Manuel Aires Mateus
Manuel Aires Mateus (Lisbon, 1963), graduated at the Faculty of Architecture – U.T.L. in 1986.
He collaborates with Francisco Aires Mateus, since 1988.
He teaches, since 1986, in several universities:
- Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio, Switzerland
- Graduate School of Design, in Harvard
- Cornell University College of Architecture, Art and Planning
- Faculty of Architecture of Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa
- Oslo Architecture School
- Faculty of Architecture of the University of Ljubljana
- The Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Navarra, in Pamplona.
The studio’s work has been present in several countries, being development from its premises in Lisbon, Portugal.
Many of the studio’s projects have been published in monographies, including El Croquis, AV, GA, A+U, 2G, C3, d’Arco, A.MAG, TC Cuadernos, among others.
Aires Mateus has been awarded several prizes, both national and international, including the Valmor Prize, Secil Prize, Ecola Prize, Enor Prize, FAD Awards, the prize of the Ibero-American Architecture Biennale, and has had several projects been nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Awards. In 2017, he received the Pessoa Prize.
His projects have always dealt with the role of memory and knowledge, with the relationship between the physical and the cultural world. The work seeks to reflect every scale involving us, evoking a will to design. It searches for the perennial state of shape and materiality – over the continuity of time.
When you were a child what did you want to be when you were older?
Architecture has always been a priority for me. My father is an architect and my mother is a painter. The environment in which I grew up was that of artists, painters, intellectuals, so there was no great constraint to choose the path of architecture. My choice was very natural. At a certain point in my life I even thought of being a judge: a very important job, but in the end I had no doubts about starting a career in architecture.
What was your educational path?
I have the most banal curriculum in the world: I was born in Lisbon, studied in Lisbon, worked in Lisbon, where I actually still live and work. I have never made great trips abroad, not least because during that time in Portugal it was not common to leave. I studied at a school in Lisbon, which was very post-modern at the time, heavily influenced by Taveira, Charles Jencks, and Michael Graves. I had an interesting teacher at the school, Manuel Tainha, my second and final year teacher. The one I consider my teacher and with whom I learned a lot. Before I started my architectural studies, when I was 15 I worked in an engineering studio: first I did commissions and then I learned how to draw, and the design processes. These engineers used to work with with the architect Gonçalo Byrne, whom later I worked with, while I was completing my architectural studies. He was an important part of my training.
New Pôle Muséal, Lausanne, Switzerland (© Aires Mateus)
How did you decide to work with Gonçalo Byrne?
I’ve known him since forever: I have a picture where he was 22 and I was 2 years old, and together we are looking at a stone. He’s a family friend. At Byrne’s studio there were just five people working and he had a nice library at the time, which was a rare thing. The studio had a very family-oriented feel, and we often used to go out to enjoy a meal together.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Mathematics and descriptive geometry.
New Pôle Muséal, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2015 (© Aires Mateus)
Which architects have influenced you the most?
In Portugal it was Álvaro Siza: in turn Siza influenced Byrne a lot. At that time I remember that every time Siza completed a new job, we used to go to see the finished project. We studied his projects as a central figure of that time. Another interesting architect that I got to know through the school was Manuel Tainha. Later, among the international figures was Peter Zumthor, not so much a relationship on a personal level (even though we met at the Academy of Mendrisio), but as a relationship based on the study of his projects. Actually, what motivated me to teach in Mendrisio was also his way of teaching in dialogue with the students, which I share. One thing you can understand is that he did a lot of investigation through the school, through the work he did with the students. I was very interested in this work on an educational level. From the architects who already disappeared, I want to mention Borromini, a brilliant architect, also Palladio, Schinkel, and Mies, whom had a strong impact on me with their clear way of thinking.
How do you remember your work with Goncalo Byrne and what did you learn from him?
Byrne is a very cultured person. He taught me to look at problems and study through them, to gather information and to understand them from different perspectives. Every problem has its own reason to exist and you have to go all the way to solve it. As architects, it is very important to collect information, to understand everything that can go around the project. Byrne was more interested in the form of looking at a project rather than in drawing it.
House in Alenquer, Portugal,1999-2002 (Ph. © Daniel Malhão)
How do other creative fields influence your architectural work?
Architecture is made up of various artistic disciplines, and naturally these influence our work.
I remember so well that one of the last times Merce Cunnigham did a public spectacle, I was very impressed. I remember my mother forcing me and my brother Francisco to see Dreyer. Obviously I love everything artistic, especially painting and sculpture: I am a true fanatic of the work of the painter Richter (Gerhard) and of the sculptor Serra (Richard). Every time I do a project I find an artistic reference for it. I remember that when I did a project in Dublin, the most important reference was Irish literature, rather than architecture itself. That’s why I think that every project at every stage of its development has a different influence.
