Architect, professor and essayist
"Távora is the father of the Porto school, Europe's great-grandfather. He is an historical and universal character"
(Souto Moura, in Público 4th September 2005)
Fernando Luís Cardoso de Menezes de Tavares e Távora was born on 25th August 1923 in Santo Ildefonso, Porto, of a conservative family, which descended from the noble line of the Távoras. He was born of Dom José Pinto de Tavares Ferrão (1882-1967) and his wife, Lady Maria José Lobo de Sousa Machado e Couros. His father was the Lord of the House Amoreira das Tenentas, Anadia, representative of the Bonds of Fontechão, a Bachelor of Law of the University of Coimbra and a strong supporter of the Portuguese integrationism. His mother, her father's cousin, was the Lady of the Houses of São Domingos de Recardães, in Covilhã, of Miradouro and Costeado, and had several properties in Guimarães, Braga and Felgueiras (1892-1951). He was the Lord of the House of Covilhã, Fermentões (in Guimarães), but unlike his brothers Bernardo Ferrão de Tavares e Távora and Rodrigo Ferrão e Noronha, he did not use the title of "Dom"
He spent the first few years of his life in the family's properties in Minho, in Bairrada and on the beaches of Foz do Douro, and revealed his drawing abilities and his interest in ancient houses at an early age
He finished his second cycle secondary studies at the Alexandre Herculano school, in 1940, with a grade of 16 out of 20, and sat the admission exam to the Porto Fine Arts School, in 1941, in order to attend the Architecture Special Course. His decision was contrary to the family's will, who wanted him to enrol in Civil Engineering, which they perceived to be more prestigious and more adequate to their social status.
The classic family education and initial training were complemented by the modern culture of higher education. He attended the Architecture Special Course for four years, and then enrolled in the Architecture Higher Education Course, in September 1945. Within the scope of this course, he accomplished a traineeship with Architect Francisco Oldemiro Carneiro, and in 1946 and 1947 worked on several projects (on great composition, general construction, decorative composition, archaeology and urbanization).
In 1947, he published the essay "O problema da casa portuguesa; Falsa arquitectura; Para uma arquitectura de hoje", where he synthesized the concept of a modern architecture, albeit built upon culture, and drew the attention to the need for a scientific study of Portuguese popular architecture.
By the end of his professional training, on 31st March 1950, his supervisor declared that he had been his employee since 20th December 1947, and that he was able to do his job. In 1952, in the "Concurso para a Obtenção do Diploma de Arquitecto (CODA)" (a final exam to be an architect), he proposed the project Uma Casa sobre o Mar, in which he obtained a brilliant grade of 19 out of 20. However, the project has never been implemented.
In the meantime, in 1955 he was part of the team responsible for the "Inquérito à Arquitectura Regional portuguesa" (an inquiry on Portuguese regional architecture), a pioneering work in the study of national architecture promoted by the National Union of Architects that was published in 1961.
His long and prominent career as university teacher was mainly connected to three institutions: the Porto Higher Institute of Fine Arts (ESBAP), where he started his teaching career; the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Porto (FAUP), which he helped establish (we was the President of the Transitory Board); and the University of Coimbra, at the Architecture Department of the Faculty of Sciences and Technology, created with his assistance in the 1980s.
Between 1957 and 1958, he worked as an assistant at ESBAP, and on 14th April 1958 he was named 2nd assistant of the 1st group. In 1962 (29th June) he was nominated Teacher with Tenure of the 1st Group of Disciplines, and on 3rd April 1963 he took on his job as 1st Assistant of the 1st Group of ESBAP. In 1970 (14th April) he was hired as 1st Group teacher as an emergency, a job he held until 13th May 1986. He worked as Associate Professor and Full Professor at FAUP from 14th May 1986 to 24th September 1989 and from 25th September 1989 to 24th August 1993 at FAUP. He retired in 1993.
In this competent and interested teacher's compelling and lively classes, traditional devices were often replaced by his own drawings, and the students were incited to travel, just like he has done over his life, for pleasure and to study architecture and work.
Between 1951 and 1959, he was one of the few who participated in the International Congress of Modern Architecture, the UNESCO International Conference of Artists in Venice, Hoddesdon, Aix-en-Provence, Dubrovnik and Otterlo, where he met, among others, the renowned architect Le Corbusier. He received scholarships from the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and from the Institute for Culture of the United States and Japan (1960).
On 9th February 1954 he married Maria Luísa Rebelo de Carvalho Menéres (1930-) (who had earned a degree in Fine Arts at the Porto Higher Institute of Fine Arts) at the Nossa Senhora do Pilar Monastery, in Santa Marinha, Vila Nova de Gaia. They had three children: José Bernardo Menéres de Tavares e Távora, Maria José Menéres de Tavares e Távora and Luísa Teresa Menéres Tavares e Távora.
The architectural projects that he proposed and that have been built (e.g.: the local market in Santa Maria da Feira (1953-59); the tennis pavilion in Quinta da Conceição, Matosinhos (1956-1960); his holiday house by the pine forest in Ofir, Fão (1957-1958); the improvement works at the Assembly of the Republic, in Lisbon (1994-1999); and the Casa da Câmara/Casa dos 24, in Porto (1995-2002)) show a strong sense of social responsibility in the way they relate the creativity to the careful approach to the location, on the technical details and on the functional aspects of the work.
He was responsible for unparalleled work in the field of heritage conservation, such as: the restoration of the Santa Marinha da Costa Covent and its transformation into an inn (1975-1984); the rediscovery and rehabilitation of Guimarães historical centre (1985-1992), a site classified by UNESCO as World Heritage in 2001; the remodelation and expansion project of the Soares dos Reis National Museum(1988-2001); and the benchmark restoration of the Freixo Palace and the surrounding area, in Porto (1996-2003).
He also worked as an architect at the Porto City Council, and as a consultant of the Vila Nova de Gaia City Council, of the CRUARB (the Committee for the Urban Restoration of the Riverside – Barredo), of the North Region Coordinating Commission and of the Technical Office of the Guimarães City Council. He was an advisory member of the European Union Course Committe in the Field of Architecture.
He died of cancer on 3rd September 2005, at the Pedro Hispano hospital, in Matosinhos. His body lied in state at the chapel in his Fermentões house, a manor house of the 16th Century, which he himself restored in the 18th Century and in the 1970s. His body was then carried to Porto, where he was cremated in the Prado do Repouso Cemetery
The work remained of one of the most prominent personalities of the Portuguese Contemporary Architecture, founder and master of the "Porto school", who traced the talent of his student Álvaro Siza at an early stage, and who managed to synthesize better than anyone else the relationship between the national traditional architecture (relevant in his work of the 1950s and 1960s) and the international modern architecture (clear in his projects of the 1980s and 1990s). He is an author based on continuity, rather than rupture, who believed that an architectural work must be set in the context of its surroundings.
As he himself used to say: “I am the Portuguese architecture”.
(Universidade Digital / Gestão de Informação, 2008)