World’s most underrated architect: Alvaro Siza


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The Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza picked up another significant honor today: The Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. That’s on top of the Pritzker Prize he won in 1992 and a slew of other international awards he’s landed during the course of a five-decade career.

Still, whenever I’m asked to name the most underrated architect in the world, Siza is my pick. I don’t think this latest medal will change that. After all, in an age of of jet-setting design-world celebrity, the bearded Siza is something of a monk-like figure. He doesn’t often leave his hometown of Porto these days; and his restrained, mostly bone-white work, faithfully Modernist but also richly sculptural, isn’t particularly impressive in two dimensions, which means that magazine editors and architecture-obsessed Web surfers tend not to give his buildings a second look.


But in person, as you walk through them, those buildings come alive as moving essays on the possibilities of using simple materials and basic geometric volumes to shape architectural space in profound ways. And though they avoid easy signs of contextualism or historical references, they seem to grow up inexorably from their settings.

Siza’s firm doesn’t operate a website, as far as I can tell, but more information on his work can be found here and here. A brief video tour of his latest significant project, a museum for the Ibere Camargo Foundation in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is here.

--Christopher Hawthorne