I have faith in architecture

Church, Portugal, by Alvaro Siza - front door

do you?

Alvaro Siza
Santa Maria Church
Marco de Canavezes, Portugal

via ouno
ph: Domus Mag


Nazara said...

Maestro Álvaro Siza....
i adore him.

luyi said...

i read your blog every day too.


sammy and glenn: pachadesign said...

beautiful space ... we recently exhibited our work in a beautiful white space in Appledore in Devon - an old glove factory completely painted white. the exhibition looked perfect there.

Anonymous said...

'Faith in architecture'--what on earth does that mean? To be enigmatic in your own blog is peculiar... What is it that you think architecture should function as beyond its essential use as shelter/dwelling... Design, aesthetics--lovely words and concepts--but secondary concerns... Right--form follows function?... So 'faith' however you mean it seems weirdly misdirected...

Jana FitzGerald said...

I'm not sure Faith is what I have, but it brings me great comfort to look at something like this. Objectum-sexuality doesn't sound that weird to me sometimes. I can't believe I just admitted that on the internet, oh well.

nikkole! said...

have you ever lived in
or worked in a poorly
designed space?
you really believe design is secondary?
even if you lived in a cardboard box
it would be a concern
to have well designed one

Anonymous said...

To Nikkole: it is a luxury to bemoan that a space is poorly designed: if you are poor (indigent) all you want is shelter, a covered enclosed space--its design per se is secondary to its essential purpose. Who cares that its feng shui is off or that that window faces an air shaft or that a ceiling is too low--when in need, all you want is any place of security.

Cerré said...

Dear Anonymous,

I would love to learn a bit more about you. You seem to be a regular...with a honest perspective. best,


Anonymous said...

Lee Cerre, What would you like to know?

nikkole! said...

someone designs these spaces for the indigent
are they not deserving of a well designed space
please dont tell me you believe
design is only about aesthetics

Jeremiah said...

I love the images, wonderful spaces.

As a student about to receive my Master of Architecture degree, I find the debate here very interesting... I could comment further, but for now I prefer to stay neutral.

Michelle Schraudner said...

What amazing proportions and lines!

French Blast said...

I love the church! Usually I don't like the architecture of modern church! I must admit that I like the light entering into this church!

Anonymous said...

To Nikkole: 'Deserve'? Nobody deserves anything... Just as there is no such thing as mercy or justice--human concepts that ultimately are fallible and poorly applied and culturally differently thought-of... And why would a poor person care about the design of a shelter--as if he/she would turn it down because it was poorly designed?... And yes, design is about aesthetics because architecture has a primary function--what it's used for--before how it looks... True, though, the way architecture is designed could enhance the function of it, but that's not a fundamental concern. Consider a garage: does it have to be designed well in its pleasing aspects or would a plain rectangular structure serve the same purpose?

David Neale said...

Anon, anon.
lets not be too reductive.
we can try to understand these issues by looking at the extremes,
(garages and indigence)
we are finding the edges, by speaking of such things, but the truth is probably more nuanced.
however, if we must, lets go to the extremes.

Human dignity is essential - mental health is real, and even what we might think of as superficialities affect this.

consider this account, ( WARNING; traumatic WWII concentration camp content)

'An extract from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945.

"I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance...

One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diptheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand proping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don't know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.

Lindsay said...

This is an interesting discussion - one that's been ongoing for over a century. Personally I believe the dichotomy between function and beauty is a false one, and also one that is probably puritan in origin. There are too many potential topics/digressions to fall into into here, but I'd just like to say that even "beauty" is a very complicated issue. Interestingly it's one that many religions are very conflicted about in their architecture, where there are often many things happening at once - the conflicting intentions to intimidate the faithful at the same time as lifting their souls, etc. But as for the separate argument above, the idea that shelter for the poor, if functional, should not be "beautiful" - there's a lot of evidence that architecture and design have a very pervasive and mostly unconscious effect on us, and therefore a shelter for the homeless is perhaps one place where good design is most paramount. Furthermore, there's plenty of evidence that good visual and ergonomic design does not necessarily have to cost more money than bad design - in fact the application of too much money is often the death of good design. To return to Siza's building, Siza achieved stunning effects using relatively simple means. Bad design - rectangular garages as mentioned by Anonymous, for example, if they are finished with plastic detail and vinyl siding, let's say - almost certainly has a negative effect on the morale of a neighbourhood, and so do strip malls and other cynical, poorly thought out travesties of design. This kind of commercial/corporate lowest-common-denominator design sends the message that the human propensity for beauty and proportion are the province only of the rich. I don't usually comment on discussions with anyone writing anonymously, because anonymity seems antisocial and somehow inimical to respectful conversation, but this topic was too interesting to stay out of.

