Alvar Aalto and Álvaro Siza: Theory and Project Methodology

Catarina Gomes Sampaio

Working paper
Alvar Aalto Researchers Network 2012


Álvaro Siza refers multiple experiences, apprenticeships, memories and characters in his texts and interviews, which are important theoretical and methodological references in his route as an architect. Alvar Aalto is one of the first, most determinant and frequently quoted references in his work, both in his writings and projects.

The first contact of Siza with the work of Aalto dates back to the beginning of his training as an architect, when, among other issues of the magazine “L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui”, he bought the May, 1950 issue, devoted to Aalto. He recalls the fascination he felt when he appreciated the published works (the Viipuri Library, the M.I.T. Dormitory, the Sunila Factory, and others).

Among the Portuguese architects, who, from the mid fifties onwards showed interest in Aalto's works in their projects, Siza was undoubtedly the one who could best understand and interpret the Finnish architect’s work beyond the rapture about forms. It is a multifaceted reference, which Siza believes to be based on the affinities of constraints to be found between Finland and Portugal: geographic contexts far away from the main cultural central European hubs. The use of traditional materials and building techniques was still frequently found, owing to both cultural and identity questions and scarce economic and technical resources. Siza refers to Aalto as an architect whose acknowledged mastery is necessarily based on a solid theoretical background. Aware of the influence of some of Aalto's texts in his work, Siza denies the idea that to this architect drawing was the only legitimate way of architectural reflection and expression. Nevertheless, he points out that Aalto's most relevant contribution consists of an exemplary methodological proposal of project development.

Aalto and Siza, rather than proposing and accepting pre-established architectural styles, develop long-standing projects, full of advances, retreats and hesitations, based on an interaction between feeling and thinking, in a thoughtful and critical way through design and experimentation. This way they achieve an inclusive and contextual architecture, which joins together the requests and conditioning of the context in which they are to intervene and the author's identity: his memories, his convictions, his understanding of tradition, his historical knowledge, his interest in compositive and peer searching as well as other art forms, such as painting, drawing or sculpture.

Therefore, we believe it is important to propose a reading of Siza's understanding concerning Aalto's project process and the existing parallelism between both architects' theoretical and methodological assumptions, identifying what they have in common. To achieve this and based on the cross-reading of Aalto's and Siza’s works and writings, we will try to reflect on the affinities of their architecture resulting from the parallelism, acknowledged by Siza, between the productive contexts they both work in and the recognition of the artistic and subjective component inherent to the act of projecting, which we think is shared by both. It is our objective to evaluate how they both value the role of theory and method in their design process.

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Catarina Gomes Sampaio
Architect, Ph-D student

Faculty of Architecture, University of Porto (FAUP), Portugal
Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia. Ministério da Educação e Ciência (FCT), Portugal
FAUP Architecture and Urbanism Study Centre (CEAU). Research Group: Architecture: Theory, Project and History

Alvar Aalto and Álvaro Siza: Theory and Project Methodology