Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Siza The Day.

What a horrible pun of a post title. I'm in physical pain realizing I wrote that, but nevertheless, we can't dwell in the past, we must move on. And the title remains.In Porto Portugal currently and thank goodness, had the first real day of sunshine of my whole trip so far yesterday. All that gloom and doom can begin to wear on one's soul after while so it was great to have a day full of exploration without need of an umbrella. I met up with a Porto born and raised native architect named Jose Pedro Sousa [http://re-d.blogspot.com/] for coffee and breakfast. Pedro is working on his PhD right now dealing with applications of CNC technology in architecture, but was kind enough to take the rest of the morning to show me around some of the more hard to reach Alvaro Siza projects in Porto. After downing our cafe com leites we hopped in his car and drove up the coastline to see Siza's Leca Swimming Pools and Boa Nova Tea house. You couldn't ask for a better Porto tour-guide and purveyor of insights into the culture and architectural atmosphere in Portugal than Pedro, and writing all of the things he taught me would probably require another blog. At Leca de Palmeira Siza also redid the entire walking path next to the ocean a few years ago in a minimal paving and low walls. The swimming pools as well as many of the other buildings dotting the water hunker down below the walkways, only exposing their low roofs to maintain unobstructed views out to the waves.
Like the swimming pools the tea house takes total control of your movement from the beginning. Hiding the building firstly by nestling it in the rocky landscape, then bringing you away from all views to a walled ramp or stair, turning you back around to present a framed landscape of the ocean, and then finally back towards a usually low and unassuming entrance. It still seems odd to me that simple moves like directing circulation and views don't seem to crop up as much in much of the contemporary architecture I see. Maybe that is a pessimistic view, but I retain that in the quest to pursue the holy grail of aesthetic form the simple and most obvious site specific moves are many times passed over instead of celebrated.
After seeing a motorized perspective of much of the city we went to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nestled in an extensive garden in a semi suburban surroundings. Not as materially as experimental as his earlier work on the coast, it still has a a sense of quiet reflection and somber use of detailing. Low granite foundation walls hold up austere white-washed walls that hold you in the green courtyards.
There was an interesting exhibition of the work of Spanish artist Juan Monez as well as a great bookstore, which seems to draw architects towards it much like moths to a flame. But it was in the bookshop that I made another great discovery about a place to visit in Portugal. There is an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean called Madeira that is technically a part of Portugal. Madeira is a volcanic island that uses the black basalt stone plentiful there to create dark architecture outcroppings on the remote island. There is also a great modern architect named Paulo David working out there that I hope to explore more of the material use in contemporary practice. I'm hoping on a plane tomorrow and will hopefully escape some of the rain that seems to be very successfully following me from city to city. One of the last stops on the day of architectural stalking was the Faculdade de Arquitectura by Siza. Every piece of the material puzzle seems to be thought out and made to lock into each other. Below is a joint of a landscape wall where turns an angle.
The experience of traveling so far has humbled me in many more ways than one. Among those is the knowledge that there is still so much to be seen and explored in the world. And whatever pre-conceived notions you contain about knowing a place and culture are usually shattered within half a day. I still remember the day I got off the train in Porto I though it to be a scary, dirty place, with musty smelling beds [the last part sadly did turn out to be true in one case]. Then you walk down the same streets the next day and realize what a fool you've been and the people that you thought to be glaring in the shadows of doorways are really just bidding you a "bom dia" and offering you to peruse their goods for sale.

More from Madeira soon I hope

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