As a response to the challenging theme of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, proposed by the general curator Alejandro Aravena – Reporting from the Front – Portugal presented a site-specific pavilion throughout 2016, occupying an urban frontline of physical and social regeneration on the island of Giudecca. In fact, the installation of the pavilion on-site triggered the completion of an urban development project in Campo di Marte that had been designed by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza more than thirty years ago. Moreover, after “squatting” in Siza’s building site, the Portuguese Pavilion made way for a real habitat in the Giudecca community.
In this way, and in contrast to what happens in the pavilions of other countries, located in the Giardini of the Venice Biennale, where the architecture serves as a generic support to a new exhibition display each year, in this temporary pavilion it was the denunciating presence of a singular exhibition display that motivated the political decision to complete the architecture of the complex, which was interrupted in 2010 by the bankruptcy of the constructor. The conclusion of this work by the Italian authorities, which will be followed by the distribution of the houses to the inhabitants of Campo di Marte, is therefore the most rewarding result of this adventure we have shared with Álvaro Siza.
The pavilion exhibited four notable works by Siza in the field of Social Housing – Campo di Marte (Venice); Schilderswijk (The Hague); Schlesisches Tor (Berlin); and Bairro da Bouça (Porto) – revealing his participatory experience as a unique understanding of the European city and citizenship. These projects have created true "places of neighbourhood", an important concern for today’s European political agenda, as it seeks to move towards a more tolerant and multicultural society. Siza developed those concepts in conjunction with Italian architectural culture, among other considerations, drawing particularly upon the conceptual legacy of Aldo Rossi, whose major essay The Architecture of the City was published half a century ago. In fact, Siza’s plan for Giudecca, of 1985, incorporates one of Rossi’s last projects. The exhibition unveiled common ground between Alvaro and Aldo, two names that may well represent, in metaphorical terms, all of the citizens whose paths cross every day in every corner of those districts.
In early 2016, a few months before the opening of the Venice Biennale, we invited Álvaro Siza to travel to the four neighbourhoods presented in the exhibition. In Venice, The Hague, Berlin and Porto, Siza visited and met several residents, those who had been there from the start and newcomers alike, acknowledging the evolution of the habitat as well as the major social and urban changes that have taken place there, and which are now common to many other European cities: processes like immigration, ghettoization, gentrification and touristification. Those visits and the people encountered were depicted in several images and displays, presented on the outside and inside of the Portuguese Pavilion respectively. They became real documents of everyday life that were only made possible due to the residents’ goodwill.
Those visual documents were produced by a qualified multidisciplinary team, integrating Cândida Pinto and Rodrigo Lobo (exhibition videos, SIC Channel), Jordi Burch and Nicolò Galleazi (exhibition photographs), whom we would like to thank for their thoughtful contributions and commitment. Numerous other architectural documents were provided by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), one of the main institutional partners, together with ATER Venice, IUAV, the Municipality of Venice Murano Burano, UNESCO Venice, Instituto Camões, and Ordem dos Arquitectos Portugueses, which were essential to this initiative. We also extend our appreciation to the authors who have contributed to the catalogue, with their important interpretative texts on the work of Siza and the places where it is inserted: Mirko Zardini, Alberto Ferlenga, Andrea Barina, Adri Duivesteijn, Brigitte Fleck, Alexandre Alves Costa and Vittorio Gregotti.
Our final word of thanks inevitably goes to Álvaro Siza, the notable architect, world citizen and now a fellow neighbour on the welcoming island of Giudecca.
"Neighbourhood: Where Alvaro meets Aldo" exhibition was reassembled in Lisbon, at Garagem Sul in Centro Cultural de Belém, and is open to the public until February 11, 2018.