The dream of every architect

Besides designing their own house or at least a chair, every architect undoubtedly dreams about a journey: a long trip around the world that would reflect their architectural sensibility. That trip would include visits to places and buildings selected to resonate the traveler’s inner journey, that links their favourite creative themes and obsessions with the ones they share or recognize in works of their historical or contemporary colleagues. Knowing oneself and own cultural context better through exposing to and juxtaposing with different ones, through finding similar thread of sensibility and the continuity of ideas far away from home, that’s it.

I bring to mind some well-known trips from the history of architecture: the Le Corbusier’s trip to the East as a young person, that influenced strongly his entire career, is probably the most famous one. Many schools of architecture I have learned about have had the travel grants: the historical Ecole des Beaux-Arts used to award its best students with a year at French Academy in Rome, so that they could investigate Roman Antiquity in situ; Wagnerschule in Vienna also had a competition for travel grants to Rome and Italy, and there twist was made in 1896, when Josef Hoffmann went to see anonymous architecture of Capri instead of magnificent ruins of antique Rome.

To my pleasant surprise, I have just discovered there is a similar initiative here in Portugal: the Fernando Távora award. Since 2005, a travel grant is awarded by the Portuguese Order of Architects and some other stakeholders to make one architect’s dream come true. The amount of 6 000 EUR is enough to reach just about any spot on Earth that the selected traveler finds essential!

premio fernando tavora

In 1960, Fernando Távora himself went on a four-month long trip and noted down its memorable moments through texts and sketches in a travel diary. The facsimile of the diary (“diário de bordo”) was recently published in Portugal, under Álvaro Siza’s coordination. This spring I watched “1960”, a film by young Portuguese director named Rodrigo Areias, inspired directly by the Távora’s journey.

But what was the winning journey of 2013/2014 FT Award edition like?

The grantee, Susana Ventura, named it “An Expedition to the Intense Architecture”. Three keywords permeated the journey, as they permeate the research interests of the architect: intimacy, silence, contemplation. The journey lead her to Japan, Norway, Switzerland, Finland, Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden. The elements of the “travel diary” presented resembled a visual poem: very personal, very touching experience, as much about all the places visited as it was revealing the author’s own sensibility.

The award exists for a while, and a quick overview of previous winners reveals an interesting array of dream journeys: one was tracing the history of tower houses around the world, another was dealing with post-colonial topography in Angola, before that, one of the authors was exploring links of Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan, and before that, an homage to Le Corbusier’s  opus was paid …

Another great thing about the award: most of the winners are quite young authors!

The link to this wonderful competition, in Portuguese:

Photo credit:

Torre da Sé in Porto.

Hereby I present another discovery from the yesterday’s historical city tour – the Torre da Sé, designed by Fernando Távora in late 1990s-early 2000s (to be precise, between 1995 and 2002). The tower is situated in the very heart of the historical city – just next to the cathedral. And it doesn’t lie about its epoch: it is unmistakeably contemporary addition to the continuity of the Porto’s history of architecture. The main materials are granite (so, the traditional stone building was reinterpreted and continuity established) and glass (to provide a sense of our own epoch and also reinforce interaction, since the tower is meant to be a public space).

Torre_Fernando Távora_


This kind of intervention is probably among the most demanding and sensitive tasks for an architect. And I think he did it with a success, maintaining his own identity as an author, yet being highly sensible to the historical values of the environment.


The tower was actually built on the ruins of an ancient building, the so called Casa dos 24, upon a call from the then mayor of Porto, Fernando Gomes. Casa dos 24 – because it is where the 24 local officials used to gather. The proportion system of the tower emerged from the interpretation of an old text containing the description of the previous building. The main unit is “o palmo”, which amounts to 22 centimeters. So, the tower is 100 palmos tall (22 meters, that is), the walls are exactly 5 palmos thick (110 cm), and its length and width amount to 50×50 palmos, that is 11×11 m. Of course, the interior system of measures also conforms to this palmo module.


One more curiosity: the Távora’s building does not have any particular function, but to enable visual experience and enjoyment of the city!

Btw, FT lived between 1923 and 2005, he was a very important figure in Portuguese architecture and rethinking relations towards the past, so I’m sure there will be more posts about him here.