Anonymous said...

To D Neale and Lindsay:

All I'm trying to get across is that the function of a structure is not predicated upon the aesthetic of design... I s'pose tho' we could have a discussion about what 'design' means and how it can be applied as a term... If we mean just a plan for a structure, fine, design is that. But if we mean to elevate the term into the hypothesis of how it will affect people because of the way it was composed, then we are on a whole other plane. That is what I was addressing. So if I seem to be 'reductive' perhaps that is a method toward how something, a topic, this one for example, can be understood. We must begin from the first stone of archtitecture, and that is what it is for, then one shapes the structure to fit that use. The appeal or revulsion of plastic detail or vinyl siding is secondary to the what a structure is for--if a neighborhood complains about it, it's because it is unaesthetically pleasing not because the garage does not function properly as a garage--they are reacting to a sentiment about what attracts or repels them. Look, I'm all for design and innovation and cement with diodes in it so it lights up--whatever... But a garage is still a garage no matter what you make it look like. What sentiment it evokes is beside the point of its reason for being.... And I don't think anonymity is antisocial--why should anyone care who I am or what my name
is--how does that affect this discussion?

Lindsay said...

Speaking in general, Anonymous, I mean not specifically to you, there's a lot of statistical evidence that the cover of anonymity is what allows for for flaming and internet road rage, and on a lesser level it tempts people not to take responsibility for their words and therefore to word things much more carelessly and abrasively than they otherwise would. I see this all over the comments arena of blogs, where "Anonymous" (either singular or plural, it's always impossible to tell how many there are unless one of the Anonymouses misspells the name) is almost always the only dismissive, snippy member of the conversation. Or the arrogant provocateur. This isn't an ad hominem attack against you, Anonymous, and anyway how can I be ad hominem toward Anonymous, if you know what I mean? And that's the problem. Again, I'm speaking in general and not to "you," but there's a reason why anonymity is so often considered cowardly. If you put your name and your other identifying marks to things, you are instantly obliged to be much more civil, circumspect and fair, or you face consequences in the real world (damage to your professional reputation, perhaps, since this is a public arena). Anonymity means you can say whatever you please and get away scot-free (pax Scotland), rather than putting your money where your mouth is. Usually when I see "Anonymous" I ignore the comment and just skip to the next one, because there's so often this aggressive, chip-on-the-shoulder, simmering anger to be found there, rather than a simple statement of opinion or any sincere effort to get to the truth of things. It's just hard to ignore the character profile that has built up around the "Anonymous" figure. That's what I meant.

As for the question of aesthetics and function, I'd say again that it's a false polarity, one in which supposed "function" is elevated as a good, and aesthetics is demoted as somehow an irrelevant luxury - and this is why I used the term puritan. The term aesthetics doesn't have to do with silly ornamentation - it has to do with the cultural and material expression of an underlying philosophy as well as human physiology. From my point of view, sentimentality has nothing to do with it. Your point that aesthetics have nothing to do with "what a structure is for" is reductive because it collapses the functions of, say, a garage into one supposed function, and I don't believe that's how architecture works, not in most cases. A garage has to function in multiple ways: as part of a house compound, as part of a neighbourhood, part of a national architectural tradition, and as part of a natural as well as built environment. The back of a garage is a wall for a rose trellis and a privacy screen from the street or lane; it's a woodshop, a recreational area, a storage place we often visit when going through our belongings. It's something we have to see every single day, quite apart from those moments when we drive in and out of it. This is how many of the world's most interesting, integrated architectural and design traditions (Japan) would view it. Isn't architecture ideally about working harmoniously with space, proportion, human perception as well as ergonomics, and with the reality that a building is often used for more than one thing? Calling something an "eyesore" is not a "sentimental" stance, unless we are dealing with the puritan idea that beauty is somehow... suspect, rather than as an indicator of thoughtful design that takes all actors into account. Puritanism and many religions have an innate mistrust of "beauty" that's almost punitive and almost certainly repressed. Whereas I suspect that when something is deemed an eyesore, you can be pretty sure it's failing. Just as there are architectural reasons (among other reasons) why, in Vancouver, many homeless people would rather (and do) sleep in the park than in the cramped, demoralizing, badly designed shelters we have built here, all of which do serve the intended "function" of providing a roof, a mattress and running water. David Neale, I loved your story about Bergen-Belsen.

