In designing his own home-cum-studio - the Fez House in Oporto - Álvaro Leite Siza has produced a manifesto, a summa of his approach - thus far - to the art of construction. As his own client, Siza makes a key statement on his working method.
The urban plot in question was enclosed and required the acquisition of road access to get building permission. The volume is graduated to fit in with the naturally sloping terrain. A long, massive parallelepiped, it is hollowed out and chipped away to produce the final shape. The result is a complex, dense mass of concrete and granite slabs with recesses and projections. Roof and walls have deep, well-like openings and cave-like recesses. The building stands like a natural outcrop, an architecture mediating between openness and closure.
The closed gallery on the west elevation epitomises this feature: a polygonal external wall conceals the path as it proceeds, changing in form and function from open-air passage way to covered loggia. In the same way, the openings onto the exterior are muted by projecting volumes. This creates slanted shafts of light that mingle on the interior with the daylight pouring down from the skylights.
The whole programme pivots around the question of how a manmade construction can be made to meld with its exterior environment. Álvaro Leite Siza’s approach is fundamentally Baroque. The geometries and resultant construction combine to create an architectural volume of great dramatic force.
The intricate exterior is, however, offset by uncompromisingly stark interiors. Here, the all-pervading theme is how art integrates with architecture. Spaces extend in long perspectives dominated by the carefully calibrated use of natural light. The long library and spacious living room have a solemnity that recalls a museum. Furniture designed by the architect himself is set alongside pieces whose timeless quality brings out all the expressive tension of modern architecture. White walls highlight the pinewood flooring flowing through rooms and corridors. In the larger rooms, the white ceiling slab peels open to reveal untreated wooden blanks. Contrasts and opposites weave Baroque tensions that are here recomposed to form a new identity: a home and workplace that is an experimental journey.