From a cultured, conservative, Catholic family in Braga, son of an ophthalmologist who was trained in doctor Barraquer’s clinic in Barcelona, young Eduardo studied at a rigorous Italian school originating under Mussolini and more advanced than the Portuguese schools of the day. There, great attention was given to drawing and this was to become useful in his career as an architect.
With a jurist well versed in the arts who was to become Attorney General of the Republic and a physician sister as siblings, Eduardo geared his career towards engineering and came to architecture roughly at the time of the 25th of April Revolution in Portugal which gave rise to a period of extraordinary vibrancy and intellectual curiosity. In those times, structuralism and semiotics came to be more important than urbanism or building.
When Minister Nuno Portas allowed innovative residential plans to be implemented, young students turned to Álvaro Siza, twenty years their senior and possessing the experience they lacked. This is how the very close relationship between the two architects, which was to last for their entire careers, began. Their lives became intertwined through personal ties. Eduardo went on to marry a niece of Siza’s, and the two architects had their studios in the same building.
Though he had such an intimate relationship with Siza, Souto de Moura chose to express himself in a different language, and Mies van der Rohe’s influence can be clearly felt in the first steps of his career. As Souto de Moura was vaccinated against postmodernism by the longstanding oppressive Portuguese academic tradition, Mies offered a standardising method compatible with the quantitative demands of a nation under construction. This lesson was to materialise in his first work, the Carandá Market in Braga, built under the auspices of an architect from that city while Souto de Moura did his military service in 1979 once he had left Siza’s firm. A milestone in his career, the market, on a closed street, draws inspiration from his direct teachers, Aldo Rossi with his Gallaratese housing complex —who in Santiago de Compostela taught him to design based on the existing city— and Fernando Távora who had explained the classical stoa to him in his travels in Greece. The subsequent Café del Mercado was also to make use of pre-existing structures to economise in a country where stone was less expensive than concrete. Many years later, Souto de Moura was to have the opportunity to use his own work in ruins as a pre-existing structure to build music and dance schools that colonised the existing space just as the city colonised the Diocletian’s Palace in Split. Also during his military service, after having won a competition where, without yet having even formally earned his degree, he overcame his professors, in Porto young Souto de Moura built the Casa das Artes, a precise work crystallising his characteristic language. This was to afford him great visibility and earn himself his independence.
The language was to become streamlined in the residential commissions he received during the 1980s: houses for families or young well-to-do clients whose aesthetic demands were more demanding than those of the previous generation. One good example is the Casa 2 in Nevolgide, in the Porto area. This villa is inspired on the ruins that Souto de Moura drew during a trip with Siza to Sicily and Rome in the Grand Tour tradition. Less predictable is the House for Three Families in the Algarve, a vacation home where the influence comes from the Chinese architecture that Souto de Moura studied while contemplating Siza and Távora’s designs in Macao. Where he was extremely subordinate to the mineral landscape is in the unique home in Moledo do Minho, whose virtually cyclopean terraces evoke primeval archaeology.
His success with these houses facilitated his transition towards larger scale commissions, at times springing from visits to these houses. One such example is the Alfândega Nova in Porto, a formidable building built by a French engineer and transformed into an Exposition Hall and Congress Centre on the initiative of a Minister who saw Souta de Mora’s house in Nevolgide. Souto de Moura built this commission respecting the original structure’s rationale and lack of rhetoric. Two convents in ruins that he adapted for residential use required greater intervention. In Santa María do Bouro, a robust stone factory whose construction, originally begun in the Romanesque period and concluded during the Baroque period, was familiar to the architect in his youth and in a state of abandonment at the time. Souto de Moura turned it into a Parador by using the stone material as contemporary, thus ignoring the dogmatic conviction prescribing clear differentiation between the new and old. Instead of taking the usual path to cultural use, the convent in Bernardas in Tavira, a compressed earth structure for Caramelite cloister dwellers, became tourist apartments. The two cloisters were joined to form a large courtyard with a pool, the walls were bolstered with metallic mesh, and 120 new windows were opened in the original hermetic walls.
Mies’ lesson was to make itself manifest once again in the exact prisms built at the turn of the century in the Burgo office complex in Porto. City ordinance, fire rules, and airport restrictions all determined the morphology of Souto de Moura’s first tall building that moved the architect to exacerbate his mechanism in a perfect grid of slender granite and aluminium pieces whose function is both structural and climatic. The Maia housing block, rigorously modelled to standardize construction and meet social housing reference prices, proved those who rule out reductionist language because it is expensive to be wrong. The La Pallaresa, designed with brothers Esteve and Roberto Terradas to stand amidst Santa Coloma de Gramenet’s indifferent urbanism, generated a centre that was to endow that outlying area with characer. Overhangs calculated by Julio Martínez Calzón enhanced the ensemble’s almost metaphysical introverted abstraction.
In his last period, avoiding repetition and adapting to the circumstances of the crisis, Souto de Moura made his studio an extraordinarily inventive formal laboratory. His Casa do Cinema, now a museum of African Art and originally a cube with a large window, built with two divergent overlooks towards the sea and the river to avoid the views of the high-rises just opposite, brings out the architecture’s autonomy. The same holds for the Braga Stadium, which perched on the edge of a quarry makes a monument of its technical features. Its stands are inspired by Epidauro’s theatre, its roof is inspired by the Portugal pavilion designed by Siza, and its even lighting is inspired on the demanding requirements of a television study. Here, Souto de Moura reaches admirable heights of both discipline and lyricism. The same can be said of the Paula Rêgo Museum built for Portugal’s most important painter and set in a leafy aristocratic garden in Cascais. Thanks to two pyramid-shaped bodies and its warm colour scheme, it obtains visibility in its surroundings. All of these works bring out the architect’s efforts to reinvent himself that were to lead to his earning the Pritzker Prize in 2011. It was awarded as a tribute to an architect who followed in the footsteps of his master and friend Siza to build his own works with their own identity, midway between abstraction and melancholy, pooling equally from sensitivity and intelligence.