Paulo David | Madeira, Portugal

Medal Awarded: 2012

Jury 2012

Glenn Murcutt, Australia, Chair
Jens Arnfred, Denmark
Louis Mansilla, Spain
Roy Mänttäri, Finland
Simo Paavilainen, Finland

“The Alvar Aalto Medal Jury has decided to award the eleventh Alvar Aalto Medal to the Portuguese architect Paulo David for his contribution to a contemporary and timeless architecture. In an era where the profession is obsessed with computer-generated patterns, ‘design’ in many practices has become greatly interested in manipulating forms rather than place making and the making of architecture. Many buildings now fail to adhere to structural logic for no reason other than ‘they can’; they are designed to slope, twist, lean and visually ‘defy gravity’. The work is intended to stimulate the visual senses but quickly become tiresome. This is a time of ’desperately interesting’ architecture. The work of Paulo David presents a refreshing and sobering alternative to that.”
An excerpt from the statement of the jury 2012.

  • Arts Centre – Casa das Mudas Calheta, Madeira / Portugal, 2004

Paulo David (1959 –)

Madeira is a volcanic island completely isolated from the mainland of Portugal. A dormant volcano formed the steep cones and the rugged coastline. Vast oceans make for an endless seascape surround the island. The island is subjected to a powerful, tough, exposed, hot, windy and raw coastal tropical environment. Basalt has been a plentiful resource for the constructed historic landscapes; rock was used extensively for retaining walls, forming terraces for vines and fruit bearing trees. Wells, cisterns and channels were cut into the rock for the storage and transport of water for irrigation across the island. Sea watching towers were built – overlooking the vast surrounding oceans where “the horizon is the limit and threshold of dreams” and looking to the seascape “… is a soulful activity of the island-dweller” – who tends to live a life of solitude. These influences form the power behind Paulo David’s work.

David’s work is locally rooted yet at the same time it is universal. His is a timely reminder that architecture can be quiet, serene, lyrical, powerful and well removed from spectacle. His work continues the search for an appropriate, relevant and authentic architecture that fuses with the landscape. The work respects and responds to ‘history, time, place, culture and technology’ – his is architecture of response rather than of imposition, the jury for the Alvar Aalto Medal in 2012 summarizes in its statement.

Paulo David’s professional training began with a move to Lisbon, which became his second city of choice. Soon after finishing university, he went to work with the architect João Luis Carrilho da Graça, one of his course teachers, followed by roughly ten years’ experience with Gonçalo Byrne, where great emphasis was put on the importance of the terrain and where he had the chance to develop a number of projects on Madeira. Upon his return to the island in 1996 he founded his own studio and began to act as a consultant to Funchal town council, helping define the perimeter for the historical Centre, creating urban furniture and establishing an historical trail from the upper to the lower parts of the town. In 2003 he created his current office, Paulo David Arquitectos. Works like Arts Centre – Casa das Mudas, Salinas Complex and Volcanism Pavilion represent strong landmarks for the office by their scale, simultaneity and complexity, allowing the development of distinct programs and work processes, important for the team’s maturity.

Paulo David has achieved a body of work that reflects the power of Madeira’s tough physical environment, where his diverse building types range in scale from single family houses to multiple housing, art galleries, museums swimming pools and more, each being designed to read as much part of the landscape as being works of architecture. The work adds new layers to hundreds of years of landscape and architecture on the island.

The work is grounded, respecting the island’s landscape and historic built environment. David’s work is a convincing synthesis of modernity and traditional coastal and rural elements woven into new contemporary large scaled basalt walls to buildings and their terraces, providing support and security to the ramps and paths planned to reveal the rugged coastline. Paths connect to coastal swimming pools and existing patterns of walkways, maintaining and extending social connections for socializing and work. The paths continue through natural and cultivated landscapes and gardens. The work is a poetic and a rigorous response to the island culture.

Roofs have been designed as landscapes where access ramps pass adjacent to still bodies of water that pick up the variations in climatic patterns of each day. Common plants have been introduced in the new buildings through channels between basalt and steel lined roof surfaces that intersect with abutting hillsides of architecture. The strong natural day lighting to galleries is modified through deep roof penetrations and internal profiled reflectors, the natural internal light always being modified by daily sky variations.

In what can be a tough external physical landscape and environment, David develops works that extend the rugged volcanic cliffs of the immediate landscape into simple geometric forms that are clad in dressed basalt or self-rusting steel, unifying the architecture with the landscape; the buildings silently occupy the land. Internal spaces are planned with forms set apart to reveal the vastness of the seascape, allowing the human to experience a calmness, serenity, much in the way of the Mexican architect, Luis Barragan.

In Madeira, mankind has always made efforts to change the environment, but mainly in terms of improving and enriching the status quo. With its marked orography and pyramidal contours, this insular territory has led to manipulations generated by and detached from the topography. Over the years these have been translated into a “humanized landscape”. Strong contrasts and extreme views exist side by side in Madeira Island, in a state of stimulation rather than constriction, calling for clear-cut and specific action by the architect.

“Paradoxically, it was the geographical isolation of this place that seems to be sitting on the edge of the world that enabled me to practice my profession in absolute tranquillity – despite all the ups and downs and remoteness from outside influences. Although these conditions (the insularity and sense of distance from global centres of culture) may seem “limiting”, they nonetheless fashioned my architectural position,” Paulo David notes. Seeking a formal position for himself in an increasingly globalized world, the specificity of the place, its distinctiveness have contributed to his unique and individual sense of architecture.

© Alvar-Aalto Medal 2019