Architecture Studio Teaching. Transforming Reality


In the league of the best architectural schools in Europe, Porto ranks fourth. There are two well-known Portuguese architects, both schooled in Porto and both winners of the most prestigious Pritzker architectural prize: Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura. It is worth investigating their works and the way they perform architecture in order to understand the basics of teaching architecture with constant good results in the real world. In decoding their strategy one understands that “architects do not invent, they just transform reality” ( Joaquim, 2006 ).Between Siza’s need to sketch in order to understand and then transform reality and De Moura’s need for simplicity and anonymity, there is a clear commitment to create architectural expression, connecting it to past architecture, to Modernism, and to the arts. They are, somehow, reinventing the past but they stay away from the “gratuitous invention” (Frampton, 1999, 2000, p. 57) which seems to overflow the architectural world today and the studio class, as well. How can all these be achieved? The result of the study is a set of teaching points and concept strategies to be investigated in the architecture studio. The paper also presents a designed workshop ready to be implemented.

Keywords: Architecture studioanonymityprecedentworkshopSizaDe Moura


This paper introduces a new strategy in teaching in the architecture studio under the Lumen

Congress theme: Education Novelty. The article addresses the Romanian academic world specialising

in architecture, in order to rethink the way an architecture studio is planned and conducted. In a world

where images travel rapidly and students are tempted to adopt them without a proper analysis and

understanding, our research proposes a tool to counterbalance this.

The research question is: is there a way to derive architecture studio teaching strategies from the

best practice in architecture? The methodology developed to answer this question can be applied to any

valuable architect in order to extract valid teaching strategies and can become a tool for architectural

studio tutors in universities worldwide.

The research focuses on two architects, both Pritzker Prize laureates: Alvaro Siza and Eduardo

Souto de Moura. They were both schooled in Porto and subsequently taught or are still teaching at the

University of Porto. In 2016, De Moura was awarded a prize for his contribution to teaching

architecture by the X Ibero American Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism (BIAU) in Madrid.


Neither Siza nor de Moura speak about their teaching strategies. Hence, it is interesting to

investigate the way Siza and De Moura perform architecture in order to understand the basics of

teaching architecture which will lead to constant good results in the real built world. The research

employs historical methods; it investigates the works of the architects over 20 years, between 1990-

2010, covering 49 built architectural works. An analytical and interpretative research is conducted for

each of their built work, mainly focused on: the space, the structure, the expressivity and the way the

buildings relate to the site. Two summarising tables present the analytical research described by key

words in order to identify the main characteristics of the works (see table 1 & 2). As there is

information available regarding their modus operandi in architecture these are essentially studied. It is

reasonable to assume there is a connection between the way they perform architecture and the way they

teach architecture. I propose to delve into the above reasoning and investigations, to extract lessons to

be learned and taught in the architecture studio.

Analytical Research

Table 1 -
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Table 2 -
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Both Siza’s and de Moura’s architecture have a strong sculptural character. It is interesting to note

that both of them considered sculpture as a potential endeavour before deciding to work in architecture.

Their architecture is not sculpture, not even sculpture with a practical function, though. Yet we find

some common attributes between their architecture and contemporary sculpture as follows:

a) Robust bodily presence – as opposed to other contemporary architecture that plays with

transparency, and a translucent, airy, weightless appearance. Their buildings are written in/with stone

(Blaser, 2003, p. 17). The Burgo Tower – for de Moura, and the Lisbon Pavilion – for Siza are two

representative examples.

b) Homogeneous character – they express architecture with one unitary material. We find this at the

Paula Rego Museum – for de Moura, and the Iberê Comargo Foundation – for Siza.

c) Strong degree of abstraction – in which the form of the building prevails function. The two

museums mentioned above are suitable examples, together with the Multifunctional Hall – for de

Moura, and The Library – Siza, both located seashore in Viana do Castelo.

d) Fragmentation – more specific to Siza, this often comes by avoiding the 90 degree angles; it is

mostly the case with his houses: the Vieira de Castro House, the House in Majorca, the House in Sintra,

but also with public buildings such as the Serralves Museum and the Iberê Comargo Foundation, while

for de Moura I only detect the Cinema House in Porto in this category.


Siza is concerned with and concentrated on bringing natural light into the building, but not by using

the elementary window opening – a rectangular cut into a solid wall. His strategy creates a whole

different perception of internal space. He includes the skylight and the top edge indirect light in design.