Anonymous said...

See, now, Lindsay, look how you've made this a personal issue. I mean, really, if you knew my name was Jack or Jane, that I was a student or a housewife, just how much would that add to the conversation? You sign your name, Lindsay, but so what? How do I know that's your real name? And even with "Lindsay" that tells me nothibg about who you are--so Anonymous or Lindsay--what does it matter to the validity of an argument? Why would knowing my name 'oblige' me to civility? That's naive. I'm not your friend and I don't know
Lee Cerre--I'm just commenting on a blog. But you get huffy and say someone who is anonymous is acting 'cowardly'--what nonsense. It's not as though I'm ranting and raving and calling people names and using curse words... And you still get don't get my point. I'll say it one more time, plainly: aesthetics is not essential to anything, especially living. It may gratify a human attribute, but it is not necessary to the function of a utensil or a structure or anything else. The thing functions or it does not--what it looks like doesn't matter. That's all I'm saying.

Cerré said...

do i need to moderate?


Lindsay said...

No moderation necessary on my account, since I'm laying down my pen! It's been an interesting discussion, but I'm agreeing to disagree. I appreciate the opportunity this post provided for us to think about these things.

Maia said...

A very interesting debate. I very much enjoyed the reading. Thought-provoking.

Jim said...

I have faith in architecture, but none in architects. Got it?

David Neale said...

Im emailing this post from my ugly cardboard box. No really, its all I need.

A Tiger 'burns bright in a forest'
(i.e is really alive when hanging out in the bamboo, and gets sad in a cage),
Why should I think myself any different?
(i.e, I too have my preferences that relate to my needs)

Aesthetics; is this not simply a judgement on the WAY something is delivered?
'Its all in the delivery' after all.

nikkole! said...

oh Anonymous
you are brilliant
and this could go on and on
do i know you? because you
you in rage me as much as someone ive known
a long time and care very much about.
im sure i don t but you should know that
i am a romantic and it sways my views
thank you for the fabulous debate

and Jim....hell yes me too!

yes people deserve many things
and just because someone is poor
it doesnt mean that they
dont care about things
money and how much you have
isnt everything
but bravo see how this can go on
and on and on and on.....

Erin Curry said...

"why would a poor person care about the design of a shelter--as if he/she would turn it down because it was poorly designed?"

"the way architecture is designed could enhance the function of it, but that's not a fundamental concern"

Poor is a relative term especially coming from a person(me) who lives where clean water can be found, but I'd like to offer my own experience.

My friend grew up in a single-wide trailer his parents bought. For a time I lived in it too; it held five other people at the time.

One summer all of tiny air-conditioning units broke (there were three), and they were too poor to pay to fix them or else waiting for parts to turn up in the junkyard. Florida heat turned it into an oven, tiny windows funneled small bursts of less hot air in but we sat sweltering in the heat of the kitchen avoiding movement, ceasing all cooking, sucking on ice and trying to nap in the even more closed off bedrooms (one so tiny the bed had to lay partially in the closet), we were all miserable. Yes it was a roof, but in someways a just a roof would have been better if not for the hoard of mosquitoes hovering out the window.
We were trapped, caged creatures pacing irritable.

I wonder if the house had been better designed they might have saved more of their hard earned dollars rather than fighting the heat (and perpetual darkness) with electricity.

The house was one they had bought on meager wages hoping it would last the rest of their lives. So far it has, though the floor is patched in the kitchen and bathroom under the linoleum with old street signs while the fiberboard rots beneath it.

It is true it functions as a house, it is true they have no more dollars to vote for design with, but is it right to assume they don't or shouldn't have the right to care?

Even among the poor, design has a following. In the South porches have long been valued to fight against oppressive heat and treasured as a place to gather with neighbors, and many many songs sing praises to the window over the kitchen sink (the better to see our children play).

Today I live in an apartment of a house made a hundred years ago, the ceilings stand 12 feet high, another old functional feature to battle heat, and my spirit soars within it.

Erin Curry said...

