As part of ArchDaily's coverage of the 2016 Venice Biennale, we are presenting a series of articles written by the curators of the exhibitions and installations on show.
As a response to the 15th International Architecture Exhibition’s challenging theme, Portugal presents a “site-specific” pavilion, occupying an urban front in physical and social regeneration on the island of Giudecca: Campo di Marte. In actual fact, the installation of the pavilion on-site triggered the completion of Campo di Marte’s urban project designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza thirty years ago.
The pavilion exhibits four notable works by Siza, in the field of Social Housing - Campo di Marte (Venice); Schilderswijk (The Hague); Schlesisches Tor (Berlin); and Bairro da Bouça (Porto) - exposing his participatory experience as a peculiar understanding of the European city and citizenship. These projects have created true places of "neighbourhood", an important subject of the current European political agenda, towards a more tolerant and multicultural society.
Siza developed those concepts in contact with the Italian architectural culture, particularly with the conceptual legacy of Aldo Rossi, whose important essay The Architecture of the City was published exactly fifty years ago. In fact, Siza’s plan for Giudecca integrates one of Rossi’s last projects.
The exhibition unveils the common ground between Alvaro and Aldo, two names which may well represent, metaphorically, all the citizens whose paths cross every day in every corner of those neighbourhoods. Finally, and after “squatting” in Siza’s building site, the Portuguese Pavilion will give place to a real habitat in the community of the Giudecca.
In 2016, a few months before the opening of the Venice Biennale, Álvaro Siza returned to all the four neighbourhoods presented in this exhibition. In Venice, The Hague, Berlin and Porto, Siza visited and met several residents, old and new neighbours, realizing their habitat’s evolution, but also the major social and urban changes which took place in there, nowadays shared by many other European cities: processes like immigration, ghettoization, gentrification and touristification.
Those visits and those neighbours are now depicted in photos and videos, presented on the outside and inside of the Portuguese Pavilion respectively. These are real everyday life documents, only possible due to the residents’ goodwill, to whom we thank the involvement.
These visual documents were produced by a qualified multidisciplinary team, mostly with the support of the Media partners SIC/Expresso, to whom we acknowledge the commitment shown. Numerous other architectural documents were granted by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), one of the main institutional partners, together with ATER Venice, IUAV, the Municipality of Venice Murano Borano, UNESCO Venice, Instituto Camões, and Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses, which were essential to this initiative.
Our last recognition evidently goes to Álvaro Siza, notable architect, world citizen and now also a fellow neighbour of the welcoming island of Giudecca.
Where Alvaro meets Aldo
Exactly 50 years ago Aldo Rossi published L'architettura della città (The architecture of the city), one of the most seminal works of European architectural culture of the second half of the twentieth century. The influence of this essay in successive generations of architects led, as it is well known, to some eminently academic affiliations, but encouraged other interpretations, more subjective and more poetic about the relationship between city, architecture and society. It is in this second universe that we inscribe the vision of Álvaro Siza, contemporary of Rossi (only two years younger), who, since their first mutual contacts, learned how to read between the lines of his theoretical work. In doing so, Siza established a dialectical relationship with the “rossian” imaginary, contributing since the 70s to a methodological approach of the so-called "School of Venice" and "School of Porto".
Just like Rossi, Siza also perceives the “texture” of the historical city, looking for its permanent structures, its invariants, its primary elements or its urban artifacts, to use some of the book nomenclatures. Just like Aldo, Álvaro was also invited, 40 years ago, to participate in the 1976 Venice Biennale, in the collective event Europa-America, Centro Storico-Suburbio, coordinated by Vittorio Gregotti and Peter Eisenman. In contiguous spaces at the Magazzini del Sale in Zattere, they both exhibited their work.
Siza presented his first social housing projects, in Porto and in Caxinas, translated by a beautiful amalgam of sketches. Aldo Rossi, Eraldo Consolascio, Bruno Reichlin and Fabio Reinhart exhibited there, for the first time, the remarkable collage La Città Analoga (The Analogous City). Using different languages, Álvaro and Aldo brought the same message to that Venice Biennale: the city that we know and that we continually design results from the accumulation of different architectural types - as objets trouvés -, repetitively renewed or recycled by the “collective memory” throughout History.
