Álvaro Siza has expanded a former monastery on the Portuguese Way

The extension of the former Monastery of Leça do Balio, made of white concrete, can foster a dialogue between geometry and light and is a tribute to many of  Siza's masters.

Álvaro Siza Vieira, in collaboration with landscape architect Sidónio Pardal, designed an extension of more than 400 square meters in white concrete and light, called KM 234, within the approximately 4-hectare park of the former Monastery of Leça do Balio on the Portuguese Camino de Santiago north of Porto, now the headquarters of the Fundação Livraria Lello. The project was inspired by the foundation’s desire to weave a connection between past, present, and future, promoting the pursuit of truth. The cultural entity focuses on fostering critical thinking, facilitating access to knowledge through historical heritage, creating a common, shared, and contemporary legacy through reading, and combating functional illiteracy and misinformation.

Thus, the extension completely departs from the language and forms of the ancient Romanesque monastery to present itself as a modern element that stands out in the flat landscape. Two triangular-based towers (a typical element of Siza’s architecture), 12 and 14 meters high, rise at the two opposite corners of the perimeter square. Inside and outside the “walls” of this square, a permeable gravel floor creates a pathway for visitors.

Inside, an open-air courtyard called “Jardim do Pensamento,” (Thought Garden) halfway between a contemporary interpretation of a cloister and a Zen garden, offers a tranquil space for those who want to take a moment for reflection and contemplation. Within it, a sculpture with geometric features by Siza himself, roughly human-height and titled “Viandante,” (wayfarer) serves as a symbolic tribute to the two journeys undertaken by pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago: the inner and the geographical ones. At first, this project may seem disorienting compared to the rest of the great Portuguese master's work.

However, the moving aspect is that the more time spent understanding it, the more one can perceive and comprehend the compositional tributes Siza appears to have intended to pay to his great colleagues and masters, from Le Corbusier to Carlo Scarpa, to Tadao Ando. It’s as if he wanted to convey that every human action, thought, and construction is part of an immense text, a great book just waiting to be explored.

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