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Álvaro Siza: swimming pools with depth

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The design of Álvaro Siza’s Portuguese rock pools has the freedom of a hand drawing, says Patrick Lynch

Álvaro Siza’s housing is almost uniquely humane among modern examples. He always places the territories of inhabitants into vital contact with each other in a respectful way, allowing the inhabitants to feel secure and encouraged towards sharing with others. Siza’s urban projects heal the rifts made by modernist town planning, without abandoning a modern idiom, appropriating the best lessons of post-modernism. In this, he is James Stirling’s shadow brother, showing us how we can learn from our peers and our mistakes.

While Siza’s charismatic houses teach us that character in architecture is paramount, the two swimming pools from his youth will haunt the architectural imagination for centuries. In his pool at Matosinhos in Portugal (1966), you approach through a ruined convent, where you see garden fragments of ancient and new gazebos, a tennis-court pavilion and a handball court crafted by Siza’s master, Fernando Távora. The pool is secreted on a wooded hill like a hidden place from a dream. White walls huddle around it. Clay pantile roofs slope down towards the courtyard at head height, making the large space oddly intimate and public. It appears that two scales exist at once: the horizontal subject looking on and the walking body emerging from the changing rooms.

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