Matosinhos is near Porto, an important seaport built on the site of an ancient Roman settlement Portus Cole from which the name Portugal was derived.
Siza studied at the University of Porto School of Architecture from 1949 through 1955, completing his first built work (four houses in Matosinhos) even before ending his studies in 1954, the same year that he first opened his private practice in Porto.
In recent years, he has received Gold Medals and other honors from numerous Foundations and Societies in Europe, including what is considered to be Europe's highest architectural honor from the Mies van der Rohe Foundation and the European Economic Community. The latter award was for his 1982-86 project, the Borges & Irmao Bank in Vila do Conde, Portugal.
In the United States in 1988, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design recognized Siza for his Malagueira Quarter Housing Project in Evora, Portugal that began in 1977, presenting him with the Prince of Wales Prize.
The government of Evora, in 1977 following the revolution in Portugal, commissioned Siza to plan a housing project in the rural outskirts of the town. It was to be one of several that he would do for SAAL, the national housing association, consisting of 1200 low-cost, single family row house units, some one-story and some two-story units, all with courtyards.
In 1966, Siza began teaching at the University, and in 1976 was made a Professor of Architecture. In addition to his teaching there, he has been a visiting professor at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University; the University of Pennsylvania; Los Andes University of Bogota; and the Ecole Polytechnique of Lausanne.
In addition, he has been a guest lecturer at many universities and conferences throughout the world, from the United States, Colombia and Argentina in the Western Hemisphere to his neighboring Spain, Germany, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and England in Europe.
Recently completed projects in Portugal include mass housing in Evora, a new High School of Education in Setubal, a new School of Architecture for Porto University, a Modern Art Museum for Porto, the rebuilding of a burned area of Lisbon, a new Library for Aveiro University.
In Berlin, his competition winning entry for an apartment building, Schlesisches Tor, Kreuzberg, was recently completed. He has won numerous other competitions including the renovation of Compo di Marte in Venice, the renewal of the Casino and Cafe Winkler, Salzburg, and the cultural centre of the Ministry of Defense in Madrid, Spain. The Meteorological Centre for the Olympic Village in Barcelona is also nearing completion.
The range of Siza's work is from swimming pools to mass housing developments, with residences for individuals, banks, office buildings, restaurants, art galleries, shops, virtually every other kind of structure in between.
Quoting from Casabella magazine, July 1986, the correspondent concludes that Siza insists on continuous experimentation. "Precisely for this reason his architecture can communicate to us an extraordinary sense of freedom and freshness; in it one clearly reads the unfolding of an authentic design adventure. In accepting the risks of such adventure, Alvaro Siza has even been able to bring to the surface, in his architecture, what one feared was in danger of extinction: the heroic spirit of modern architecture."
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Citation from the Pritzker Jury
The architecture of Alvaro Siza is a joy to the senses and uplifts the spirit. Each line and curve is placed with skill and sureness.
Like the early Modernists, his shapes, molded by light, have a deceptive simplicity about them; they are honest. They solve design problems directly. If shade is needed, an overhanging plane is placed to provide it. If a view is desired, a window is made. Stairs, ramps and walls all appear to be foreordained in a Siza building. That simplicity, upon closer examination however, is revealed as great complexity. There is a subtle mastery underlying what appears to be natural creations. To paraphrase Siza's own words, his is a response to a problem, a situation in transformation, in which he participates.
If Post Modernism had not claimed the term, and distorted its meaning, Alvaro Siza's buildings might legitimately have been called by that name. His architecture proceeds directly from Modernist influences that dominated the field from 1920 to 1970.
While Siza himself would reject categorization, his architecture, as an extension of Modernist principles and aesthetic sensibility, is also an architecture of various respects: respect for the traditions of his native Portugal, a country of time worn materials and shapes; respect for context, whether it is an older building or neighborhood such as the Chiada Quarter in Lisbon, or the rocky edge of the ocean in his swimming club in Porto; and finally, respect for the times in which today's architect practices with all its constraints and challenges.
Siza's characteristic attention to spatial relationships and appropriateness of form are as germane to a single family residence as they are to a much larger social housing complex or office building. The essence and quality of his work is not effected by scale.
Four decades of patient and innovative form-making by Siza have provided unique and credible architectural statements, while at the same time surprising the profession with its freshness.
Siza is a teacher, not only at the university where he obtained his education, but also as a guest lecturer throughout the world, fanning the intense interest his designs generate, particularly in the younger generation.
Siza maintains that architects invent nothing, rather they transform in response to the problems they encounter.