Architecture on Film: Having A Cigarette with Álvaro Siza (UK Premiere) + Reconversão

A double bill regarding two Pritzker Prize winning Portuguese architects – Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura – reflecting upon their work and philosophy through their own words and others lenses. Introduced by André Tavares.


06:30pm, Tuesday, 9 May 2017


11:30pm, Tuesday, 9 May 2017


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS


The screening will take place twice, at 6.30 and 8.55pm


AF Members:
£7.50 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

This is a past event

A double bill of films regarding the work of two Pritzker Prize winning Portuguese architects – Álvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto de Moura – reflecting upon their work and philosophy through their own words. Both alumni of the University of Porto – where Souto de Moura was Siza’s pupil, before working in his office from 1974-79 – the two friends, colleagues and frequent collaborators even share offices in the same, Siza-designed, building. Participants in an intimate ongoing conversation, these two films transpose this dialogue to the screen, with two filmmakers as our guides.

The screening will be introduced by architect, writer and curator André Tavares (Chief Curator, Lisbon Architecture Triennale 2016, Publisher, Dafne Editora).

Having A Cigarette with Álvaro Siza [UK Premiere]

Narrated by Siza himself – in conversation with the both the camera and Souta de Moura over multiple cigarettes, Dilthey takes us on a tour of Siza’s work, listening and lingering as Siza reflects upon architecture as an agent of time, memory, beauty and responsibilty. An intimate insight into the practice of one of the world’s leading architects, the film’s simultaneously formal and open approach mirrors the balance between stature and humility within the architect’s own work.

Germany, 2016, Iain Dilthey, 52 mins


Reconversão  [Reconversion]

Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself) creates a cinematic corollary to Souto de Moura’s practice, focused upon the architect’s exploration of the ruin as the ‘natural state’ of architecture, and the city as an agglomeration of fragments of past, present and future. Detailing 17 projects, Andersen's essay film uses and responds to the architect’s writings as it travels on a tour of his buildings. Capturing Souto de Moura’s work through a Muybridge-like succession of animated still images, Reconversão intimates the parallels between architecture and cinema as frames of time, space and memory.

Portugal, 2012, Thom Andersen, 67 mins

Programme Notes by André Tavares:

Where lies the origin of architecture? In Having a Cigarette with Álvaro Siza, the architect claims shelter and the mythic primitive hut as the origin of architecture, while in Reconversão, Souto de Moura claims that “walls are nearly the whole history of architecture.” Siza speaks of enclosure; Souto de Moura expresses materials and the abstraction of a plane.

These two statements are, of course, rhetorical. Despite their methodological silence, the two Porto friends’ architecture doesn’t come from considering its origins, but only through the making of something concrete. If there is a thing that binds their practices it is the confidence that knowledge and judgement develop solutions. When they arrive at a site, they might have a preconceived idea of what should or could be built, but they look and listen in every direction — from climatic concerns such as the prevailing winds to practical limitations such as the budget. They work by trial and error, constantly moving forward. Every move responds to the aspirations of our world, to the illusion that by using our knowledge we can make it a better place, more beautiful. They believe that beauty can be found in many ways, for instance the way a wooden detail expresses the craftsman’s knowledge or the way a decent house signifies social progress. Step by step, the design moves from the abstract brief to the completion of a building, a construction desired by real persons.

Beyond this down to earth methodology, which emphasises the humanism of their approaches, and their fond friendship, there are in fact few other links connecting these two architects. Such a statement might seem odd seen from London, from where all Portuguese architecture shares the same Atlantic flavour. The statement could also be considered a heresy if pronounced in the corridors of the Porto School of Architecture. Nevertheless, these two films help illustrate this unexpected hypothesis. Whereas Dilthey’s movie is a passive stroll through some of Siza’s buildings and circumstantial thoughts, Andersen fights with Souto de Moura’s silent constructions and lapidary texts to build up a critical view on his architecture.

The myth of Porto architecture is based on the continuous passing of architectural knowledge between generations, whereas Souto de Moura learned from Siza, Siza learned from the elder master Fernando Távora. There are practical reasons to explain the success of this genealogical argument, and indeed, Siza and Souto de Moura learned quite a deal from each other. But why does Souto de Moura show up in Siza’s office to offer some words on beauty in his colleague’s film? It certainly reassures both architects of the continuous thread of history, just as it is possible to add Távora’s pedigree to this chain in order to reassure the most suspicious conservatives of the aristocratic lineage of Porto architects. On the other side, younger generations love the lineage argument and there is a queue eager to stand up as the next progeny in its continuation. The fact that in recent years Siza and Souto de Moura have collaborated on unique projects — such as the 2005 Serpentine Pavilion in London — seems to confirm this peaceful scenario. Yet nothing could be more misleading.

If one follows the works of Siza in the 1960s and 1970s, one sees Siza’s constant struggle against the conventions of Portuguese modern architects of Távora’s generation. Souto de Moura, meanwhile, has always relied on a rationality that Siza seeks to elude in the violent turmoil of his own designs – Souto de Moura even dared to call for Mies van der Rohe as an inescapable reference point, when at the peak of post-modernism euphoria abstraction seemed out of picture for European or American architecture, Siza’s included. To explain his designs, Siza will refer to the project brief, daring to say he is a but a functionalist, whilst Souto de Moura, himself a functionalist, will situate his work within quotations from Jean François Lyotard or Joseph Beuys. The two architects think differently, design differently and have had to respond to very different social contexts. Siza studied with the modern architects in a beaux-arts school, working for about twenty years in a country under dictatorship. Souto de Moura was fortunate to live through Portugal’s 1974 revolution whilst still in his twenties. When Siza was excelling in designing and building throughout Europe, Souto de Moura had to find a way of his own and to master a language that would not hold him captive to the admired mentor.

Such differences are significant between these two friends, setting apart their practices from the good deal of pragmatism and common understanding of what architecture can bring to society that they share. That shared knowledge is the background from which their restless designs are born. But what makes the architecture of both truly powerful is the restlessness that tears them apart.