However, while Rossi dedicated his urban research to systematize a precise number of (arche)types found in the historical city, Siza devoted his career to multiply his own (hetero)types, inscribing them in numerous geographies and cultures. It was that "other" critical sense, also “rossian”, which led Siza: to carefully study the urban fabric of Venezia Minore - as described by Egle Trincanato -, in his plan for Giudecca; to reinvent the Haages Portiek in order to distribute his housing typologies in The Hague; to revisit the Berlin modern architecture in search of his design for a new corner at the Kreuzberg district; to merge the urban structure of Porto’s popular quarters (ilhas) with the Modern Movement housing models, in his Bouça neighbourhood project (Program SAAL/North).
Álvaro and Aldo were also companions in trips, meetings, competitions, and debates: in Portugal, during the post-revolutionary period (1974); in Santiago de Compostela (1975); in the Venice Lido, at the conference Quale Movimento Moderno? (1976); at the University of the Andes in Bogotá (1982), in the company of a common friend - Oriol Bohigas; and finally, in the implementation of the Campo di Marte plan in Giudecca (1985-1997). That was a long relationship that would only be interrupted by Rossi’s premature death in September 1997.
Reading the work of Aldo, Álvaro learned to regard cities as places of collective memories and shared neighbourhoods, two important issues that we should go on analysing, supporting and reporting to Europe, a continent which is living a present crisis in its relationship with the "other". After all, Alvaro and Aldo can also be any of us.
Learning from Venezia Minore
Álvaro Siza’s project for the Campo di Marte area resulted from a restricted invitation tender, launched in the mid-80s by the Venice IACP (Autonomous Institute for Public Housing) - today ATER Venezia -, on a much degraded (and partially demolished) residential area on the Giudecca island. The Portuguese architect was the winner of this interesting exchange of ideas involving other competitors: Aldo Rossi, Carlo Aymonino, Rafael Moneo, Mario Botta, Boris Podrecca, Aldo van Eyck, James Gowan, Gianfranco Caniggia and Tomasz Mankowsky. Having the French architect Bernard Huet as head of the jury, the tender predicted not only different building stages, for the winning proposal, but also the possibility of including some of those other competitors in its future development.
Anticipating this possibility, Álvaro Siza designed an orderly and cadenced urban fabric based on the elongated structure of the old cadastral division, layout from north to south - between the Giudecca Canal and the Lagoon - and resuming some of the existing architectural archetypes of the island: galleries, porticos, courtyards, loggias and top balconies. To this end, he carefully studied the urban analysis developed by Egle Trincanato, noted researcher at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), in her seminal book Venezia Minore, published in 1948. From that study, he learned how to identify the typological invariants of the popular housing fabric, which formed the interior of the Giudecca Island, and from which emerged, by contrast, the magnificent churches and palaces placed at the borders of the canal and the lagoon. This type-morphological analysis proposed by Trincanato, within the "School of Venice" in the late '40s, anticipated counterparts work done by Giuseppe Samona, Saverio Muratori and Aldo Rossi in the following decades.
Siza also assimilated that influence and opted, in his general plan, for a cohesive urban composition, height uniformity, and windows arranged in a constant rhythm along the extensive facades. This kind of "meta-project" was later interpreted by Aldo Rossi, Carlo Aymonino and Rafael Moneo, three architects listed in the tender and invited to design different buildings adjacent to the quarter assigned to Álvaro Siza, in the centre of Campo di Marte. Over the following decades (1986-2006) only the two Italian architects were able to complete their works. Nowadays, Siza’s project is partially completed (the builder filed for bankruptcy in 2010), and that of the Spanish Rafael Moneo is at an early stage of study.
In 2015, Portugal has proposed to ATER Venezia to install its official representation at the Venice Architecture Biennale of 2016 in the incomplete front of the block designed by Álvaro Siza, a fact that helped trigger its completion and, predictably, the future making of the adjoining square. In that process, Siza returned to Campo di Marte in February 2016 and met some of the people living in the concluded part of his project. The meeting made him understand how the population had appropriated the building typologies, but also the collective spaces. Visiting different local residents, Siza talked, smoked and toasted with them during a lively afternoon of conviviality. There he heard, in a local dialect, that Giudecca is the last island where the authentic Venetians live, in contrast to an accelerated depopulation and "touristification" of the central island around the Grand Canal. In Campo di Marte, Siza finally realized why it was worth studying the urban form and social life of this Venezia Minore, where it is still possible to build true neighbourly ties.
