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Ceremony Acceptance Speech

Eduardo Souto de Moura

Mr. President of the United States, Pritzker Family,  honorable president of the jury, distinguished members of the jury, my friends, ladies and gentlemen,

It wasn’t until I received the invitation that said “Eduardo Souto de Moura of Portugal” that I really realized I had won the 2011 Pritzker Prize. I will not deny that  I was delighted, not only for myself, but for my family, my staff, friends and clients. On behalf of them all, my sincere thanks.

I learned to draw in the Italian School of Porto, the place where I was born, and in high school I decided I would become an architect. It was not that I strongly felt the pull of Architecture, but during my teenage agnostic crisis I started to wonder whether or not God should really have rested on the seventh day. Giving it a second thought, He would have realized that a site like Delphi was still lacking; the Acropolis had yet to receive its Parthenon; a swamp in Illinois needed drying so that the Farnsworth House could be correctly placed there.

In 1975, following the Carnation Revolution, I started working with architect Siza Vieira. It was an exceptional experience, not only for his understanding of architecture, but especially for the person he is.  To this day, our collaboration is something I enjoy. I left his studio in the 1980s, to become an architect on my own. It was difficult to begin; using Siza’s “language” seemed like treason, and even if I had wanted to, I would not have been able to, out of modesty.

After the Revolution, and the re-establishment of Democracy, there were many opportunities to re-design a country in need of schools, hospitals, other equipments, and above all, half a million housing units.. Clearly, Post-Modernism, so trendy back then, was not the answer to our problems. To build half a million homes with pediments and columns would be a wasted effort - something that moreover, had already been rehearsed in the days of dictatorship. Post-Modernism came to Portugal almost without the country having experienced a Modern movement. And there lies the irony of our fate: “we were already there, even before making the journey to get there”.

What we needed was a clear, simple and pragmatic language to rebuild the country and a culture - nothing better than the “forbidden” Modern Movement to step up to that challenge. It was not solely an ideological problem, but more of all a matter of coherence between material, construction and language. If “architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space”, as Mies van der Rohe put it, then he opened the doors for us to redefine the discipline that, until that point, was under dispute by linguistics, semiotics, sociology and other related sciences. The important thing was that architecture is “construction”, and that is what the country urgently asked of us..

With ten centuries of history, Portugal today faces great social and economic crises, similar to what were faced in other periods. Today, as yesterday, Portuguese architects find that they must emigrate in order to build.  As Paul Claudel stated: “Le Portugal est un pays en voyage, de temps en temps il touche l’Europe”.  (Portugal is a country on a voyage; from time to time it sets foot in Europe.)  As architects we must “change.” In that  word, we also find the Greek root crisis. We must decipher and seek to understand the meaning of the two Chinese characters that compose the word crisis: the first means danger and the second opportunity (1). In Africa and in other emerging economies those opportunities will surely be plenty for architects who look there. The future awaits for us right there. “To embrace change, transformation and metamorphosis is to build our own destiny” (2).

Thank you.