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Remote control: Álvaro Siza in South Korea

Gettyimages 154466112

Although sometimes thousands of miles from his studio in Porto, the buildings of Álvaro Siza outside Portugal are intrinsically moulded by the spatial and social conditions of their site

The Saya Park Art Pavilion, one of Álvaro Siza and close collaborator Carlos Castanheira’s most recent projects in Korea, was completed last year in the verdant green hills of North Gyeongsang. As a first impression, the pavilion seems to be a direct copy of a design Siza proposed in Madrid’s Parque del Oeste to house two Picassos, one about birth – Mujer Embarazada – and one about death – Guernica. This may seem surprising, as we assume Siza is usually very responsive to the specificities of the site where he works, and this is an important part of his process of generating a design. It turns out the story is much more nuanced and complex. The Korean client said he wanted to build the Madrid project in Saya Park in Korea and Castanheira visited to select a site on the wooded hilly parkland owned by the client. Siza was somewhat sceptical, but they made a model of the topography and shrunk the Madrid museum, ‘like a photocopier’, to a quarter of its size, adjusting and adapting to the shape of the Korean hillside. Siza told the client that ‘it was made for the Guernica, and I’m sure you cannot find the Guernica’, and the client replied, ‘no problem, you make two sculptures’. So Siza designed a beautiful rusty Corten steel piece hanging from the roof in a very tall internal space where light comes in from an opening high in the corner of the room, and a large white marble egg to be displayed in the other wing of the structure. Both were made in Portugal and shipped to Korea. One is something like an angel floating in the light, or a Christ-like figure pertaining to death, and the other is evocative of birth.

‘Siza continues to produce beautiful buildings in many parts of the world, as fresh and full of the integrity and sophistication as the first buildings he designed in Portugal more than 60 years ago’

This project did not originate from, but has been adapted to, the site, in a similar way to churches that have been built according to types and principles from elsewhere, positioned in an east-west direction within a town, and adapted and adjusted to fit into the specific local site conditions. Albeit slightly in reverse in the case of Saya Park, Siza’s projects are known for their sensitive and delicate responses to the spatial and often social conditions of the site. They are topographical.

Img 3245

Img 3245

Source: CARLOS CASTANHEIRA ARCHITECTS

Siza working on a model of the art pavilion in Saya Park

Both the early swimming pools in Matosinhos where Siza was born, the pool at the Quinta da Conceição and the pool in Leça da Palmeira (AR April 2019), built in the ’60s, are essays in the integration and co-existence of the manmade with the natural characteristics of the land. The long parallel concrete walls of various heights at Leça da Palmeira, some retaining, others defining straight edges for horizontal floors, intensify and articulate the long horizontal nature of the site. Similarly, at the Quinta da Conceição, long retaining walls and stairways, ledges, and long enclosing walls that merge and connect with the buildings and platforms of the pool all combine to form an artificial acropolis-like ensemble of spaces at the top of a hill. The built form is a cultivation of the site rather than an attempt to hide the building in the ground. The poetry resides in the dialogue between the natural and the artificial, each informing the other.

Works with maru  part51 page 1

Works with maru part51 page 1

Siza inside a model of the Amore Pacific laboratory

This adjustment and close fit with the site is not limited to the early projects or those in parkland settings. One can detect it in almost every Siza project, from the Alves Santos House in Póvoa do Varzim (1966-69) – a series of parallel wall planes of various heights and profiles stepping back into the distance – to the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, completed in 1993, where terraced zigzagging garden walls in the garden gently and naturally follow the slope of the hillside and continue within the museum interior all the way to the roof.