Crossing the Haagse Portiek
The social housing neighbourhoods designed by Álvaro Siza in the renowned SAAL Program (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local/Local Ambulatory Support Service), implemented after the April 1974 Revolution in Portugal, deserved, from then on, special attention by international architecture critics, but also by politicians and activists involved in similar experiences in other European cities. It so happened to Adri Duivesteijn, councillor for Housing and Urban Development of The Hague, in the Netherlands, who would invite Siza in 1984 to redesign a degraded and stigmatized area of his city - the Schilderswijk neighbourhood - and build new social housing in it. Predominantly inhabited by immigrant populations, mainly from Turkey, Morocco, Cape Verde and Suriname, the quarter had a previous development plan, based on functional zoning and formal segmentation, modernist paradigms which did not please the young councillor.
After visiting the neighbourhood and listening to the inhabitants’ wishes – together with a team of local architects, social workers and translators - Álvaro Siza designed the first construction phase, in the district’s south area: the Punt Komma blocks, carried out between 1986 and 1989. On that area, Siza has recreated the morphology of the historic city blocks, using its dominant cladding - brick - and recreating a traditional space of access to the buildings from the street - the Haagse Portiek. This portico allowed him, through a wide exterior staircase, to have access to a common landing for the new apartments’ entrances. This “culturalist" visit to the history of The Hague was accompanied by the creation of flexible housing typologies, adaptable to the different family lives, regardless of the inhabitants cultural and religious origin.
Siza’s proposal was continually debated with several local neighbours through full-scale simulations of the interior spaces, built at ROL (Spatial Development Laboratory, The Hague). There, everyone had the possibility to know the new apartments’ layout and suggest possible changes, in a participatory method of real social empowerment.
In a second phase, between 1989 and 1993, in the Jacob Catsstraat area, the Portuguese architect took again some of the previous references - compact blocks, brick cladding, access through a portico, the evocation of the Hanseatic architecture - and diversified the typological solutions, from collective dwellings to single-family row houses, once more in accord with The Hague’s urban culture.
In March 2016, Álvaro Siza returned to the Schilderswijk neighbourhood, meeting, once more, his old client and friend Adri Duivesteijn, now a distinguished member of the city Senate. Together they walked down the well-maintained streets of the area, in the company of Lisbeth Alferink, the team’s former social worker, visiting some Turkish, Syrian and Moroccan families who have settled there for the past 25 years.
After crossing the Haagse Portiek, the group entered into several houses, taking off their shoes, sitting comfortably in the lounges, talking to the families and drinking the inevitable Rize tea served by affable Turkish women. On the journey from Schipol airport, someone had warned Álvaro Siza about the insecurity of the neighbourhood, nowadays known by many as the "Sharia Triangle". However, this visit would make it obvious to everyone that the announced "ghettoization" of the quarter is, first and foremost, an alibi used by the most conservative political rhetoric in the Netherlands. In Schilderswijk the good neighbourly relations hold on and are highly recommended.
Kreuzberg, Que Pasa?
When Álvaro Siza visited Berlin at the end of the 70s, the city remained surrounded for more than fifteen years by a physical and political Wall, one of the main symbols of the Cold War. Still bearing the wounds of World War II, Berlin was then launching its "critical reconstruction" under the urban programme of IBA (Internationale Bauausstellung, 1979-1987). Siza took part in two competitions, without the expected results, but decided to try a third time, responding to the challenge of regenerating a complete quarter in Schlesisches Tor, the Kreuzberg district. Situated in the vicinity of the Wall, Kreuzberg was then a troubled neighbourhood on the outskirts of West Berlin, characterized by an aging population, Turkish immigrants, and some newly arrived squatter artists. The block was covered by funding for ageing areas (IBA Altbau), as opposed to new investments and projects underway in the central city area (IBA Neubau).
Álvaro Siza won the mentioned tender in 1980 on the basis of a proposal that critically interpreted the fragments and the urban voids left there by the war devastation and trying to integrate them in a sensitive composition, which did not rebuild the block but allowed to discover the richness of its interior. Similarly, and avoiding excessive "social hygiene", Siza included some of the residents’ main ambitions by proposing two social pieces of equipment at the heart of the neighbourhood: a Nursery School and a Day Centre for the elderly. Finally, in one of the corners of Schlesisches Strasse, the Portuguese architect has designed a residential building of seven floors, learning once again from the surrounding architectural diversity: he transformed the corner into a “monumental” point, raising the parapet of the building and extending the cornices of a neighbouring property. He sought to incorporate the existing Turkish restaurant in the base of the building; he marked the corner with a “suspended” pillar; he announced the main entrance by detaching one of the facade porticos; and finally, he kept an urban "rift" on the block as an invitation to discover the hidden backyard.
