Winner of 2009 Royal Gold Medal announced

Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza has been named as the winner of one of architecture’s most prestigious prizes, the Royal Gold Medal.

Sunand Prasad, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) made the announcement at today’s meeting of the RIBA Council. Siza is a major figure in European architecture who has remained true to his artistic and ethical principles and achieved a prolific portfolio of work worldwide, which remains rooted in his native city of Porto.

Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen and is given annually to a person or group of people whose influence on architecture has had a truly international effect.

RIBA President, Sunand Prasad said of the RIBA’s new medallist: “Álvaro Siza is simply a profoundly complete architect who defies categorisation. The forging of a masterful and seemingly inevitable architecture out of the possibilities of a site is one of the supreme characteristics of Álvaro Siza’s architecture. He manipulates his readings of place into sculptural forms that are never predictable or ordinary, yet are never allowed to dominate over use or typological intelligibility.

“In Siza’s buildings, perhaps like no others, it is the relationships between the elements of the architecture that is given primacy rather than the shape or texture of the elements themselves. This is an architecture in which an economy of expressive means is combined with an abundance of spatial revelation.

“Álvaro Siza’s architecture matured in Portugal under dictatorship allowing little interchange with international architectural culture. After qualifying in 1955 he worked for 3 years with Fernando Tavora with whom he is seen as the leading light of the ‘Porto school’. His approach was already evident in his first independent project, the charming Boa Nova tea-house and restaurant (1963), albeit overlaid with a measure of decorative detail, which displays his deep interest in construction more obviously than in later projects.

“After 1977 and the end of dictatorship, Siza was asked to design large numbers of low cost houses for the local government of Evora and later the national housing association. Not only do these houses make adaptive and liveable dwellings, but collectively they bring a gentle order to the city periphery, establishing Siza’s command of the larger urban scale. At the same time, Portugal opened up to the outside world and soon Siza was invited to enter competitions and take commissions abroad. To buildings in Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands and South Korea, Siza has applied his unique architectural insights, and in London in 2006 we saw the Serpentine Pavilion, a collaboration with Eduardo Souta de Moura. At the same time he has continued to build inspiring buildings in Portugal, such as the College of Education, Setubal (1993), the University of Oporto Faculty of Architecture (1993) and the Adeaga Mayor Winery (2006).

“Álvaro Siza is, and always has been, a committed teacher and educator. He has enabled many younger architects to gain commissions through the work he was initially offered and this selflessness is one of many examples of his commitment to the greater architectural project, rather than to personal success. Unusually for an architect of such international standing, Siza has deliberately kept his studio small to ensure his attention to every project. He is generous with his appreciation of other architects.

“For the inspiring and instructive body of work he has produced over 40 years, and for his immense contribution to architecture through dialogue and teaching, the RIBA, on behalf of H. M. the Queen, is honoured to present the 2009 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture to Álvaro Joaquim Melo Siza Vieira. We wish him many more years of fulfilment of his unique vision of the possibilities of building.”

This year’s Honours Committee jury was chaired by RIBA President Sunand Prasad and consisted of architects Sir Jeremy Dixon of Dixon Jones, Prof. Kenneth Frampton of Columbia University, Despina Katsikakis of design consultancy DEGW, Pankaj Patel of Patel Taylor, writer Peter Davey OBE and engineer Jane Wernick Hon FRIBA.

Alvaro Siza will be presented with the Royal Gold Medal at the RIBA in February 2009 and will give the Royal Gold Medal 2009 lecture the following day. Date tbc.

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