Everything shapes and influences the work. I am very interested in the work of non-architects, because I think that in different ways they do a very precise work, sometimes more precise and careful than the architects themselves. Architects often hide themselves in functional problems that are more real, while artists need a much more assertive precision, which is why I think it is a clearer precision.
The work of architects is the problem, but very often it is not even a problem, but a challenge, a possibility to think about. The interesting thing about architecture is that the themes of a project can be seen as a problem that is studied. What interests me is to study the project until the answer to the problem is clear. The interest of the project is to give, as an answer to the problem, an obvious condition in a natural way.
How do you approach new projects?
Studying. That’s clear. Every time we have a new project, we study what motivates the change, that is the program; and on the other hand, the place, the landscape conditions, the technical possibilities, and the materiality that can influence the process. Some projects have a very strong, central and present human component, like the individual home. We then represent these conditions through plans, sections, and volumes, and we try to make the project become as natural as possible.
House in Azeitão, Portugal, 2003 (Ph. © Daniel Malhão)
The key features of your architecture.
There isn’t one. Our great panic as architects is to have a way of doing, a form of doing and an image of what we do. This is our great panic, our chimera. Our will is to always have this desire to study and to do something different. Actually, what matters to me is that the way we do architecture is a complex problem. The thing we are most sure of is that every project is always a unique condition. The central problem can be the client, or the place, or technical difficulties, or the budget. Often, several things at once. What interests me is to face and study the processes one by one.
When and how did your professional partnership with your brother Francisco begin?
Francisco came to work in Byrne’s office after working in a couple of architecture practices and then we started doing some work together. At first I agreed with Gonçalo to continue working in his studio, occupying a small room in his office to develop the work I was doing with Francisco. So, from the beginning my brother and I were both in charge of our projects, while I was working with Byrne at the same time. Later we opened our own studio on the other side of the street from Byrne’s studio. The enormous advantage of working with a brother is that the heated discussions have no consequences. That’s why I feel very comfortable working with Francisco. We’ve also had a form of evolution in working together. Since the studio started to grow, we decided to split the office in two, but we continue our research and teaching together. Together we also work for architectural events, biennials, research and investigations. We also keep discussing projects very clearly, and we always present our work as a work done together.
House in Leiria, Portugal, 2010 (Ph. © Fernando Guerra|FG+SG)
Since 1997 you have been nominated professor at Lisbon University. Along the way, you taught in many different universites: Oslo Architecture School, Madrid, Oakland, Ljubljana faculty of Architecture, University of Navarra, Cornell University College of Architecture IUAV, Venice and in University of Auckland. Between 2002 and 2005 you were visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and since 2001 you have been teaching at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio. What does teaching architecture represent to you?
Overall, it means learning. We teach in the same way we work. What stimulates us the most is to study a problem, a process, and discuss it. The interesting thing about teaching, is that the final solution of a project that we develop in school, are the students themselves. Another interesting thing you learn is to work on a problem in another person’s head. You train as chess players, playing 30 games at the same time. Mendrisio has become a school for me as well.
Does teaching activity influence your work?
Very much so. Indirectly, yes. Sometimes students’ projects influence if we discuss it in a dialectical way. I remember that at the Venice Biennale in 2018, we proposed different spaces and one of them was the continuity of a space started by a student. I have always been taught since I finished school. For twenty years now, teaching has really made me think and reflect on architecture, and clearly learn with it.
House in Alcobaça, Portugal, 2011 (Ph. © Fernando Guerra|FG+SG)
Along the way, what is the best advice you have received, and is there one piece of advice in particular which you would share with young architects and architecture students?
The architect’s condition is not a choice, but a disease, like that of human artistic and creative activity. It mixes with the meaning of life and becomes vital. The architect’s problem is time. Maybe he does a project and only realises it seven years later. It is especially important to have passion, because architecture is not just about developing projects. Patience and resilience are central imperative characteristics for our profession.
Is there a book which is of particular importance to you as an architect?
“In praise of Shadows” from Tanizaki.
EDP Headquarters, Lisbon, Portugal, 2012-15 (Ph. © Francisco Caseiro)
Who were the most influential people in your architectural education and why?
Byrne as a master, Manuel Tainha as a professor, Siza as a researcher, Zumthor for ambition, and Borromini for passion.
An instance of architecture:
The most important project of my education and way of doing architecture was San Carlino di Borromini.
House in Estrela, Portugal, 2017 (Ph. © João Guimarães)
A personal motto:
That changes every day. I am interested in solving problems and what stimulates me is the unique condition of each project.
House in Melides, Portugal, 2015 (Ph. © João Guimarães))
Centro de Convivio, Grândola, Portugal 2012-2018 (Ph. © Nelson Garrido)
Faculty of Architecture, Tournai, Belgium, 2015-2017 (Ph. © Juan Rodriguez)
House in Monsaraz, Portugal, 2018 (Ph. © Rui Cardoso)