I love that many of Álvaro Siza’s projects are for the further enrichment of his country of Portugal. The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, built upon a property that was once privately owned, is designed to incorporate the history of the site—an example of Siza’s attention to detail for the betterment of the community. The property was originally open to the public in 1987 as Serralves Park, but the 1997 addition of the Serralves Museum has further enhanced the function and public usage of the space, making it one of the most important cultural institutions in all of Portugal.
Before the addition of the museum the property consisted of two estates, Quinta do Lordelo and Quinta do Mata-Sete, and their gardens which date back to 1923. The original garden of Quinta do Lordelo, modeled after 19th century Victorian garden design, displayed flower-beds endowed with ornamental species. In 1932, Jacques Gréber was invited to design a new garden. Gréber’s design is “characterized by a mildly Art Deco, modernized classicism, influenced by French gardens of the 16th and 17th centuries, integrating several elements of the original garden, in particular the lake, together with the farming and irrigation structures” that had been previously gained with the merging of the Quinta do Lordelo and Quinta do Mata-Sete estates.
One significance of Gréber’s Serralves Garden is its consideration “to be one of the first examples of gardening art in Portugal of the first half of the twentieth century, and was the only garden built during this period by a private individual in Portugal, on the basis of a landscape architecture project.”
Siza’s museum design was informed by the surrounding landscape, and establishes a connection with the park as some of the art installations and sculptures can be found intermingled with the gardens. The 14-gallery building layout, clad in light colored wood, marble, and stone, allows for a play of light throughout the interior. The white stucco and pale gray stone of the exterior set against the greenery of the park is a refreshing contrast. Parts of this building remind me of the architecture of Le Corbusier, such as his Villa Savoye. Siza is a master of the manipulation of form, shaping the structure to identify with and respond its surroundings, revealing clarity, and originality. The Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art is a lovely companion to its garden surroundings of which bear great historical significance to the local community and the history of their city.
A quote from Álvaro Siza—”What I appreciate and look for most in architecture is clarity and simplism. Simplicity and simplism are known to be opposites, just as unity and diversity are not. Simplicity results from the control of complexity and the contradictions of any programme […] Complexity and internal contradictions – external, also, when a new structure is confronted with what preceded and what surrounds it, taking on a not necessarily predictable destiny. For this reason, the more character a building has and the clearer its form, the more flexible its vocation.”
Citations from: http://www.serralves.pt/en/park/history/