Text by Katie Gerfen
With origins in the 10th century, it isn’t so much that the Monastery of São Bento (St. Benedict) took root in the northern Portuguese city of Santo Tirso, but rather that the city of 70,000 grew around the monastery. The current monastic complex dates back to the 1700s, and 300 years later, a wing was devoted to the city’s new archaeological museum—with artifacts collected by Abbot Joaquim Augusto da Fonseca Pedrosa.
Enter the 21st century, and the city wanted to usher in (another) new era for the monastery site, this time in the form of a revamped Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa (MMAP) and an International Contemporary Sculpture Museum (ICSM) housed in a new building that would complement, but not compete with, the national landmark. For that they turned to two of Portugal’s native sons, Álvaro Siza Vieira, Hon. FAIA, and Eduardo Souto de Moura, Hon. FAIA. Both Pritzker Prize winners, the long-time collaborators run separate practices out of the same building in Porto.
The result of this latest collaboration is a sensitive restoration and reworking of the archaeological museum on the second floor of a wing of the existing monastery. The architects preserved plaster walls and masonry window surrounds in the vaulted main
corridor and in gallery spaces that line the east side of the wing. Each gallery features custom glass vitrines, warm wood floors, and revamped lighting beneath white-painted ceilings. The easternmost room was converted to a presentation theater. Minimal, exposed-bulb lighting fixtures run the length of the corridor on the wing’s west flank.
Across the vegetated cloister, and connected via a new shared lobby, is the larger intervention: A low-slung, minimal white volume that houses the new sculpture museum. The cornice line of the old monastery complex defines the height limit for the new structure, whose angular siting is a result of hugging the sloping ground plane. The sculpture museum takes cues from the existing monastery complex with white walls and a terra-cotta-colored ceramic tile roof. As seen from the higher hills of the city, the diagonal roof line blends seamlessly with the rhythm of the historic structures. But the absence of ornamentation, combined with contemporary construction methods—concrete walls are clad in a composite insulation system incorporating high-density mineral wool, finished in a coating of white-painted plaster—bring a decidedly modern aesthetic to the site.
Inside the 23,215-square-foot addition, white gypsum-board walls are finished with a rich gray marble paneling that rises to varying heights on the walls in the lobby, public areas, and circulation spaces. The same stone is used on the floors throughout, and, with impeccable detailing, to line the stairs, balustrades, reception desk, and cafeteria counter. Sculptural gypsum-clad cut-outs in the concrete slabs around the stairs allow light to permeate the lowerlevel exhibition space.
The material choices in the sculpture center are cool in tone and offset the warmer tones in the archaeological museum. So while the new architecture harmonizes with the old, each retains its own character, helping to visually differentiate the two institutions for visitors. And those visitors will continue to come. The new design by Siza and Souto de Moura, with its simultaneous celebration of local heritage and Modernism, reinvents the Monastery of São Bento as a lasting cultural center for the city.
Project: Municipal Museum Abade Pedrosa and International Contemporary Sculpture Museum, Santo Tirso, Portugal
Client: Santo Tirso Municipality
Design Architect: Álvaro Siza Vieira, Hon. FAIA, and Eduardo Souto de Moura, Hon. FAIA, Porto, Portugal . Álvaro Siza Vieira, Eduardo Souto de Moura (lead architects); José Carlos Nunes de Oliveira, Pedro Guedes Oliveira (coordinators); Blanca Macarron, Diogo Guimarães, Ana Patrícia Sobral, Eva Sanllehí, Rita Amaral (collaborators)
Structural Engineers: Jorge Nunes da Silva, Filipa Abreu
Electricity and Safety: Alexandre Martins
Thermal/Mechanical Installation: Raul Bessa
Water and Sanitation: Raquel Fernandes (GOP)
Construction Inspection: Aniceto Carmo (Effiwater); Gustavo Esteves, Ana Margarida Cabral, Saúl Lopes (Aveiplano); Maria Fernanda Coelho, Adelaide Leite, Amélia Valença, Daniel Correia (CMST)
Technical Direction: Rui Alves, Sérgio Diogo, Eduardo Leite (ICSM); Ângelo Soares, Maria Antónia Casinhas (MMAP)
Programmatic Direction: Conceição Melo (CMST)
Museology Direction: Álvaro Moreira (CMST)
Graphic Design: Studio Waba
Constructor: CARI Construtores (ICSM); Alberto Couto Alves, Construções Gabriel A.S. Couto (MMAP)
Size: 23,215 square feet (ICSM)