Lynch Architects

'Tavora and Siza' in: The Architects' Journal by Patrick Lynch

04 Apr 2008

There used to be relatively few people that you could talk to about Tavora and Siza’s work. Yet they were a sort of touchstone between new friends, helping to articulate many prejudices and common desires. We went to Portugal for the first time ten years ago and like my first taste of Lewerentz, I’m still reeling from the intoxication of seeing Tavora's and Siza’s architecture in the flesh. In the September air long shadows ate walls, crevices invited entry, curves enticed and denied and evoked curiosity. I’m sorry, but I can’t write about this without becoming a candidate for ‘worst sex scene of the year award’. If you’ve been you’ll know what I mean I hope; it fills you with energy, calms you down, moves you, makes you move, slows you, speeds your heart rate, opens up the world inside you, brings the one out there closer, leaving each enough space. I think I’m in love with Siza's architecture, so maybe I’m no judge of it?

I met him once. The students had gone home a day before us and my brother and a colleague visited his studio building, which he shares with everybody else you’d like to meet too. We arrived uninvited and announced that we were ‘achitetti per Signor Siza.’ In the lobby, waiting for the lift, a figure appeared out of the gloom, announced by a glowing fag end, winking on and off. ‘Ah signori, apologies, I am afraid I am unable to accompany you on your tour nor to a café, but my clients from Brazil have been waiting to see me for two years and it would be rude if I left them to talk with you about architecture.’ At which point he very discretely prized his hand from mine and rescued his bottom lip from the now almost exhausted cigarette, and faded back into the shadows.

The studio accommodated at most twenty architects, arranged in two wings with Signor Siza’s room at the crux of things, a tiny cell mostly taken up by a chaise longue – ‘for after his lunch’ - above which sketches flickered on the wall. His desk looked unused. Computers sat on drawing tables in the studio, parallel motions obscured by paper, models sat everywhere. A polite young architect in tee shirt and jeans walked us around, and the project architects frowned at computer screens and looked weighed down with all of the usual burdens of our life. No windows look westwards towards the sea, since ‘this is a place to work not dream’, someone there told me. Instead, you look back towards the city, and at the end of the day it must seem natural to want to stop and to leave for a café, the illuminated rooftops below. 

Then two years ago at dusk in November, one mile from the concrete seaside ecstasy of the pool at Leca del Palmeira, and two miles on from his head-rock teahouse, we discovered, on a hill, in a forest of tall deciduous trees, another pool. Siza began the project in Tavora’s office, then took it over ‘because Tavora thought I had worked so hard as project architect that it had become my project’. Like in a fairytale, we came across it as if by chance. Out of the gloom, white forms emerged as we strode towards them, receding as we passed trying not to stumble. A huge hole opened before us, empty of water, and empty of the sky I imagine that fills this clearing in summer, a dream locked up for the winter. A huge mirror forms briefly before another figure dives and breaks the surface.