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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Portuguese Excellence Unifies the Divided: Architect Siza Vieira

Updated: Feb 4

Casa de Chá da Boa Nova (Boa Nova Tea House) is a restaurant designed by Álvaro Siza Vieria (1958-1963) in Leça da Palmeira, Matosinhos Municipality, in Porto District. The building has been classified as a national monument since 2011.

Access is via a stepped pathway integrated into the rocks. The path alternately reveals and hides the sea. On reaching the building, the low eaves of the roof direct the visitor's gaze to the sea. Inside, large glass panels blur the boundaries between the structure and its surroundings.


One of architect Álvaro Siza Vieira’s first designs was the kitchen of his grandmother’s house in his native coastal city of Matosinhos, in Porto District, when he was only 19 in 1952.


Two years later, in his first commission, which was for four houses, also in Matosinhos, Siza Vieira could not add his signature to the initial project – the civil engineer signed – because he was not yet an architect. He was still in his School of Fine Arts program at the University of Porto, reported Expresso (February 7, 2017).


Since then, the works of Álvaro Siza Vieira are far-flung around the world: the Serralves Museum (1991-1999), in Porto; the Bonjour Tristesse mixed-use building (1980-1984), in Berlin; the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2005), in London; and the New Headquarters of the Bank of Cape Verde (1998), in the capital city of Praia, which are only a few of his projects in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South and North America on a list that consists of pages and pages.

Recently, Siza Vieira had work in China and “two little houses” in Foz, Expresso reported on October 19, 2023.


The seven-story commercial and residential building in Berlin (1980-1984) became known as Bonjour Tristesse for the graffiti that appeared in the late 1980s. Bonjour Tristesse is a 1954 novel by Françoise Sagan, who was only 18, when it became an overnight sensation. The title is derived from a poem by Paul Éluard, one of the founders of the Surrealistic movement. (Photo by Georg Slickers)


In view of the 90-year-old’s “work of a lifetime” and contribution to “the values of portugalidade (‘Portugueseness’)”, the architect received the Ilídio Pinho Foundation award, valued at 100,000 euros, on December 19, 2023, according to Câmara Municipal de Lisboa (December 12, 2023). Ilídio Pinho, founder of the metal-packaging outfit, COLEP, created the foundation in 2000 in memory of his son, who shared his name, according to the Universidade de Aveiro. The prize’s patron attended the ceremony.


At the same ceremony, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa awarded Siza Vieira the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Sant’lago da Espada, which honors literary, scientific and artistic merit. The government tribute was a surprise to the architect, reported Espaço de Arquitectura, and the fourth time that the President had awarded him, according to Centro de Estudos de Arquitectura e Urbanismo.

The introduction of the Military Order of Sant’lago da Espada to Portugal dates back to 1172, when the military order came to the aid of King Afonso Henriques, according to the Presidencia website. Others who have received distinctions of the order, of which there are six degrees, include the writer Guerra Junqueiro (1920), the painter Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (1920) and the filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira (1968).


The most recent recipient said that he was “deeply grateful” at the ceremony, which also was attended by Carlos Moedas, president of the Lisbon Municipality; Rui Moreira, president of the Porto Municipality, and João Soares, a former president of Lisbon Municipality, reported Público (December 19, 2023).


At the double-award ceremony in the Salão Nobre of the Hall of Lisbon Municipality, Siza Vieira’s work in Lisbon -- reconstruction of the Chiado after a fire in 1988 and the Pavilhão de Portugal (Pavilion of Portugal) in the Parque das Nações (1994-1998) -- were the most referenced works, reported Câmara Municipal de Lisboa.


Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2005) in London


The president of the Lisbon Municipality, Carlos Moedas, also spoke at the ceremony, reported Público:


“But what is this about ‘Portugueseness’?


“Today, our public life is so demoralized, so resigned, that we often don’t even have the desire to answer these questions. We resign ourselves to everything, even mediocrity.”


Carlos Moedas highlighted the importance of honoring Portuguese excellence:


“Today, the Portuguese need to appreciate and acknowledge their best. They need references. We live in times of enormous polarization, division and friction, in which bridges are broken and demonization is preferred to dialogue.”


The president of the Lisbon Municipality argued that no country or city can live in this way, alluding to the biblical saying: “A kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.”


“Division and friction do not give a future. Today, the Portuguese need unifying factors more than narratives that feed friction. These factors start at the top with those who can set an example," continued Moedas, who singled out Siza Vieira and the cardinal, poet and theologian, José Tolentino de Mendonça, the sole recipients of the Ilídio Pinho Foundation award.


President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who spoke after Moedas, said: “You’re right. This saga is partly over. We need to redo it, rebuild it, turn it towards the future.” 


Ilídio Pinho (far left) congratulates architect Álvaro Siza Vieira (3rd from left) at Lisbon Municipality Hall, with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (2nd from left), and Carlos Moedas, president of the Municipality of Lisbon (4th from left) (Photo from Câmara Municipal de Lisboa)


Moedas revealed that, in 2024, the Lisbon Municipality will award Siza Vieira the Medal of Honor of the City of Lisbon in a ceremony in the architect's native Porto, reported Público.


In 1992, Siza Vieira became the first Portuguese to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an international prize awarded each year to a living architect for significant achievement. The prize was established in 1979 by the Pritzker family of Chicago through its Hyatt Foundation. It is often referred to as “architecture’s Nobel”, according to its website.

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