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César Portela, architect

César Portela, architect


10 October 2003 - 11 January 2004
First floor
Tuesday to Sunday (public holidays included), from 11 am to 9 pm.
MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporánea de Vigo
Susana Cendán


In the MARCO's line of activities, "César Portela, architect" signifies an important turning point as for the first time a monographic exhibition is included in its temporary exhibitions, which are generally group shows and thematic in nature.

There is a good reason for this novelty, as one of the MARCO's goals is the plurality of disciplines, the need to include in its programme disciplines that have been key to contemporary aesthetics such as architecture, design, film, the audiovisuals and so many other forms of expression. As is well known, group or thematic exhibitions on architecture are almost non-existent.

Hence the reason why we chose this project, and designed it in such as way as to be bring the professional and artistic persona of César Portela closer to the public, as his career is one of the most interesting and international of the last few decades in Spain.

The exhibition offers a tour of his entire work, from his earliest projects - such as the paradigmatic gypsy houses in Pontevedra - to Azuma Bridge in Japan, the Project for the 14th Block of the Seafront in Havana and the Bus Station in Cordova, right up to his most recent projects in Galicia, such as the Verbum-Casa de las Palabras in Vigo, the Maritime Museum in Vigo, whose first version was co-designed with Aldo Rossi and completed by Portela-, the Cemetery of Finisterre in A Coruña and the project for the future Convention Centre of Vigo.

The installation of the show converts the rooms of the first floor into a tour of the life and work of the architect, structured into the following thematic/chronological/geographical areas:

1. Reconstruction of interiors: the architect's studio
2. Works in Vigo
3. Reconstruction of interiors: a display of the materials used in his works
4. Works in Galicia
5. Semi-detached houses
6. Slide show of images taken from his personal album
7. Works outside Galicia

César Portela's buildings are characterised by their search for the essence, by a kind of wish to return to the origins, a neo-minimalism ornamented with fragments of slate like decorative frescos or tatooed skin covering the buildings, and at the same time, by the need to create an order inside the natural environment.

Aware that the protagonist of the exhibition has little to prove, the show is openly educational and communicative, and learning about architecture by viewing it is more important than any other criterion. With this in mind the layout follows criteria of chronology and situation, and includes models and photographic reproductions of the buildings that make up series of five images each in different formats, as well as large-scale reproductions of each one of his most emblematic buildings. The photographic series are complemented by a space devoted to video-projections and a documental room in which the visitor can obtain more information about the architect's work.

What is especially novel is the recreation of the architect's studio for the viewers to get to know first hand the aesthetic, literary, musical, cinematographic and philosophical influences behind the work of César Portela over all these years, and even his collection of masks and Mexican votive offerings. Both voyeurs and the curious are drawn to his creative place, which reveal the most private environment of the architect as the "creator of worlds", with all the responsibility that this implies.



César Portela

Born in Pontevedra in April 1937, César Portela has received over twenty prizes, notably:

  • 1981 National Award for Urban Planning for the "Special Plan of Intervention in the Pazo de Oca and Surrounding Area", Pontevedra
  • 1985 Award of The Architectural Institute of Japan for the "Azuma Bridge" over the River Uchikawa, Japan
  • 1997 International Prize for Stone Architecture for the building "Domus" in A Coruña
  • 1998-99 National Prize of Spanish Architecture for the "Bus Station in Cordova"
  • 2001 Award for the Arts and Sciences
  • 2002 European Prize Philippe Rotthier for the "Cemetery of Finisterre"
  • 2003 Shortlisted for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture Mies Van Der Rohe Award for the "Cemetery of Finisterre"



Curatorial text

On the meaning and design of the exhibition

This exhibition, entitled "César Portela, architect", was born from a two-fold need that is self-complementary: on the one hand we wanted to validate the figure of the architect in a context as abused urbanistically as the Galician, where in the last decades the nature of building has been defined by spontaneous criteria based on pure necessity, the conscious or unconscious whim of any tom, dick or harry with no regard to urban dictates of soundness and respect towards the environment, often spoiling our environment to the point of non-recovery; and on the other, we wanted to bring to the public the work of one of Galicia's most established architects: César Portela. Other countries with a more stable historical baggage have shown us that one can build a better future only from awareness. This is the rationale behind the extreme care with which we have conceived this exhibition. We have rejected an excessively technical or pretentious approach in favour of a warmer, more agreeable and educational one, which helps the viewer to understand architecture as those of us who have worked on this project do; that is to say, to understand architecture as a perception of life.

With this in mind, we have divided the top floor of the MARCO into a series of independent geographical areas - Vigo, Galicia and the rest of the world - to render the viewer's tour of César Portela's particular imagination more comfortable, as we are certain that like this the viewer will not only get to know his buildings dotted around the world, but with genuine fragments of life intimately connected with certain cultures, experiences, passions and sounds. We have endeavoured to make the public perceive architecture in a familiar and frank way, inviting them to touch the materials used, differentiate the colours, and appreciate the marvellous humility and beauty of, say, a simple fragment of stucco; to open the architect's peculiar cosmos to the public, for which we have reproduced a small fragment of his dense and complex world in the Museum.

Artist's text

"In my work I have always tried to avoid the commonplace, the meaningless, unsuitable materials, and fussy detail; to ignore false sirensong, resist many temptations, reject the superfluous, detach myself from the non-essential, and retain only the essence; to seek the mystery of silence through language. A silence achieved by the wish to lose my own, individual voice in the vast, anonymous territory of Architecture.

This is the kind of architecture I like, and with which I identify totally. An architecture that is ever more bare, simple, meaningful, increasingly personal but at the same time more anonymous; bound by unseen links to history and place that seek out the merging of Culture and life, beyond the time and the place in which it is made".

César Portela


Susana Cendán

Susana Cendán is a doctor in the History of Modern and Contemporary Art from the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. She worked as a co-ordinator of the Department of Education of the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art (Santiago de Compostela), and has developed a career as an art critic and curator of exhibitions. She is currently a teacher of Art History and Theory in the School of Fine Arts in Pontevedra.