Triangulations: Inauguration of the Álvaro Siza Wing at the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art

Ceiling view, intersection of four upper level rooms, Álvaro Siza Wing, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, photo David Moscovich


By DAVID MOSCOVICH October 24, 2023

The newest addition to the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto is a three-story, 4,204 square meter wing named after Portugal's Pritzker-prize winning architect, Álvaro Siza Vieira, inaugurated on Thursday, October 19, 2023. The Álvaro Siza Wing adds 1,975 square meters of exhibition space, which is a 44% increase to the current museum exhibition area. The new building is located to the west of the Serralves Museum and is connected to it by an elevated gallery. 

Of the three floors, one is dedicated entirely to what the Serralves Museum refers to as the "axis of architecture". Another floor is reserved for the Serralves collection on permanent display. The new building also adds a third level including 1,117m2 in overall area dedicated to storage, a 75% increase from what existed previously. 

The building is constructed with reinforced concrete structural walls, plastered on the outside with cork insulation and covered on the inside with double plasterboard.

Architect Álvaro Siza Vieira posing in the atrium of the Álvaro Siza Wing, Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, photo by Serralves.

"The Álvaro Siza Wing is a building that is fully integrated into the landscape of Serralves Park," says Serralves. The new structure is "an expression of natural growth, like a new branch growing from a tree."

In fact, according to a museum spokesperson, in the process of construction "twelve trees were carefully unearthed with roots intact, replanted and continue to be alive and in good health."  

Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art, a U-shaped complex cradling Serralves Park, was designed by renowned architect Álvaro Siza Vieira beginning in 1991 and opened to the public in 1999. Siza conceived the building with the gardens specifically in mind, accenting the natural context through several floor-to-ceiling window walls. The museum is assimilated with what is originally the grounds of a private residence called the Serralves Villa, an Art Deco structure commissioned by the 2nd Count of Vizela, Carlos Alberto Cabral (1895−1968). In 1987, the estate was purchased by the Portuguese government and began to house modern art collections until the opening of the museum in 1999. 

Mirroring similar garden views from the main building but with a new twist, one of the more striking features of the new wing is a double acute isosceles triangle as framed via window superimposed with entryway. 

When asked the reason for the triangles, Siza Vieira, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year, said in a statement that he wanted visitors to see "something special which marks the atrium of the new wing." Siza Vieira added that the design allows people to choose from two options -- either circulate to the right or to the left. For this reason, he said, "it functions as a kind of meeting place or gateway to the museum." His comments have been translated from Portuguese.

Philippe Vergne, Director of Serralves Museum, has seen the project evolve from the emergence of the first drawings to its completion. Vergne said that the space enticed him because of the way the four upper-level rooms could "build intimacy and sight lines for the works." He added that for the permanent collection in particular, the new wing "generously provides for greater volume and spacing, and respects the works of art."

"What I like about the new building is that you don't see it," said the Director, referring to its artful synthesis within the forested context, "and I find it humble."

Architect and curator António Choupina, based in Porto, has worked closely with Siza Vieira since 2009. He commented that "the Álvaro Siza Wing was conceived exactly as you see it today, which is very unusual for Siza's design process."

"Instead of going through several iterations of drawings, the building was designed by the trees themselves," Choupina said via telephone, "due to the delicacy of the clearing [...] it moves and turns, adapting to the site." The geometry of triangulations, according to Choupina, is partly a result of this adaptation.

Architect Álvaro Siza Vieira is a native of Matosinhos, Portugal, and has acted as visiting professor at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, in Bogota, Colombia; among his prizes and recognitions are The Pritkzer Prize, the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, Mies van der Rohe Award, and many others. He has authored buildings in The Netherlands, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, China, South Korea and more recently a 77-residence highrise tower in Perla Bianca limestone at 611 West 56th Street in Manhattan, completed in 2022.

With the new Álvaro Siza Wing, the overall area of the museum increases by 33%, adding 4,204m2 to the area. Serralves hopes that broadening the scope of the museum area will attract more visitors.

The first exhibition open to the public in the new wing, featuring works from the Serralves archives including a sizeable chunk donated by Álvaro Siza Vieira, is scheduled for the spring of 2024. WM


David Moscovich

David Moscovich is the Romanian-American author of You Are Make Very Important Bathtime (JEF Books, 2013) and LIFE+70[Redacted]a print version of the single most expensive literary e-book ever to be hacked (Lit Fest Press, 2016.) His novels Blink If You Love Me (2019) and his newest, Manhattan Other (2023), are available from Adelaide Books. He lives in New York and Portugal.

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