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César Portela


Biography

Cesar Portela (1937) studied at the Higher School of Architecture in Madrid and Barcelona, where he graduated in 1966 and received his doctorate two years later.
In the following decades, he has held seminars and lectures in many international universities and institutions, including schools of architecture in Pamplona, Nancy, Caracas, Naples, Lisbon and Weimar.
His early works include the parish house in Marín (1968), a bold prism on a baroque church, and the housing for Romany people in Campano, Poio (1971-1972), selected for the Architettura e Razionalismo - Aldo Rossi + 21 Arquitectos Españoles (1975-1976) travelling exhibition.

His work on apartment blocks continued in many Spanish towns like Campolongo, Pontecesures and Forcarei until the early 1980s.
Spain, and especially Galicia, is the land that has most warmly welcomed his architecture, full of constructive elements derived from an observation of and respect for natural surroundings.
His idea of architecture is summarised in his statement: "It is the construction of space. What painting does with colour, sculpture with form, literature with words, photography with images, music with sound, and cinema with time and images, architecture does with space ".
One of the places Portela loves most is the sea, which plays a leading role in many of his works: the Aquarium in Vilagarcia de Arousa, Pontevedra (1987), the Lighthouse at Punta Nariga (1995) and the Cemetery by the Sea at Finesterra (2000); but, above all, his famous Museum of the Sea in Galicia, designed with Aldo Rossi in 1992 and completed over 10 years in Vigo.

This complex, with two sections linked by an elevated walkway, not only houses relics, fossils and maritime objects, but is also an observatory stretching out over the sea. The museum space is mapped out partly by a perimeter wall and partly by the sea itself.  
The holes in the stone walls frame views of the seaside landscapes of Galicia. The exhibition is a harmonious continuum of gardens, buildings, courtyards, squares, promenades, walkways and piers, from dry land to the sea itself. Time and space are thus immersed in the cultural spirit of the museum, without ever losing sight of the sea, the project’s real central element.

The Cemetery by the Sea of Finesterra (Philippe Rotthier European Prize 2002) is also an extremely evocative and powerfully expressive work, for a graveyard that blends with the nature of an isolated spot like the promontory of Cape Fisterra, a place of pilgrimage and one of the most westerly points on the Spanish peninsula. Here, Portela’s work leaves a trace of the passage of humanity in front of the vast ocean, fitting silently into the landscape, "like the earth, the sea and the sky have done in the same place since time immemorial".
This desire to blend with the natural surroundings, adapting architecture to the topography of the landscape, can also be seen in the Casa del Hombre (the museum of mankind also known as the Domus Museum) designed with Arata Isozaki in La Coruña (1995). It this case it was the rocky mass of an old abandoned quarry. The architectural layout has a series of spaces with different functions and formal configurations, like the bulwark, the square, steps, bridges, porticoes, a panoramic balcony, pergolas and the seafront. They are all elements with a strongly traditional feel, reinterpreted and organised in an innovative way.

His most important works also include the Cordoba Bus Station (National Architecture Prize of Spain in 1999), designed in 1994 and completed in 1998. Enclosed by a wall, with an apparently dual facade – hard and austere on one side and fine and sensual on the other – this boundary is contextual, as it "defines and encloses the space and signals a dramatic difference between the exterior and the interior, recreating its own world".
 
César Portela: major works and designs
 
- Vigo Airport Terminal, Vigo (Spain), 2013
- Seville Library and Auditorium, (Spain), 2011
- Natural History Museum, Santiago di Compostela (Spain), 2011
- Renovation of buildings in Plaza de Herreria, Pontevedra (Spain), 2006
- La Coruña Conference Centre (Spain), 2005
- Geriatric Centre, Vigo (Spain), 2005
- Cadiz Railway Station (Spain), 2003
- Renovation of buildings and surroundings on the islands of San Simon and San Antonio, Redondela, Pontevedra (Spain)
- Cadiz Bay Nature Reserve (Spain), 2002
- Museum of the Sea (with Aldo Rossi), Alcabre, Vigo (Spain), 2002
- Cemetery by the Sea, Finesterra (Spain), 2000
- Cordoba Bus Station (Spain), 1998
- Vilalba Arts Centre, (Spain), 1996
- Museum of Mankind or Domus Museum (with Arata Isozaki), La Coruña (Spain), 1995
- Lighthouse, Punta Nariga (Spain), 1995
- Aquarium, Vilagarcia de Arousa, Pontevedra (Spain), 1987

Official website

www.cesarportela.com

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