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Álvaro Siza on windows

In 1995, Álvaro Siza wrote an essay on windows, reflecting on its evolution considering the growing requirements for standardization and efficiency as well as the different contexts he faced in Portugal and the Netherlands.

This untitled text was published in Vittorio Magnago Lampugnani’s book The Architecture of the Window (Tokyo: YKK Architectural Products Inc., 1995). It was republished on the brochure of the exhibition “Openings: Tom Emerson in conversation with the Álvaro Siza Archive”, curated by Tom Emerson (6a Architects) and Carles Muro (Adjunct Curator for Architecture Programmes at Serralves) held at the Serralves Museum for Contemporary Art in Porto, from the 26th October to the 10th March 2019. While revising the Portuguese translation in October 2018 — the original Portuguese text went missing — Siza came up with the title “Windows: 25 Years Ago”.

Windows: 25 Years Ago
Álvaro Siza
The window is certainly a difficult element. Frank Lloyd Wright comes to mind when he said how wonderful and easy architecture would be if it were not for the problem of windows. We have all experienced the difficulty of a complex synchronic approach — a goal that is impossible to achieve. Yet I believe that today, in pursuing the complexity introduced by design, we are applying a fragmentary approach with the elements recomposed and set in relation to one another only at a later stage. We are no longer living in the age of Erich Mendelsohn, who made his initial sketches only after a preliminary meeting with the client whom he bombarded with very precise questions and then, perhaps while listening to Beethoven’s Eroica, created his fabulous designs. I do not think you can work like that today — at least I do not know anyone who does.
All this is reflected in design, even that of the window. Sometimes the project seems to waver and lack an overall balance. Then, a possibility of contact between elements is spotted and this gives birth to the solution. For instance in a project for low-cost housing, budget and production constraints mean restricting the initial study stage. The window may be larger or smaller, but it is still a hole in which a standard element is fitted. When I was working in Holland, I saw that their priorities are different from ours in Portugal because the way of working is different. Although both countries are small, in Portugal you find considerable differences from one region to the next. In Holland, especially when designing low-income social housing, it is unthinkable to design a special window, both for reasons of cost and because of regulations forcing one to use windows available on the market. There are, however, a number of good-quality prefabricated components, so there is choice. More than once, my collaborators and I have gone around the streets pointing out the type of window frames, brick, or colour we most like from those used in other buildings.

In Portugal, however, if I decide to work with wood, I cannot find any prefabricated elements. I am then compelled to concentrate on the detail and to take into account the different skills and working methods of craftsmen in Oporto or Lisbon. A number of things, therefore, influence the progress of a project. Whether we like it or not, architecture is increasingly becoming a job of assembling various components.

I think it is right to separate the project from the design of one special element. This means that I am more concerned with the relation between the various windows than with the window itself. The same window frames are turning up more and more often in my projects. This was unthinkable until a few years ago and I swear it is not because I am getting lazy.