This is the case of the Serralves Foundation, the Portuguese Pavilion in Hanover, the Godomar

Pavilion, Leida University, and Aveiro University Library. For the Ribeira Sport Center he designed

cylindrical openings in the curved roof, above the swimming pool. This indirect lighting and its

reflection into the water creates a spatial experience which seems to be connected with the Moorish

bath tradition.

For the Santa Maria Canavese church Siza designed a naturally back lit altar that has an evanescent

character. He achieved this using indirect lateral natural light. These ‘windows’ are hidden to the direct

view. As opposed to what one expects when entering a church, moderate indirect natural light coming

through small openings, placed high above the visual field, he introduces long horizontal windows that

visually connects the church with the fields nearby. Whenever he uses elementary standard windows he

adopts a similar method: the window is cut in a special relationship to the landscape. It is not cut for

natural light only, but, to rather connect the interior and exterior at a very precise point. This is a

constant concern for his design. For the Iberê Comargo Museum, for example, one of the few openings

in what seems to be an art fortress, is a small, stamp-like view towards the ocean. He applies this

design to all his houses that change direction in order to bring the best landscape view inside. Siza uses

light in a scenographic way, in order to modulate space and to create emotions. He points out that, “it is

very hard to make windows properly. Frank Lloyd Wright said that architecture would be more

beautiful if it didn’t have windows or we didn’t have to make windows.” (Santos, 2008).

Avoid windows

De Moura is in love with the solid wall and terrified by the window, as well. He also has a big

concern related to the elementary window opening but he tries a different way to solve his problem. As

a characteristic of his works between 1990 and 2000, he avoids windows by organising spaces around

patios, to hide the necessary windows from the exterior view. When this is not possible, in urban

settings for instance, he disguises windows with overall external shading devices, like in the Rua do

Teatro Residential Building and the Maia Collective Building. The works for the underground stations

in Porto should have been his most loved as they do not require perimeter windows, as is the case with

the Uitzicht Crematorium, a mix between a sunken building and patio arrangements which both serve

the same purpose.

In “Contemporary Architectural Image in Europe. Comparative Study on Recent Portuguese and

Swiss Architecture” I described five particular ways in which de Moura avoids ‘making windows’

(Bărbuică, 2016):

a)Anthropomorphous façades, zoomorphous façades; the Cinema House in Porto seems to be an

analogy to a butterfly according to Nuno Grande (2009) and a cat jump according to de Moura


b)Patio and solid walls façades; as in the Bom Jesus II house, the Contemporary Art Museum in

Bragança and the Paula Rego Museum.

c)Avoid window perforation in favour of overall transparent glass plane; Cascais house, Cinema

House, the hotel and school in Portalegre, Avenida Offices, Multifunctional hall in Viana do Castelo,

and the House in Moledo.

d)A mesh strategy for hiding the windows.

e)The total exclusion of ‘the window’ by presenting the section instead of façades, as in Braga


Even de Moura advises: “...when you don’t know how to resolve the elevation, show it or display

the section.” (Grande, 2009).

For the Burgo Tower he invented a kind of composite skin made of a mix between the solid wall

and transparent zones, uniformly distributed around the building. This mix does not expose the duality

between the two elements (wall and window) and gives a unitary expression to the volume (see also

point 3.1.b).

Modus operandi - creative tools

Siza is well known for his evocative hand sketches that underline his architectural work. It is his

way to investigate the world; it is research and artistic viewpoint. For him, to draw equates to be. “He

draws for pleasure, necessity and vice”, says Angelillo (1997) while commenting on his life’s vocation.

His sketches are the compass for navigating complexity: “I always need to take my time to decide

which is the right path, and I rely on my sketches to guide me in that search”, he says (Santos, 2008).

Siza’s credo is that “architects do not invent, they just transform reality” (Joaquim, 2006), similar to

what Alvaro Alto believes. His creative method is rather a lack of a particular method. He starts with

intuition as the backbone of structuring an idea. He creates from mental images of the spaces that are

first built in the imagination. He states the importance of the hazard in the creative process. For him

creativity is a sinuous path of back and forwards, not guided by any preconceived idea. In an interview

given to Curtis in 2000 he affirmed that the idea for the Lisbon Pavilion came almost by chance. His

view is that “… sometimes it is necessary to design almost without objectives, to let the idea emerge”

(Curtis, 2000).

