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Álvaro Siza By Philip Jodidio. Taschen, 1999. 176pp. £16.99

‘I use the Japanese way with judo. If you can’t fight something, you accept it’. This quote by Álvaro Siza, writes Isabel Allen, is in the opening essay of this book, which is in Taschen’s familiar, lavishly- illustrated format, and with a substantial text.

 

The most striking thing about the projects which follow is Siza’s evident ability to adapt his work. His social housing in the Netherlands looks as though it has been crafted by a modern-day devotee of Oud, while the Galician Centre for Contemporary Art bears more than a passing resemblance to Benson + Forsyth’s Museum of Scotland.

 

The only recent building to top the rugged beauty of the restaurant and swimming pool built in Leca de Palmeira in the 1960s is the Santa Maria Church in Maco de Canevezes (left). Constructed between 1990 and 1996, every last detail has been designed by Siza, including the chairs, the altar, and the two ‘light chimneys’ which throw planes of light on the wall behind the altar, partially defining the outline of a cross. This is Siza at his best, boldly original, but with a delicate, quietly humorous touch.

 

Both qualities are evident in the design of the long low window positioned to give seated worshippers a view of the surrounding mountains - a radical gesture which subverts the conventions of church architecture, but also a highly pragmatic move which gently acknowledges the fact that members of the congregation will not necessarily be so absorbed by the act of worship that they cannot admire the view.

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