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Architecture, the Space of Participation - A study of the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art by Alvaro Siza

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Peter Foulk
Kingston University, UK
The main premise of this dissertation is that architecture should be primarily considered as a setting for human participation – firmly situated within a specific physical, cultural and historical context – and not a self-referential singularity. In order to support this, I discuss an exceptional contemporary project, which embodies such an understanding of architecture. The project is the CGAC, a complex for contemporary art in Santiago de Compostela, by the architect Alvaro Siza Viera.

Santiago is saturated with monuments dedicated to St James the apostle and the ‘Camino de Santiago’, the most popular Christian pilgrimage of the middle ages. Within this rich historical setting, Siza has situated an intervention which is both unashamedly modern and a coherent part of this historic urban fabric. Unlike many contemporary projects of its kind, the building is not an autonomous object of visual spectacle, but a coherent part of the city, specifically attuned to the encounter with contemporary art. It is a setting for cultural participation.

The argument of the dissertation is structured in four parts:

Part I traces the development of the space of participation in culture, through a critical history of representation from archaic ritual to modern painting. Part II outlines the idea of a universal process whereby architecture can reach a specific response, through the understanding of place. In this section I will be looking at the context from which Siza’s attitude emerged, alongside two of his early works, that reveal how this attitude to specificity has appropriately diverse outcomes, when applied to different sites and programmatic concerns. In Part III, I will be discussing the specific context of CGAC – the city of Santiago de Compostela – through both its significant history and its distinctive topography and climate. Finally, Part IV will be a detailed study of the project in context, and a reading of the building as setting for cultural participation.

Peter Foulk

The most important and hardest task of architectural history is to remain relevant to contemporary practice, without sacrificing rigour and complexity. Peter Foulk’s dissertation does exactly that. Beginning with a major philosophical investigation of the role of ritual in classical Greece, Peter identifies key themes which structure culture as the primary ground of human endeavour. He then proceeds to resituate these in the context of medieval pilgrimage and particularly in relation to Santiago de Compostella, the place where his final target is set: Alvaro Siza’s gallery of contemporary art. The highly original discussion of the building becomes, thus, an implicit paean to the power of architecture to ground us in the continuity of culture, while remaining ambiguous and inexhaustible.

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