ArchDaily got the chance to briefly speak with Pritzker-prize winning Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura when he (along with the Porto Metro Authority) received the Veronica Rudge Green Prize in Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design earlier this month. His design for the Metro system in Porto, Portugal garnered high praise from the jury, with member Rahul Mehrotra explaining that the project “shows generosity to the public realm unusual for contemporary infrastructure projects.” Upon receipt of the award, the head of the Porto Metro, João Velez Carvalho, thanked Souto de Moura for his efforts in this “urban revolution” and touted Porto as a destination in which people actively and enthusiastically seek out the architecture of Souto de Moura and fellow Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza.
Souto de Moura spent a few moments with us to describe both the challenges and rewards of working on a project that saw the completion of 60 new stations constructed in 10 years within the sensitive fabric of the city of Porto—a UNESCO World Heritage site.
ArchDaily: What is your opinion of architecture prizes?
Eduardo Souto de Moura: I won’t be modest, I like describing my opinion about them because the profession is so tough and difficult that is it complicated to achieve a high level of quality. So when you’re awarded a prize it’s like a confirmation of your effort. But the other thing is that a project is not the act of an individual, it’s a collective act. When there’s a prize, the press and the people, the “anonymous people,” go see the project and talk about it, critique it. That’s what gives me the motivation to continue in the profession. And every time it gets more difficult.
ArchDaily: What was it like to work on such a large project like a transportation system—a project with so many different stakeholders? Do you prefer these types of projects over smaller ones?
Eduardo Souto de Moura: I prefer the larger projects. They are more challenging, but this was a very complex, technical project, which made it difficult for me as an architect—and not an engineer—to impose ideas. And there were financial difficulties. The beginning of the project involved no drawing; it was about coordination so that I could become a respectable figure in the process. They said, “You, as an architect, will only select the colors for the ceramic tiles.” Little by little they discovered the utility of architecture not as specialist in anything, but as a coordinator. But it’s been an incredible experience because we were working on 70 kilometers on a 1:1 scale. We were cutting mountains, but doing so knowing that we were transforming the world for the better, giving utility to one million people who use the system in Porto everyday. Making it easier for so many people to live was the consolation for all the hard work. It’s a project in which I recognized that we were doing social art. It’s not an autonomous art like music; it’s social. And that is if it’s even an art, which I’m actually not quite sure if it is or not. It’s a discussion that I’m always having with myself. (Chuckles) Siza thinks architecture is art, but I don’t know—I don’t think so. I have my doubts.
ArchDaily: In the end, do you think that the engineers and others who worked on this project gained a respect for the architecture?
Eduardo Souto de Moura: There’s this idea that engineers and architects don’t get along. This is an error. Architecture isn’t possible without engineers and the other way around. In my architecture engineers help me very much—with the simplicity of the structure, to say that there’s too much material that is not serving any purpose. It’s an effort of simplification and conquest of the intelligence of things.
The Veronica Rudge Green Prize, now in its 11th cycle, was also awarded to the Northeastern Urban Integration Project in Medellín, Colombia. An exhibition on view at the Graduate School of Design until October 13th celebrates these projects’ replicable ideas, tactics and strategies (which Mehrotra emphasized are “worthy of emulation").