Siza’s Columns

On Saturday 7th April the three columns designed by Álvaro Siza in 2014, as a commission by the Royal Academy for their exhibition Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined, were re-erected in the farmyard at Shatwell.

In the courtyard of Burlington House, Siza confronted the question of how an architectural intervention might transform the visitor’s appreciation of a grand and heavily trafficked urban space, where there was already an awkward surfeit of architecture. In his hands, the project addressed how lightly the architect must tread, how modest is the actual physical intervention required, and what it owes in acknowledgment of buildings that are already on site. A gauntlet, not thrown down but rather deposited, diffidently, on the cobbles in Piccadilly as a demonstration to the public and a reminder to the profession.

As the exhibition was closing the columns were acquired by Drawing Matter, in part to mark the near-simultaneous arrival in Somerset of a very significant part of Siza’s professional archive; but also with the idea that a thoughtful re-siting might raise similar – even, harder – questions about the role of architecture, or about the uneasy division of country from city.

We are very grateful to Álvaro for his time and care in finding the precise new site in the farmyard, working with Manuel Montenegro and Hugh Strange; it has taken rather too long to implement their thoughtful scheme.

After a last, long, session in Porto, I remember him sitting back to contemplate the final placement, lighting another cigarette and saying: ‘There. Now we are risking doing something really interesting.’ 

– Niall Hobhouse