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Drawing as a spiritual liberation - Coversing with Alvaro Siza

These are extracts form an article written by Francisco Granero Martin regarding Alvaro Siza Vieira's Honoris Causa Doctorate by the Universidad de Sevilla. Very deep and interesting perspective on the importance of drawing for architects.

Hope you enjoy.

This is the link to the full article. I have added some images of his



Francisco Granero: Taking advantage of your evident friendship with Frank O. Gehry, in some instances you were asked about the differences existing in your respective architectural works. I even have read publications in which comparisons/differences were established between the Guggenheim Museum (Bilbao), and the Serralves Museum (Oporto). For both of you the conceptual drawing of the design and the analytical drawing of the location of the work are necessary means, repeated in both of your productions, in the design methodology, and additionally you use both the mock-up, as a preliminary model. For a second stage of the design, Gehry keeps a close relationship with the computer. The architectural achievements of both of you are quite different. The mediation is not of the instrument, but of thought. To what extent do you believe in the relationship of the mutual influence between instrument and thought?

Alvaro Siza: The instrument serves thought. The conception of architecture set forth by Frank Gehry, although showing important variations depending upon what is being considered, is sustained by a very sophisticated equipment I do not have; but, at the same time, the spatial complexity of Gehry’s designs requires that sophisticated equipment. Once this has been stated, we can say that the method is much the same, serving only thought, but thoughts are quite different, and, for that reason, they are sustained by different equipments. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand that Gehry’s production is highly varied. If we consider, for instance, that the design in Berlin (Bank DZ building), which takes perfectly into account the street continuity, is very different from the Guggenheim design (Bilbao), located at a place asking exactly for a very powerful building, being a kind of landmark of the city, crossed by a large scale viaduct, and, for that reason, at the building scale, we can conclude that his concepts are very different in this case, and in the building-street of Berlin. But I personally notice that in both cases considered, taken from Gehry’s production, a careful stress exists with respect to the surroundings, which could not be understood in Siza’s production; that is to say, a stress so high, and requiring a so fruitful intervention with respect to the street, in Bilbao design as well as in the Bank DZ building.

F. G.: My favorite toys, when I was a child, were the pencils, the felt-tip pens, or the drawing notebooks. I still have my first metallic watercolor box, with the worn out color tablets. Drawing and sculpture were, for you, habits, since you were very young. It seems quite possible that this education helped you to develop a given personality, a special quality to analyze and see the cities, the buildings, the landscape or the nature from a singular point of view. Apart from your vital need to a constant dedication to drawing, in what aspect do you think that drawing and the drawing exercise could have had an influence in your living, your way of life, your style in facing life, and in building up your ideas?

A. S.: Drawing, in my life as an architect, gives access to my work.

Although my life is made up of other priorities, my formation, as well, is directly related to drawing. I started with the idea of being a sculptor, and I did not have a special interest in architecture, due to the circumstances that, in this period of time, affected the School. Later on I attended the School, due to my family stress, which did not agree at all that I could have an “artist life”. As a result, being a child, I developed a habit for drawing, and I felt a certain pleasure in so doing (*).

For the architect drawing is an extremely important exercise, as a way of learning to see. This is not only so for the architect, but for the painter, and the photographer as well. In conclusion, for any person that wishes to learn to see. Drawing helps penetrating the life of what surrounds us, learning to see them, and learning to be able to see.

(*) Siza was the son of an engineer, and graduated at the Escuela Superior de Bellas Artes, in Oporto.

F. G.: Your vigorous and firm hands, have possibly been modeled by your sculpture exercise. Le Corbusier gave high attention to hands; he stated to Chandigarth: “before I fet to heaven, surrounded by God’s stars, I would like to see in Chandigarth, in front of the Himalaya which stands out against the horizon, this open Hand that, for me, the old Corbu, marks the end of an already traveled stage 1”. Khan considered the sustained hand, half way between him and us, as a mythical bond between the architect imagination and his built up work. The hand would be a synoptic bond between the individual person and the object. Your hands, doctor Siza, appear in many of your drawings, in front view, especially in travel drawings, in portraits, in analytical drawings, as an invitation to the spectator to be at your side in this moment, to participate in your drawing construction. Could it be that your drawings are not made just to see them, but to look at oneself from their interior?

A. S.: This occurred a first time, I do not know when, as I was drawing an urban landscape. Spontaneously I put my hands on the drawing. But this act was not volunteer and conscious. It occurred without knowing the reason for it. Later on, Távora discovered that Palladio’s drawings show a certain similarity with mine in the way hands are pictured; but those hands appear in a different way. I draw them in order to face some aspects of the drawing, to draw attention to it, just for that reason.

F. G.: In your conceptual drawings of the design, you endow the poetics of the idea, where a major order abstractness is experienced, with global drawings, with personalities that come out of the drawing itself to have a look of them, or air views with flying angels. Personalities on your side, as if they would need to share the solitude of the responsibility of producing the idea.

A. S.: It is true that I introduce, in many drawings, personalities, as a way, I believe, of controlling the scale of the building I am designing. The human figure brings there an important help in finding the scale. I do it as a need to try to control the scale. In many occasions, the drawing becomes an instrument so much dynamic, flexible, rapid, that the human figure reflects the idea that the mankind is always at the center of architecture. It is also a delight to draw those personalities. About the angels, I draw them because I believe that when I start figuring out the design, I want to cover all possible angles, and I need to have a scale in any direction, and for any dimension. I have to adopt a sky view, a view from above, in order to get, always a complete image of what I am designing.

F. G.: Thinking is activated consciously or unconsciously, when you are awake or when you sleep. The conscious, directed thinking establishes the idea. The drawing of the idea allows us to have visual information that expresses and communicates a simulated reaction of the direct perception of architecture. In this way, architecture and its representation supply equivalent information of their qualities, not necessarily coincident, different because of their configuration varieties, either real or abstract, imaginary. Thought converted into image mediates between architecture and its drawing. That image is put into paper in a process of “mise en scène” by the architect. The magician, the illusionist, using his “magic wand” gets a pigeon or a rabbit out of his hat. How much magic is there in an architect drawing that, using a pencil, gets out of a white paper an architectural drawing which is already architecture?

A. S.: I do not consider drawing to be a question of magic, but certainly it might appear in this way, since images become concrete, and they come from a series of strokes, rapid and apparently discordant. Drawing helps in going into the knowledge, and the solution of any design problem: emotional, integrative, of the surroundings, and so on. Then, drawing might appear as magic, but it is more a help to thinking to solve the design problems, and also a motor to find the solving formulas to establish the norms, and to study them. Drawing serves to get ideas, as freedom, international communication, eventually as instinct, and attempt to the process of doing.

F. G.: You get the world recognition of your architecture, your way of thinking and doing architecture, and you have been awarded any possible prize. You attend your own studio, the projects, the designs, your works, the conferences, the events, and your continuous trips and visits to airports, aircrafts, and so on. Without even having free time, you keep drawing, possibly because drawing does not take time off you, but rather time becomes drawing for you. Valdemar Cruz, in a conversation he had with you, said: “Siza’s world is kept on a sheet of white paper: the drawing sheet. 2” Living for drawing, or drawing for living?

A. S.: No, certainly I do not live only for drawing. Drawing is completing a way of life. Apart from completing life, drawing depends on “others”: family, friends, enemies, and all that... Then, I do not recognize drawing as a reason to live by itself, but it definitely helps come people in their lives. Drawing is a way of spiritual liberation and of direct relation with thinking, and its opening to the external world. It is, as well, a reflection to the inner world, and its relation to the exterior, for us and for “the others”.


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