Works with maru  part27 part2

Works with maru part27 part2

Siza sketching the Jeju Island house

This sensitive attitude towards the site combined with a watchfulness of specific building techniques available in different places continues in the projects of a larger and more complex scale in Korea, China, Taiwan and Japan. The assemblage of buildings, both old and new, arranged around open fields within the Amore Pacific Campus in Yongin-si, are integrated into a connected whole with long retaining walls in red brick. These walls and new buildings do not hide or obscure the existing older company buildings – they build a topographic series of terraced fields or land steps providing an ordered territory. A clear tectonic and material distinction is made between the primary building elements – terraced garden walls in red brick, structural piers in dark grey granite, and the long volume of the Research and Design Centre in zinc and glass – giving a sense of ease and naturalness to the site. The masterful orchestration of spatial rhythms in the open fields is as gentle and elegant as the topographies of ceilings and courtyards in the interiors. Each of these projects is a masterwork.

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Bfa85240 895d 4090 9adf f4dd41990809 2

Source: Eleanor Beaumont

Meeting with Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira at Siza’s studio in Porto, October 2019. He spoke through drawing, tracing the stories that thread from Quinta da Malagueira in Portugal in the 1970s to recent projects such as the Amore Pacific Campus in Korea in 2010, winding between different places around the world along the way. ‘I had many difficult moments in professional life, but sometimes I had a big chance. And in Korea I had a big chance to work’

Ever since the early 1980s, Siza has taken a positive and energetic attitude when working on projects outside Portugal. Initially in Berlin and subsequently in Holland, Italy and Spain, he took on international projects as there was little work at home. Even the buildings on flat urban sites, or suburban house plots, are imaginative and poetic responses to the local topography, geometry and orientation of the given site. ‘I start off by visiting the site, nearly always with just imprecise conditions and a vague scheme in mind’, Siza wrote in 1983. ‘Some other times I begin before that, starting from the idea I get of a place from other people’s descriptions, a picture, something I have read, and indiscretion.’ After Bonjour Tristesse opened in Berlin in 1984, ‘many people were disappointed’, Castanheira explains, ‘because they expected Siza to make a Portuguese building and he didn’t’. Siza’s buildings are inflected with the accent of their site, even his most recent designs for a tower in Manhattan. ‘In New York, buildings appear just like plants, just like trees’, he noted earlier this month. ‘European preoccupations with neighbours and with history are not possible in New York. Architecture is not motivated by relationships with neighbours.’

‘Siza’s projects are known for their sensitive and delicate responses to the spatial and often social conditions of the site. They are topographical’

Collaborations depend on local partners supervising the works regularly. Kim Jong Kyu, principal of Korean practice MARU, collaborated with Siza and Castanheira on both the Amore Pacific Campus and a summer house on Jeju Island for the company’s owners and was in constant contact with the workers on site. Similarly, Castanheira is now Siza’s eyes and ears for these distant projects, visiting Korea and elsewhere every six weeks before conjuring the site for Siza back in Porto. They constructed ‘an immense model’, big enough for Siza to fit his head inside, of the Mimesis Museum (AR November 2010) in 2009 in Paju Book City – for which Florian Beigel and I had proposed the urban plan in the late ’90s.

Scan eleanor.beaumont 2019 10 08 09 51 47

Scan eleanor.beaumont 2019 10 08 09 51 47

Source: Álvaro Siza

Sketch from a conversation with Álvaro Siza, October 2019, including a portrait of the author, Philip Christou

Siza regrets that he cannot visit more remote sites these days, but he continues to produce complex and beautiful buildings around the world, as fresh and full of the integrity and sophistication as the first buildings he designed in Portugal more than 60 years ago. ‘It is very stimulating because it is different’, Siza says of building outside Portugal. ‘So there is a work coming from curiosity. If you feel curiosity you want to think new things. It is like a renovation, in a way, we can become young. It gives enthusiasm, a condiment needed for architecture.

 

 

Álvaro Siza Hall
Álvaro Siza, Carlos Castanheira and Jun Sung Kim
2006

Siza and Castanheira’s first building in Korea, the Anyang Pavilion was originally commissioned for the Anyang Public Art Project in 2005, a cultural centre at the entrance to the Anyang Art Park south of Seoul. When he returned to Porto after first visiting Anyang, Castanheira ‘tried to transmit the experience, the happenings, the tastes and the background for the work’, he remembers. ‘Siza received, understood, questioned and interpreted like no one else can.’ Siza and Castanheira collaborated with Jun Sung Kim, an old friend of Castanheira whom they went on to work with on the Mimesis Museum in 2009.

