Portugal’s second city is famed for its well-preserved medieval core, baroque churches and a string of six graceful bridges crossing the Douro River, one designed by the great Gustave Eiffel. Less well-known is that Porto is a hub of contemporary architecture. The city is home to two winners of the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s greatest accolade, Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura; both are on the faculty of the acclaimed University of Porto School of Architecture. We’ve selected a few key Porto landmarks that will deepen your appreciation of the city and the creative geniuses who shaped it.
Architect: Nicolau Nasoni
Nasoni was born in Italy but spent most of his career in northern Portugal, where he adapted the distinct baroque style of his home country. Indeed, the iconic tower wouldn’t look out of place in a Tuscan piazza. Here, it looms 250 feet over the city, providing stupendous panoramic views to those willing to climb the 225 steps to the top. The ellipse-shaped church, while not as dazzling as the gold-leafed São Francisco nearby, has a fine domed interior and an elaborately overwrought façade.
Clérigos Church and Tower
Rua de São Filipe de Nery 4050-546. Tel. (351) 220-145-489
Architect: José Marques da Silva
Porto’s eloquent Beaux Arts core owes much of its look to Marques da Silva, who designed several buildings on the grand Avenida dos Aliados, the Teatro Nacional São João and this, his most famous work. The neoclassical exterior of the U-shaped building is stately, but it’s the interior of the vestibule that really spellbinds. The walls are covered in tens of thousands of azulejo tiles painted by Jorge Colaço, depicting the history of transport along the frieze as well as historic battles and pastoral scenes on the wall panels.
São Bento Railway Station
Praça de Almeida Garrett
Architect: Álvaro Siza Vieira
Siza’s work can be described as coolly modernist, with a keen understanding of how a building should integrate with its surroundings. (One masterful example: his Leça Swimming Pool complex, which blends almost imperceptibly into the shoreline just north of Porto.) His contemporary-art museum exists in harmony with the other elements of Serralves, a cultural institution that also includes gardens and an art deco villa by Marques da Silva. The nearly all-white building appears minimally designed, but close inspection reveals subtle and powerful moments: large windows that illuminate rooms and frame views, lines and angles that guide visitors through the space, asymmetrical elements that create rhythm and intrigue.
Rua Dom João de Castro 210. Tel. (351) 808-200-543
Architect: Rem Koolhaas/OMA
Commissioned for Porto’s 2001 turn in the spotlight as the European Capital of Culture, the Casa da Música was actually first designed by Dutch architect Koolhaas as a private home. When that project fell through, he repurposed the plans as this concert hall. Faceted like a rough-hewed gem, its concrete façade is punctured by entrance stairways and large walls of glass that allow passersby to glimpse performances and rehearsals from outside. Inside is a tangle of staircases, escalators, support beams and unexpected treasures, like an azulejo-lined VIP room and a terrace overlooking the adjacent square. The visual cacophony of the space highlights the harmoniousness of the music performed there.
Casa da Música
Avenida da Boavista 604-610. Tel. (351) 220-120-220
Architect: Eduardo Souto de Moura
Like Siza, his mentor and fellow Pritzker laureate, Souto de Moura defies easy categorization, and his work is just as deceptively simple. This office complex on the Avenida da Boavista thoroughfare showcases his work’s underlying intelligence: Only 17 stories, the tower seems much taller thanks to the horizontal beams spanning its north and south faces. On the east and west sides, the windows become narrower and the cladding wider, protecting the interiors from the sun. A second, low-rise building creates a visual counterpoint. It can be admired only from the outside, but you can see Souto de Moura’s work up close in the Porto Metro system, which he also designed. Note the canny simplicity of the stations: Above ground, enormous cylindrical pillars appear to be supporting a concrete canopy but are actually light wells illuminating the train platforms below.
Avenida da Boavista 1837. Tel. (351) 226-105-715.