Similarly, he diversified the apartments’ typologies and access systems, making them more flexible, given the social and cultural diversity of their inhabitants. A sarcastic graffiti of literary inspiration painted on the parapet curve of the building - Bonjour Tristesse - would eventually imprint the first critical "appropriation" from neighbours, questioning the regular design of its windows and the melancholy color of its facades. In fact, in this project Siza revisited the "expressionist" imagery of the city, evoking some of the heroes of the Berlin Modernism: Erich Mendelsohn, Bruno Taut and Hans Scharoun.
In 2016, thirty years after the completion of this process, Álvaro Siza returned to Schlesisches Tor accompanied by architect Brigitte Fleck, his friend and collaborator on the project. They strolled down the Nursery gardens, climbed up to the top of the Day Centre and got a warm reception from the elderly users. In the building Bonjour Tristesse they met again some of its first residents, of Turkish origin, realizing, however, that the building is now in a full process of social gentrification. The building was acquired by an Austrian real estate fund and its apartments and shops are now getting new occupants by means of "expelling" many families and existing activities. The Turkish restaurant on the ground floor gave way to a new Mexican food franchise of the brand Que Pasa (What's happening?). It is a pertinent question to ask Kreuzberg, a formerly peripheral neighbourhood which became the trendy and cosmopolitan centre of the reunified new capital of Germany. The Berlin Wall fell almost thirty years ago; other "vicinities" germinated since then.
The several lives of the Bouça neighbourhood
In the Portuguese summer of 1974, just three months after the April 25th Revolution, Nuno Portas, then Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Development, launched a governmental dispatch which allowed the most deprived inhabitants to organize themselves and politically fight for the "right to housing" and for the "right to the city", remaining in their places of origin or settlement. This program, called SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local/Local Ambulatory Support Service), led to the creation of housing projects proposed by different architects, in an ongoing dialogue with the various residents’ associations, established in the meantime. In Bouça, at the centre of Porto, many plots were then squatted by the population, a fact which would directly involve Álvaro Siza, author of a housing project intended for that quarter. Receptive to the new demands of the Bouça squatters, the architect readjusted his project so it could include a greater number of deprived residents.
Siza’s proposal was based upon a double historical revisit: on the one hand, he interpreted the forms and spaces of the old popular districts of Porto: the ilhas; on the other hand, he evoked learned models of working-class housing, developed by European modern avant-garde in the 20s and 30s. This fusion resulted in the “first life” of the Bouça Neighbourhood. In 1975, two elongated buildings were built, with four floors (2 duplex apartments), with direct entrances from the street or from a high gallery. Community relations were then established in the daily use of the different extended courtyards between the housing blocks, some marked by a succession of multi-functional outdoor stairs.
This first life was suddenly interrupted after 1976 with the end of the SAAL program. Since then social housing policies passed into the municipalities’ administration, in an electoral representation system opposing the "participatory" democracy models, as those which had characterized the SAAL process. For twenty years, the neighbourhood remained “amputated” and was progressively degrading until the moment when the residents’ association, in conjunction with another housing cooperative, proposed the municipality to complete the project by Álvaro Siza. This action led to the “second life” of the Bouça neighbourhood, giving opportunity to the author to finally demonstrate the sense of architectural adjustment and urban integration of his proposal. This second life, established in 2006, inevitably brought new residents from different social and cultural conditions to the neighbourhood.
In 2016, a decade after the quarter conclusion, Álvaro Siza visited the area and got inside some of the residents’ houses, realizing how they lived in them. There he met again some of the first inhabitants who, with his support, had fought for the founding of the residents' association in 1974. He heard their complaints about the construction works completion process and how many of their companions had not wanted or been able to return to the houses that were meant to them.
In other visits, Álvaro Siza knew the outcome of this gentrification process, meeting young architects, designers, and artists who became the owners of those houses placed on the market by the housing cooperative. Avoiding any false moralism, Siza realized that the neighbourhood was no longer just part of his revolutionary imaginary of 40 years ago, but had become an inter-classist, intercultural and inter-generational fragment of the contemporary city. What better conditions, after all, to generate a true place of neighbourhood? The “third life” of Bouça has only just begun.