César Portela (Pontevedra, 1937) studied at the Superior Technical Architecture Schools of Madrid and Barcelona, ​​he graduated in architecture from the School of Architecture in Barcelona (1966) and later moved to Madrid, where he obtained his doctorate in 1968. He has been professor for twenty years at E.T.S.A. in Galicia, Spain. Awarded with the Spanish national Archietcture Prize in 1999 for his Bus Station in Córdoba. Five years earlier, he had already been recognized with the “European Urban and Regional Planning” Award for the Recovery and Construction of the banks of the Arnoia River in Allariz.

This Galician architect has also been invited to various Universities and Institutions around the world such as Pamplona, ​​Nancy, Caracas, Lisbon and Weimar and has received distinctions and honors from numerous national and international institutions. In addition, he has directed several architecture seminars and workshops, some as relevant as the one held in collaboration with Aldo Rossi in Santiago de Compostela (1974). He was also at the head of the International Architecture Workshops of Naples, Seville, Barcelona, ​​Belfort, Caracas or the Fourth Architecture Biennial in Santander and directed the Seminar about Culture and Nature: Architecture and Landscape by the University Menendez Pelayo, held in San simon island (Pontevedra), as well as the Weimar University Architecture Sminar.


Half a century has passed since that young man from Pontevedra finished his architectural studies in Madrid, how do you remember your early stages?

I remember them as a combination of emotion and fear. 50 years ago studying Architecture meant either having a lot of money or a great financial effort for an average family, since it was a career that, at that time, could only be done in either Madrid or Barcelona. I also admit that it was a personal effort to have to be away for long periods of time from loved ones: family, friends and colleagues that I left in Pontevedra. But it also had its good side, since you would discover a new world of museums, exhibitions, concerts and colleagues from all regions that culturally enriched you. I met people with different ways of life, different cultures and customs and I was able to make friends, many of whom have remained until today, despite the time that has passed.


Your father, an industrial engineer and technical architect, ended up dedicating himself to drawing. In your case, was it clear that your future laid in architecture or did you try other professions beforehand?

I wasn't sure if my future was to be an architect, film director or sailor; but just in case my parents couldn't manage, the summer after I passed my final exam, I spent learning to use a typewriter in case I had to apply to a state exam.

The sailor thing was because I was passionate about books and movies about the sea. The film director thing was a consequence of the admiration that produced in me, when watching a movie, how the director was able to recreate an exciting world, tell it and send it to others with images through a celluloid tape. For months I attended classes at the Film School, combining them with those of architecture, where I also made friends and attended the filming of documentaries and some movies. The architect thing was a consequence of my attraction to pleasant spaces and my belief that the world had to be built and not destroyed and, if we built it well, it would be better and more beautiful.


Vigo's Museum of the Sea and the Mar de Vigo Auditorium, the Domus museum, the San Simón Island, the Punta Nariga Lighthouse, the Fisterra Cemetery, the Lonxa de Ribeira... A very important part of your work is linked to the sea, to what extent has it influenced your architecture?

The sea has always been a vital necessity for me. When I finished my degree in Madrid, a great architect, Fernando Higueras, offered me to share his studio and one of the reasons for rejecting such a generous offer was that I could not live far from the sea. And it was not an excuse, since sometimes, walking through the Retiro Park, when I approached the Pond, I was absorbed contemplating the water. Little by little, that film of water would grow, the banks receded and I recreated in dreams the Pontevedra estuary and the sea.

In all those projects you mention, the sea is a reference, a very important part of them, without which they could not be explained or understood. That feeling of freedom and constant movement contrasts, complements and explains the solidity and identity of each and every one of these projects.

We previously mentioned the Lonxa de Ribeira, developed in colaboration with Díaz y Díaz Arquitectos and in which CORTIZO has also participated with its enclosure solutions. What would you highlight about that project?

Three things: its functionality, its beauty and its integration in the environment in which it is located. Functionality in any building is decisive. If it does not satisfactorily fulfill the function entrusted to it, it would not be justified. If in addition to being useful it is beautiful, it is doubly useful or doubly beautiful.

And in addition to these two factors, architects must go further, be more ambitious and succeed, as is the case here, at allowing this part of the Port to be navigated through the elevated corridor-promenade, the interior and exterior workings of the fish market, associated with the sea, to be observed without hindering them, it also serves as a viewpoint to contemplate the wonderful Arousa estuary, its islands and the ships that traverse it.

An important part of the architect's work is monitoring the work, which is called Project Management. We have to constantly make indications and corrections to ensure that the project comes to fruition, that it ends well. And in the end, it is appropriate to take stock and, in this case, I would like to point out that the architects Díaz & Díaz and I highly value Portos de Galicia's stance in the project, always supporting us. Also that of the Construction Manager of the construction company ACCIONA, Marcelino Muiños, for their humanity and professional competence, demonstrating that both are compatible. And lastly, CORTIZO, which put all the effort and its high technology at the service of this project, placing extraordinary quality enclosures.