De Moura does not speak much about his creative process. We find out that he does not like to

write: “as I am not a writer writing is hard for me. In the time it takes to write, I could draw a project”

(Güell, 1998), but we get a clue that his creative process is connected with reading and taking notes. He

names the authors that have mostly influenced his works: Donald Judd – Architektur , Aldo Rosi –

Scientific Autobiography, Robert Venturi – Complexity and Contradiction. He loves poetry – Herberto

Helder, Fernando Pessoa, and admires Borges. A secret weapon might be the small note book that he

always carries around, a mix of words, scribbles and ideas. He considers this notebook to be “...a kind

of sediment that works through the unconsciousness” (Güell, 1998). For him, the most important thing

is that architecture should always solve a problem, and in this sense he admires Jean Nouvel.

“Architecture is good... when [it] solves a problem and fits in the surroundings” (de Moura, 2011, p.

464). De Moura is not after the new at any cost, but he is in search of an architecture of mutual

adjustment between the natural and the built, in search of a feeling of serenity. He is very clear that he

is not after an architecture that generates emotions but, rather, after one architecture that resolves a

conflict (Rakesh, 2014).

Design Workshop

In order to detail workshop c) mentioned above, a possible line of work during the architectural

workshop is introduced below:

Starting from how to avoid windows

Students are to investigate why and how to avoid windows in the works of Siza and Souto de


Exercise step 1

Tutor presentation:

The works of Alvaro Siza and Souto de Moura to be investigated from the way they work with

windows and walls, with solid and transparent dichotomy. The concept of homogeneity will be


Exercise step 1A

Tutor presentation:

Creative strategies in the works of Alvaro Siza and Souto de Moura (see point 3). Each student to

reflect upon his/her own creative ways and to critically adopt a new one from the one presented.

Exercise step 2

Students to find 3–5 examples of similar strategies that other contemporary architects employ in

their work.

Exercise step 3

Debate: Is avoiding windows a current fashion in architecture? The mesh strategy for the façade: is

it another way of disguising the window? Examples to be discussed.

Exercise step 4

Students to present one current finalised project. It should be a studied program: residential,

museum, library, sports, office etc. Each student will start to examine why and how to transform the

building skin as to avoid the windows, as understood in their classical sense of cut out

rectangular/arched openings in a solid wall.

Exercise step 5

Analyse different options with each student.

Exercise step 6

Students to build a 1/50 – 1/20 model of the new proposed façade.

Exercise step 7

Students to run 3D options (alternatives?) of the new façades options. The previous façade solution

will be put in parallel and analysed. What is lost and what is gained? What about homogeneity?

Exercise step 8

Exhibition with printed panel of the architectural project including the summary conclusion: what is

lost and what is gained, including the model or photo of the model.

Recommended audience for these tasks: third, fourth and fifth year undergraduates.

Note: the notion of ecological façade can be introduced by the tutor in two steps and this element

can be added to the final study and conclusions.


We can see that some common characteristics of the architecture practised by Siza and de Moura are

grouped around the concept of light. One can see how a common problem can receive various distinct

solutions as shown at points 3.2 and 3.3. In teaching architecture this observation leads to a special

interest around the two topics, sculpture and light, when designing an architecture studio. For students,

there is one additional incentive to find yet another possible solution to an architectural problem. By

understanding two yet so different approaches to making architecture and different tools for creativity,

both tutors and students are invited to critically address their options and to agree that there is not only

one path, or one way, and that they should continuously develop their personal approach to

architecture, both in teaching and learning. Tutors should be able to encourage each student to find

his/her own creative means to architecture. This can be achieved by strictly targeted architectural


As a practical application of this research practical sessions to be taught in the architecture studio

could be developed.

a) Starting from sculpture, students are to investigate the following attributes in architecture: robust

bodily presence, homogeneous character, and abstract presence. Tutors are to design a workshop to

explore contemporary sculpture and to identify ways in which they deal with the four key elements.

The workshop will investigate materials, their aesthetic character and working possibilities. Target

audience: second and third year undergraduates.

b) Starting from light and its importance in architecture students should investigate:

- Different atmospheres created by different types of windows

- Types of generated interior space

- Types of connection between the interior space and exterior space

- The case of breaking the boundary between interior and exterior

Tutors are to design a workshop to investigate ways of creating atmosphere using different ways of

bringing light into the space in connection with the feeling to be rendered inside. Target audience: first,

second and third year undergraduates.

c) Starting from how to avoid windows, students are to identify creative ways to achieve this task.

Tutors are to design a workshop to facilitate this exercise and to investigate the impact on the internal

space and external appearance of such a building. Target audience: thirdand fourthyear



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04 October 2016

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Cite this article as:

Bărbuică,  . (2016). Architecture Studio Teaching. Transforming Reality. In A. Sandu, T. Ciulei, & A. Frunza (Eds.), Logos Universality Mentality Education Novelty, vol 15. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 109-121). Future Academy.