“In moments of crisis, change appears.”

“In moments of crisis, change appears.”

Eduardo Souto de Moura (71), winner of the 2011 Pritzker Prize, lives and works in Porto. Among its projects are the Braga Football Stadium, the Kortrijk Crematorium and the Bruges Congress Centre. He will be the guest of lunch with an architect in Flagy, Brussels, on October 10.

Architecture versus art

Architecture is not art. A sculpture or painting can stand alone, while architecture provides a service and must respond to a practical need or problem. Its response may be so good that society considers it cultural heritage, and therefore art. This is what happened, for example, with Le Corbusier’s La Roche villa in Paris. But this was only possible because he was working on building a house first. An architect who wants to make art will never get a good project.


When I was a child, I was limited in my abilities. I had a happy childhood, with a lot of intellectual and cultural stimulation in my home, and I attended an Italian school that was more avant-garde than the political system that existed in Portugal at the time. But what also surprised me was that I had weak lungs, which made intense physical activities impossible. Psychologically, it had a huge impact and affected my self-confidence. But he pushed me to read and draw a lot, which contributed to my career later on.

Souto de Moura crematorium in Kortrijk. Copyright: Courtesy Lunch with an Architect


I owe a lot to Alvaro Siza. I worked with this Portuguese architect for five years, until I set up my own agency on his advice in 1980. He told me at the time: “If you work all your life for someone else, you will never become a real architect.”

Even today, he remains a role model to me, more for his man, his values, his work ethic and his methodology than his architecture. He works day and night, is never satisfied, and is always striving to make reality better than it is – an attitude with which I have great sympathy.

“We must first be in agreement with ourselves
And knowing what makes us happy.


Architecture takes time. It takes time to think, formulate solutions, test and modify. Unfortunately, this time is not given to architects today: everything has to be done more quickly. New materials, digital technology and building techniques have their value, but the idea that they make everything faster and simpler is ridiculous. Doing good architecture is not about tools, but about doing things precisely.

Awareness of limitations

The limitations of life encourage me to work harder. I smoked like crazy, causing me to lose half of my lungs, and at one point the doctor gave me only five months to live. However, I never gave up. I thought about my family and all the things I still wanted to do, and since then, I’ve become more motivated and hopeful. The reality is what it is, and my dependence on a ventilator makes long plane trips impossible. But that’s no reason not to make the most of it.

Comedy of Souto de Moura in Clermont-Ferrand. Copyright: Mathieu Noel


It is not knowledge of grammar that makes a writer. Sometimes it’s the glaring deviations and mistakes that make a masterpiece. The same goes for the architect. It all starts with studying the profession itself, but it is also important to learn about other things. You have to travel and experience as much art, literature, poetry, cinema and photography as possible, and be among people. Not everything you absorb will appear immediately, but it will enrich your work over time.

Bruges Congress Center designed by Souto de Moura. Copyright: Courtesy Lunch with an Architect


The future requires a new approach, with new rules. The world has become so complex and unstable, and reality is changing so rapidly that the traditional values, solutions and tools of architects are becoming increasingly inadequate. But it is also in these moments of despair and crisis that change emerges and we realize its necessity. Just look at the developments around the environment. Until recently, it was said that old technologies were inherently bad, and we ignored the negative aspects of new technologies. Today we started talking about it in a more precise way.


One of the most important things in life is to be in harmony with your environment. But to achieve that, you have to be a little selfish. I am just an architect and not a philosopher like Spinoza. But I agree with his idea that it all starts with yourself. We must first be in agreement with ourselves and know what makes us happy. Only then can we empathize, help others and change the world.

Read also: “The tree, the best possible climate machine”: An interview with Belgian landscaper Bas Smits

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