Meaning, action and place in the work of Álvaro Siza
: An adapted application of Paul Ricoeur's theory of narrative hermeneutics within Hans-Georg Gadamer's ontological framework

  • Sally Faulder

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Architecture plays a fundamental role in how those that inhabit it both understand and relate to the world. Architectural practice that is conscious of this role has the potential to support the inhabiter’s negotiation of their relationship to the larger socio-cultural reality. This thesis aims to develop a methodology with which to examine the impact of the work of the architect Álvaro Siza on this relationship.

This particular impact of architecture has been explored by various architectural theorists through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics. However, within the existing literature there is no outlined methodology for a particular application of this hermeneutic theory. To develop a method of application, this thesis draws on Paul Ricoeur’s theory of narrative hermeneutics. Gadamer’s philosophy provides an account of the world to which interpretation is central, and Ricoeur provides an account of the process of the creative production of that world, one that Ricoeur also relates to architecture.

Through further developing the adaptation of these hermeneutic theories, this thesis produces a holistic hermeneutic model of architecture. This model is then applied to three works by Álvaro Siza in the context of architecture as an act of understanding. The application is framed in terms of the work of architecture as a reinterpretation of its place, and of the particular mode of action that it configures. In this model of architecture, the meaning inscribed in the configured building is actualised in the response of the inhabiter. To access this, the application employs an autoethnographic form of architecture writing.

The research argues that Siza’s work is an example of architecture resulting from a conscious engagement with its contextualising structures of meaning. This results in work that supports the inhabiter’s existential examination, by providing a forum against which they may make sense of their position within the larger collective reality.
Date of AwardJul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorMichael McGarry (Supervisor) & Colm Moore (Supervisor)


  • Álvaro Siza
  • hermeneutics
  • architecture
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer
  • Paul Ricoeur
  • architecture writing
  • writing architecture
  • meaning
  • action
  • place

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