lurks in the pattern language of this project. Like the gridded canvases of Mondrian or the brick country house of Mies (figure 21), the spatial order—because there is nothing finite about it, no closed figure—suggests the possibility of the pattern's extension: beyond the frame in Mondrian's case, or as a latent and hidden order in the continuum of space with Mies's house. In the Leca project, the tendency to understand the language in relation to this more abstract extension makes the project feel that it lays there with a certain indifference between the new layer and the existing material of the site. We could imagine a series of traces, dashes, and hovering planes proliferating in collage fashion along the beach and beyond. And here lies the crux of one form of equivocation in the project. The particular arrangement of forms is particular to place, but hints at an abstracted indifference. The porous spatial paradigm of the syntax allows the site to visibly pass through it. Contrast this fact with the affect of an intact closed spatial figure or completed type where the nature of its autonomy would tend to close out the site, making the interaction and layering less continuous as the figure stated its formal independence. Here the formal syntax is everywhere autonomous, everywhere infiltrated by the site. 
The constant contact between the space of the architecture and the space of the natural site binds them in an archeological fashion of layers, at the same time that the layer of nature is an alien intrusion. It is colonized without submitting to human Appendx 3 page break 87 | 88 reformulation, and thus suggests an archeology or historicity where the past—that is, the existing site or its representation—remains alien to us. The proposition is for an archeological intimacy that will not admit a naturalness of relation to the past. 

The project suggests an architecture that, like graffiti, is drawn on the site. In this sense, the layers of archeology have to do with the act of conception and design settling upon the material of the existing. But as with Le Corbusier, we are also given little emblematic traces of our own peripatetic passage through the site. The ramps and the stairs are like those set into the background of the columnar grid's spatial ideality. Here similar ciphers now have as their alien background a real site. The conceptuality of the architecture's syntax, conceived of as intimately bound and alien to site, is echoed by the littered trail of ciphers that put our phantom presence amid a world of rocks that we can touch but cannot change.next page

text | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | notes
appendx inc.©1997