Monday, July 25, 2011

Souto, SIza, Aalto and Mies

El País published an interview yesterday with Eduardo Souto de Moura, including some interesting comments on the relation of his work to Siza's. Here are some excerpts:
"When I was studying, the school in Oporto was highly politicized. Those were the years of sociology. And we worked to change the substandard workers' housing, called islands, that were located in the yards of bourgeois houses. We wanted to change things. We worked with neighborhood associations. … Then the Revolution of the Carnations erupted [1973]. And when Nuno Portas became State Secretary of Housing, he said that he'd support anyone with a plan and an organization. We decided to improve that housingm but we needed an architect to sign the project documents. We were all students. And so we went to find the best. And the best was Siza. Afterwards, I stayed and worked with him for five years."

"Working with Álvaro is fantastic. He's an exceptional person. Back them he had become a widower and I was still single, so we ate together often. He defended Alvar Aalto. I liked Mies van der Rohe."

"I thought then that Aalto was an expressionist. But visiting his work in Finland you understand that he was very rationalist. … But I think Mies was more radical."

"It was the period of the Revolution.  The entire country had to be rebuilt, half a million housing units were needed. And we couldn't do that feeling out the place and local customs like Alvar Aalto. We first needed a technical language to overcome the pressure of Post Modernism, a practical and efficient language. We talked about this a lot. And I thought Mies could help us more than Alvar Aalto."

What do you admire in Siza?
"His figure has marked me more than his architecture: the man, his ethics and his knowledge. He gives you the working instruments. But he is extremely demanding. He's smooth and sweet, but he wants to understand everything."

You didn't want to be his disciple…?
"It wasn't possible. I couldn't get into his head. I know perfectly well the language, the technical aspects. I know his grammar. But I could never think like him. I have other ideas. He says I am a neoplasticist, like the Mies I like. I don't have to prove anything to him, and he never wants to impose anything on me. And so we get along together very well. Working together is like playing chess."

[On Siza]: "I insist: the personality is stronger than the architect. It's very important to understand the identity, the ethics that are the consequence of this kind of obsessive architecture. He has always been obstinate. When he was building the Boa Nova Teahouse, he slept on the rocks. He knew them by heart."

Like Siza in Porto Alegre, you have also let loose a little over time.
"Yes, that's what they say. I think this began when I was designing the Oporto metro. There were no recipes there. I had to learn to take the scale of the city like a doctor examining a patient.... Doing the metro, I thought it may well be that things are not quite as Cartesian as we think. And then there's the idea of experimenting. Without  experimentation, the profession is very boring. And since the world isn't black and white, one can try different things."

Anatxu Zabalbeascoa
Eduardo Souto de Moura. "Soy realista. Creo en la reparación"
El Pais Semanal
July 25, 2011
Photo from the article
Excerpts translated from Spanish by DC

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