Cerre, I always enjoy coming to your blog. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

regarding the haves v. have-nots and design:


j*d said...

okay, i'll preface this by saying that i may have had too many glasses of wine to comment, and may have missed a point or two in skimming the above, but...

i think if a designer, or an architect, were to look solely at function they would definitely produce something of utility, but perceived utility is often enhanced through aesthetics and emotion and is relative, even if unintentional.

yes, a multitude of vessels hold water, but a glass with a shape that pleases my eye, a heft that feels good in my hand, a volume that is just right for me, an innovation that allows it not to sweat on my table in warm weather all enhance the glass's basic utility. however, it may sit next to one that is an awful color, too small and occasionally leaks, but happens to remind me of my very pleasant childhood. which glass is more useful? which glass will i drink from today?

so, is good design a luxury?to have faith in design, or architecture, can mean different things to each of us. shelter, improved utility, aesthetics that elevate us, emotion that connects us to our past, immediate reality or each other.

i interviewed some people from IDEO about the function, beauty and emotion in some of their personal everyday items herei also saw cameron sinclair deliver one of his final design like you give a damn lectures. (see it here)

yes, i do have faith.

Wolfie and the Sneak said...

I also have faith in design, but I don't believe wealth plays any role in design, unless you follow the consumer driven market.

We all have a propensity towards beauty.

dobrya said...

A good designer makes aesthetic and function synonymous. A minimal shelter can be as beautiful as any extravagance. That shows on this blog everyday.

Anonymous said...

The Santa Monica Museum of Art (www.smmoa.org) did a great survey show of his work a couple of years back and produced a small catalog. It is probably available for purchase from the website store. Alvaró Siza is a master.

A.M. said...

i stopped reading these comments halfway through because they were way too beard-stoking but could not resist being the 33rd commenter.
i would have to summarize my feelings by saying that the church above is beautiful, and that saying one has 'faith in architecture' is perfectly fine if true (one can have faith in anything) and perfectly fine if untrue because of the relationship between the meaning of 'faith' and the function of a church.
something near a pun which many great headlines are.
as for the hyper boring and collegiate argument about 'form following function' and all that, these things came to mind:
-there are many very beautiful things in this world that have been 'designed' (sculptures, the arrangement of trash bags on trash night, stacked bottlecaps on a bar) which provide no function other than that they may or may not be thrilling to behold.
-Yes a 'garage just needs to be a garage' to function but why is anyone championing against embellishments/style? the world is and should be wild-style at all times. thats the humanity part of humanity.
the bauhaus already went through all of this philosophy junk and despite themselves they ended up with a hugely identifiable STYLE that reflects not only their high-falutin philosophy but also their era, their gender, their cities, their humanity.
Find your simplest tool, your hammer, your nail. And then ENJOY the fact that every culture that has ever made these things has made them a little bit different.
I have faith in that and insofar as architecture is a reflection of people designing things with an appreciation for 'function' without negating or disavowing their humanity then I also have faith in architecture. and music, sewing, rollercoasters, chairlifts...

David Neale said...

*strokes beard, tokes meerschaum*

hmmm, methinks we sucked you in to our vortex of beard-stroking, A.McNey ;-)

Lindsay said...

David, you're funny.

Anonymous said...

a. mcney...

yes, it was so hyper boring and collegiate an argument that you felt compelled to join it.

Ann Munro said...

I have faith in humanity. And I believe good design can go beyond (or via) aesthetics to improve the way in which we live our lives. Is the same as having faith in architecture? Good design can make more with less, make the most out of limited materials, not simply for the sake of beauty but also for the sake of making a little go a long way. Architecture for Humanity, Architectes Sans Frontières, etc, are all proof of this. I believe in the visual impact of our surroundings on our psychological health. Studies of post-tsunami relief shelter designs (successful ones versus failed) attest to the importance of this even in the most abject situations. But I mostly think that every space, built or interstitial, can be improved both technically and aesthetically through design. So yes, I have faith in architecture. Or at least in its potential.

Anonymous said...

I dont believe this church has anything to do with faith. Siza's vision in this project was to take something that was traditional in nature, the liturgy, and its circulation through the church and completely transform it to adapt to todays catholic. Today's catholic is not like catholics of the past, the rigorous rules of catholicism has pushed people away from the church. Siza's design not only has pure natural light diagrams, but also takes the typical concave dome and makes it convex in order to bring people to the center of the church. This is a very complex structure and more so if you peel back the layers.