Sunday, January 18, 2015

Architecture as Fiction: Santa Maria de Bouro

All photos © Juan Rodríguez
The photographer Juan Rodríguez asked me to contribute a few lines about the Pousada de Santa Maria do Bouro for his large book of black-and-white photographs dedicated to the work of Eduardo Souto de Moura. Here is the text in full:  
"Architecture can sometimes become a kind of non-narrative fiction. It has no characters, no observable movement, no plot – or at least none of these things until we as actors come to live a moment of our lives upon its stage. But in the hands of an architect who is alert and exacting –who arrives at a site to listen and observe, and then designs the project by inhaling everything that must go into it and then breathing it all out again– architecture can become more than simply a practical solution to a practical problem. It can register, suggest or encapsulate essential aspects or properties of a culture, place or zeitgeist as effectively and seductively as a good novel."

"Or this at least can be argued in the case of Eduardo Souto de Moura's Pousada de Santa María do Bouro. When Souto first came to the site he found ruins: the crumbling walls, without floors or roof, of an 18th century Cistercian monastery on the banks of the Cavado River. When he finished the work some ten years later, he left behind the same ruins, but rendered in such a way that they had become not only inhabitable, but eloquent, whispering a thousand stories to any visitor who cared to listen – stories about their stone walls, their spaces and courtyards, the tiny village and the untamed countryside around them, stories that fuse in a timeless continuum the past and present of that particular place on the riverbank."

"Guests are not simply brought back to a recreation, mimetic but ultimately false and simulated, of the monastery's past, though they do sleep in former monk's cells and dine in the refectory and under the monumental chimney of its kitchen. Souto instead has given us the ruin as he found it, converting its lost past into a suggestion, a trace, a whisper that permeates and perfumes its present condition. At the same time, his exacting, minimal intervention creates an austere, elegant, zen-like realm of ease and repose that is imbued with an epicurean sense of how best to live life in this particular place at the present moment, a moment immersed in the accumulated stories of the past, as well as our own, hurtling trajectory into the future, both infused with an awareness of mortality."

Pousada de Santa Maria do Bouro
Juan Rodríguez, Eduardo Souto Moura at Work, Amag Editorial, La Coruña, October 2014, page 199
Buy the book: Editorial Amag

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