The truth is if we review your constructions, not only the sea, but also nature and the environment are presented as yet another element, as an indivisible whole, how do these elements influence the development of a project?

In a clear manner. The effort to integrate these constructions into the marine, rural or urban environment has always been an obsession and a determining factor when planning and building them. 

Rossi, Isozaki or Bofill are just some of the most outstanding architects with whom you have collaborated. How did they influence your professional career?

Aldo Rossi was a great architect and his theories about architecture and the city are perhaps the most important contribution to this field of knowledge in the second half of the 20th century. Isozaki one of the most important Japanese architects and Ricardo Boffil, a great Catalan architect. All of them great professionals and excellent people from whom I learned a lot in addition to the delight of working with them on unique projects. And, most importantly; We started associating for professional reasons and ended up being great friends.

In addition to these three, I collaborated with countless architects on projects, courses, seminars, etc. I learned a lot from everyone, not only from the architects, but also from the builders, stonecutters, carpenters, masons, installers... and from the places and people where I worked.

Taking into account the distance in time, how do you remember the day you received the news that you had been awarded the National Architecture Prize?

With great joy, but not as much as that produced by the knowledge that the neighbors, who lived in the surroundings of the Station, went there not to take a bus, but to sit in its central courtyard. They said it was the breeziest place in the city and that's why they went there to gather and chat, read the newspaper, play a game of cards or have a beer, protecting themselves from the heat in Córdoba in summer, the city with the highest temperatures in all of Spain.

Your proactive typology ranges from the creation of new elements to intervention in pre-existing ones. Which of the two aspects attracts you the most?

I have always found pre-existing projects in all the places where I carried mine out. In some cases more evident than in others, and in some more determining than others, but always, at any location, there are going to be preexistences, whether architectural, scenic, cultural, climatic, etc., which must be taken into account when undertake a project. And they should never be taken as a curse, but as a blessing, as an aid to undertaking a project and carrying out a construction. I believe being able to discover all the possible preexistences and take them into account has always been an obsession for me. For this reason, before starting to draw, I usually spend hours and hours, days and days, exploring the place and trying to get to know and understand it, also trying to know and understand the idiosyncrasy and the wishes of future users, so that the project can be based on these two great pillars: the location and the needs and desires of future users; and thus be able to give a satisfactory response, in unison, to human and territorial requirements.


Is sustainable architecture, now on everybody's lips, already a reality or just a concept?

Good architecture was always sustainable because it always took into account the location, the climate and the economic possibilities of its users, seeking the necessary comfort and security for their bodies and, at the same time, the also necessary freedom for their spirits. And this, to the extent of being able to say that architecture that is not sustainable is not good architecture. It can be striking, spectacular, beautiful, but it will lack that social factor that is to serve as a refuge, as comfortable as possible, and that necessary rootedness in the territory.

More than 30 years ago, you were already working with concepts such as “social architecture” and “self-construction” that were evident in the group of houses for gypsies in Campañó (Pontevedra). Today, it seems that these ideas resurface with great force, they were even the subject of the Pritzker Prize through Alejandro Aravena. Can architecture be conceived without a social commitment?

The social aspect, its utility, is the main objective of architecture, along with good construction and beauty. We must always strive for it to be useful and also beautiful. And if it is, we can say that it is doubly useful or doubly beautiful. I cannot conceive architecture without that aspect, without that social commitment, which is what justifies it and differentiates it from other artistic expressions and prevents it from being a self-absorbed art.

P. Sostenibilidad y compromiso social está muy presentes en la arquitectura actual. Respecto a las futuras generaciones de arquitectos, ¿en qué aspectos cree que deberán incidir más? ¿Cómo ve la arquitectura que viene?

I believe that sustainability and social commitment are increasingly taken into account or should be taken into account, but at the same time buildings that are an insult to the rationality that should govern any human act continue to be built. The forests are also still being destroyed, the oceans are being polluted, river channels and beaches are being built on... We may say that the future will be sustainable, or not at all. Because if it is not sustainable and every time we exhaust it more, this planet will be ruined. And if this happens, what will become of Humanity? That for the most part, if not all, will also be ruined with planet Earth and only billionaires will be able to build a mansion on another planet. I think many are thinking about it, it is inexplicable how they can be so dense and not be aware that this social model, that of unbridled consumption , has no future, neither in the long, medium, or short term. The Earth is limited, its resources too, the population increases, and then what? Then everyone, even the dumbest, should be sure that the future will be different and sustainable or not at all.