Gettyimages 154466112

Gettyimages 154466112

Source: VIEW PICTURES / GETTY IMAGES

Anyang 028

Anyang 028

Source: FG + SG

Anyang 027

Anyang 027

Source: FG + SG

A234 e f2 001

A234 e f2 001

Untitled 2

Untitled 2

Click to download

Amore Pacific Campus
Álvaro Siza, Carlos Castanheira and Kim Jong Kyu
2010

The Amore Pacific Campus comprises several new buildings – the Research and Design Centre, a guest house, two pavilions and a gatehouse, as well as several buildings designed by Kim Jong Kyu. Walls are part of and extend beyond the red-brick guest house, giving spatial boundaries to the whole campus. The Research and Design laboratory building is a steel-frame structure suspended over the ground, clad in grey patinated zinc and glass. One pavilion is built into the ground among the brick retaining walls, while the other is a curvilinear concrete figurative building that hovers over the walls like a large bird.

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7 eb

Source: FG + SG

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107

Source: FG + SG

Labs 5

Labs 5

Source: FG + SG

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173

Source: FG + SG

Labs 58

Labs 58

Source: FG + SG

Labs 46

Labs 46

Source: FG + SG

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A281 e 2007 10 13 001 tc

Untitled 3

Untitled 3

Click to download

House on Jeju Island
Álvaro Siza, Carlos Castanheira and Kim Jong Kyu
2011

Designed for the owner of Amore Pacific, the summer house on the idyllic Korean Jeju Island sits on a hillside looking across to the ocean. Clad in white stone, the volumes are arranged around terraces and ‘external hallways’ in which to linger among the lush surroundings. Since its completion eight years ago, the architects have designed a small timber outbuilding to nestle in the grounds. Crafted by Portuguese carpenters and shipped and assembled on the island – this is a small corner of Portugal in Korea.

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041

Source: FG + SG

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063

Source: FG + SG

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Source: FG + SG

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Source: FG + SG

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083

Source: FG + SG

Sk 05 edit

Sk 05 edit

Untitled 4

Untitled 4

Click to download

Saya Park
Álvaro Siza and Carlos Castanheira
Ongoing

Over two decades after Siza’s 1992 design for the Museum for Two Picassos in Madrid was shelved, the architect was invited to realise his ‘life and death’ building on a rural hillside in Korea. Rather than Picasso’s Mujer Embarazada and Guernica, two sculptures by Siza, also symbolising life and death, stand in each arm. Tucked into the hillside to the south, a chapel – a gift for the client’s wife – faces east to capture the light of the new day. ‘Its geometry is pure,’ Castanheira says, ‘because its function is also pure.’ Near to the long reclining form of the art pavilion, an observatory tower is proposed, replacing a scaffolding look-out surveying the countryside.

A358 chapel 016

A358 chapel 016

Source: FG + SG

Chaple 08

Chaple 08

Source: JONG OH KIM

Untitled 5

Untitled 5

Click to download

A358 obs 3d 002

A358 obs 3d 002

Source: GERMANO VIEIRA

Untitled 6

Untitled 6

Click to download

A358 art 213

A358 art 213

Source: FG + SG

Ignant architecture alvaro siza carlos castanheira art pavilion photographs 18 2880x3287

Ignant architecture alvaro siza carlos castanheira art pavilion photographs 18 2880x3287

Source: FG + SG

Ignant architecture alvaro siza carlos castanheira art pavilion photographs 22 2880x4021

Ignant architecture alvaro siza carlos castanheira art pavilion photographs 22 2880x4021

Source: FG + SG

Skmbt c20315011720340

Skmbt c20315011720340

Untitled 7

Untitled 7

Click to download

Untitled 8

Untitled 8

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This piece is featured in the AR November issue on the Foreign + Emerging Architecture – click here to purchase your copy today

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