Eduardo Souto de Moura is a well-known architect of the Portuguese school, along with Fernando Tavora (the founder) and Alvaro Siza.
As a young student, he had the chance to work for Alvaro Siza, from whom he learned a method and an attachment to sketches and technical details.
He is the mind behind the concept of “domesticating architecture”, a theme probably referred to his early work as an architect outside the Siza’s studio, which was mostly composed by private houses, for his family and friends at the first time, then for clients who appreciated his way of thinking “domestic spaces”.
By saying “domesticating architecture” he expresses a desire to adapt and tame the wilderness at the start of every project.
In the earliest moments in which an architect approaches to something new, the main question in his mind is “how do I have to start this project? How to reach a control of the space at first look?”
The answer Souto de Moura gives himself is about the understanding of the scale of the project. He analyses the scale of the buildings to have a measure of comparison with other works or possible references. The scale gives him the start of all projects. As he says in the interview in El Croquis no. 176:
“If architecture is always made of the same stuff – walls, doors and windows – why is there such a difference between good and bad architecture? For me, above all, it’s a question of scale. I am very interested in playing with scale. […] I also love Aldo Rossi’s changes of scale, for example – the transformation between furniture and buildings.”
Analyzing one of his most famous buildings, the multipurpose pavilion at Viana do Castelo, Portugal (2000-2013), we can see another important theme of Souto de Moura: the metaphor of architecture as a table, or better, the domination of a trilithic system into archetypical artifacts. The idea he has embraced, since his first projects of private houses, begins with setting objects on a plane in a state of quiescence. After this first phase of comprehension and control of the space, it is possible to operate a transformation through a juxtaposition of the same objects guided by the knowledge acquired during the process.
In all of his projects, from the early context studies until the construction, he works along with engineers who “help him remove any metaphysical doubts about the architecture“, and guide him to the right solution.
A solution in his architecture is made of particular technical details which do not go against each other. The detail needs to be simple, natural and not excessive. In Souto de Moura’s architecture, the detail resolves technical and functional problems. Each construction element is tailored with care and they are never too many. In a building, solutions and materials need to be uniform and coherent within each other, because otherwise, the contrast that could emerge from a failed control of the technical aspects in a formal project can easily lead to errors and to a very poor result, nevertheless the good intentions of the architect. A great example of this applied methodology can be seen in the project of the metro station of Porto.
The architect, with the engineers, made a sort of “Neufert’s Metro” in which there were the drawings of the proposed solutions for any kind of issue.
Souto de Moura designs architecture as if it is for him. The design is precise until the millimeter and as many aspects as possible are thought and followed by himself. He thinks architecture as an “open work” in connection with the idea of Mies Van der Rohe of re-functionalization and re-use of spaces. Architecture has to help people to transform nature harmonically to host human life. In the same way, we don’t have to forget that life evolves in an unstoppable process and buildings can only accept the situations and bend to them, through an open design. The informal rule is to try to improve the world by design.
For what concerns the main themes of Souto de Moura’s work from a further point of view, we can find a clearly outlined space, the connection interior/exterior, the study of void, details, materials and life of people inside his buildings.
In every project we analyze, we can find a hint of all of these main themes, always reiterated and adjusted in a “case by case” basis.
The importance he gives to the study of the context where the new project will be inserted, allows him to extrapolate a primitive and instinctive image of what there could be there, a solid starting point on which he can start working program-wise. For him it is not enough to imagine a space, because the real comprehension of thought comes only with drawings. The pencil is the strongest tool of communication in architecture, this is the lesson he learned in Siza’s office in his early career. About that experience, he comments in another interview:
“When we had doubts about some aspects of the project, we had to draw to explain to ourselves what the real issue was and to confront possible different solutions”
A consequence of the main role played by history in architecture is the fact that according to him architecture cannot be based on ruptures or big changes, but rather it has to follow a continuity with pre-existing artifacts, without falling into the “overdesign” which generates clichés or pastiches.
He is an architect who believes in the truth of materials, concrete must be concrete, wood must be wood; but sometimes he gets him caught up in the joke of provoking the observant with games on materials, lightness and heaviness, such as in the house in Moledo.
In this suggestive project, there is also the theme of modifying the topography to accept life and to integrate better with the landscape.
In conclusion, Souto de Moura moves from tectonics to construction to architectural language with the mastery of a wise architect with clear ideas on architecture and its future. The building and the site domesticate the architecture and every project dictates its own rules, generated by the uniqueness of the context. Architecture is a choral discipline made of cross informations from many different fields. As Fernando Tavora once said:
“I think the future of architecture will be this sort of multidisciplinary teamwork, without specialists who are obsessed with their own stuff”.
– Eduardo Souto de Moura 2009-2014, El Croquis no. 176
– A. Esposito, G. Leoni, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Mondadori Electa, 2012, pp. 552