25.4.11

Pritzker Prize 2011 to Eduardo Souto de Moura: acknowledging local context

By Beatriz C. Maturana

According to the words of the Pritzker Prize jury, in the 80’s and at the height of post-modernism, Souto de Moura's buildings were “intensely out of fashion”.[1] Souto de Moura deliberately did not give in to the pressure to conform to architectural fashion or fads. Working with and within his own architectural national context has provided Souto de Moura with an abundance of meaningful references to build upon. The jury referred to Souto de Moura’s architectural work in terms of the “echoes of architectural traditions”, “mindful of its context” that reinforces history while, “expanding the range of contemporary expression”.[1] His most challenging, innovative and unconventional trait is that Souto de Moura’s architecture is bravely local.

Braga Municipal Stadium. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. Image source: The Pritzker Architecture Prize. © The Hyatt Foundation
Souto Moura’ sense of aesthetic is mixed with an elegant expression of traditions that emerge effortlessly through his buildings, whether monumental, as the Braga Municipal Stadium, or modest in scale as his many residential buildings to which both low and high income housing projects attest. Souto de Moura’s buildings display a tranquil aesthetic eloquence built upon knowledge of the crafts, the logical articulation of spaces and functions and a cultural immersion.[2]
Burgo Tower. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. The Pritzker Architecture Prize. © The Hyatt Foundation
House in "Bom Jesus", Braga. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. The Pritzker Architecture Prize. © The Hyatt Foundation
House in "Bom Jesus", Braga. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. The Pritzker Architecture Prize. © The Hyatt Foundation

Souto de Moura’s architecture is certainly not conceived to join in the race for achieving ‘global’ post-modern architectural iconic status—a contemptible race that more often than not strips architecture from its cultural identity and reduces it to mere imagery. The post-modern idea of multiple perspectives, which Souto de Moura explains as the view that flies have, compels us to resist.
It is like that, and we have to adapt to this factual atomisation of cultural messages. It is so irresistible and devouring of our own time, the one in which we think, in which we receive, that it is a message without a subject— pure flow of everybody and nobody at the same time. Halting that flow, recovering our ability to judge it, is not only a way to resist our dissolution in it, but also of being free. That is going to be increasingly difficult, and so being an architect is going to be increasingly enthralling.[3]

His approach to architecture is the opposite of the self-referentiality characterising much of what is produced in the name of post-modern architecture in a globalised world. An approach that renders contemporary architectural referents as socially, culturally and ecologically meaningless in their lack of substance and social purpose. Souto de Moura’s architecture deals with real people, that is, not transient visions applied to a few. Recognition of local cultural assets, being materials, technologies, history and context, provide the strength and calm confidence that Souto de Moura’s architecture exhibits.

Conversion of Santa Maria do Bouro monastery. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. Image source: The Pritzker Architecture Prize. © The Hyatt Foundation

In another challenge to current architectural preoccupations, Souto Moura, declares that,
There is no ecological architecture, no intelligent architecture and no sustainable architecture — there is only good architecture. There are always problems we must not neglect. For example, energy, resources, costs, social aspects — one must always pay attention to all these.[4]
Cinema House Manoel de Oliveira. Photograph by Luís Ferreira Alves. Image source: © The Hyatt Foundation

A visit to Portugal’s main cities shows that both contemporary and traditional architecture can co-exist in a manner of convivial and fluent engagement with its cultural and natural context. This is a rich and complex notion of the contemporary that does not involved the utilisation of a fixed set of mainly stylistic trends repeated time and again all over the world.

This year’s award might signify a departure from the coercion to abdicate to global architectural patterns, in favour of a more responsive and responsible architecture, with a sense of beauty and meaning that emanates from within its context and because within is important when designing for people.


Notes:

[1] The Pritzker Architecture Prize, "Announcing the 2011 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate: Eduardo Souto de Moura,"  (Los Angeles, CA: The Hyatt Foundation, 2011), 6.
[2] For a list of projects and images see “Eduardo Souto de Moura: 1995-2005”  El Croquis, no. 124, http://www.elcroquis.es/MagazineDetail.aspx?magazinesId=23&lang=en
[3] Eduardo Souto de Moura. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona 2004. P. 365. In Eduardo Souto de Moura, Eduardo Souto de Moura : 1995-2005 : la naturalidad de las cosas (the naturalness of things), vol. 124 (Madrid, España: El Croquis Editorial, 2005), 19.
[4] Holcim Forum, 2004

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