David Wild’s review of Phaidon’s book on Álvaro Siza (AJ 22.3.01) reminded me of a lovely little essay in Spanish, by Oscar Tusquets Blanca in his book Todo es Comparable, written in the form of a letter addressed to Siza. Having visited Portugal 30 years ago for an architects’ congress, he had been enchanted and enthused by the discovery of this young gun Siza.
On visiting various projects Tusquets Blanca remarked on the poor quality of construction and detailing, which Siza attributed to the technological backwardness of Portugal. Siza said that he would work to correct this situation.
Thirty years on, on visiting Siza’s museum in Santiago de Compostela, Tusquets Blanca was horrified at the black streaking of the stone cladding. The simple use of a coping stone would have resolved the problem as it had for centuries in the surrounding buildings. Tusquets Blanca suggests that after 30 years Siza could still not detail.
My view is that he is not too concerned with it. In fact if you visit any Siza building you will find heartstoppingly bad detail and a total lack of concern for public safety - flimsy balustrades or no balustrades at all, fragile door handles (his own) on 2.5m high metal and glass doors, also applied to standard toilet doors, hidden or almost hidden security equipment, etc.
So where is this ‘close attention to detail and dialogue with craftsmen’ that Wild mentions?
Tusquets Blanca suggests that if Siza was primarily concerned with details he would not be the great architect he is. I can’t accept this. Excellence should also be in the detail. Siza’s buildings require constant care and maintenance. I am just concerned about the time when patrons tire of of this and give up. Will it all be reduced to the awful condition of the Malagueira housing complex in Evora? I hope not.
Mario Sua Kay, Lisbon, Portugal