Last week, Álvaro Siza, 75, joined an exclusive club of architectural giants by winning the RIBA’s Royal Gold Medal. The AJ caught up with the elusive Portuguese architect to talk about the award, working in England and the dangers of specialising.
How did you feel when you heard the news?
It is an honour and I’m proud and happy to receive such a prestigious award.
Would you work in the UK and what has stopped you until now?
If there was an opportunity and I was on good form I’d do it. I made the temporary Serpentine Pavilion with Eduardo Souta de Moura. But I think it is not so easy to work in England. There aren’t that many foreign architects there and the main reason is the lack of competitions.
At the moment I do not do competitions. Some practices have another office just focusing on contests. So in a way it is a question of organisation of the office. But also a question of time. I like to relate to the work I do.
Who do you admire on the architectural scene in the UK?
Norman Foster has wonderful works everywhere.
The Gold Medal is effectively a lifetime award. Is there any kind of project you have yet to tackle that you would still like to do?
I never set out to do this kind of work of that kind of work. I like to do different sizes of commissions, from small scale to large scale, but have never concentrated on one type of work.
The one thing that is fundamental for the education of architects is the experience of different types of work.
I always say ‘the specialism of an architect is not to be specialised’. You need to experiment in different scales and with the relationships of buildings with each other.
Is there anywhere else in the world that you would like to build? (Siza has just been away in Madrid and is also working in Milan.)
Twenty years ago I had some big wishes, but at my age I’m not so prepared for that. (Laughs.) I have to think about my health.
How do you think the world’s financial difficulties will impact on the profession?
I hope what will come out of this is that people think about the future, and how to face the world’s problems, in different ways. The quality of architecture does not depend on money – it does not need to be very, very expensive.
How do you see the future of architecture in Portugal?
We have a new generation of architects here that are already ‘more than a promise’.
What are you working on now?
I have projects big and small. Two private houses at one end – and the remodelling of the Sempione Avenue in Milan, which includes the relocation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s grande cavallo [a large horse sculpture currently in the hippodrome].
Siza will pick up his medal at a ceremony in February.