Housing with the People: The Emancipatory Potential of Social Architecture

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    In his The Scope of Social Architecture, published in 1984, C. Richard Hatch suggested that architecture should be harnessed to combat alienation and spark social change instead of preserving the status quo. He deemed citizens’ participation in the design decision-making process of collective housing a key instrument to counter the breakdown of social fabric and the collapse of community. Following Paulo Freire’s ideas on critical pedagogy, Hatch contended that social architecture should contribute to develop a critical perception of reality. His idea of social architecture was defined by three main strategies: participation, rational transparency, and the structure of experience. In other words, for Hatch people should become active agents in the spatial organization of the built environment to meaningfully grasp its patterns of use and feel empowered to change them through time.
    A noteworthy example of social architecture came about in Portugal in the aftermath of the democratic revolution that on 25 April 1974 toppled down the dictatorship that ruled the country for forty-eight years. From the onset, the country’s post-revolutionary governments sponsored housing policies that encouraged participatory processes and a social organization of the demand for housing. In this process the ill-housed population gained visibility; new residents’ associations and housing cooperatives were formed and became prominent throughout the country under the auspices of the so-called SAAL (Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local), an innovative, though short-lived, social housing program. In the context of this paradigm shift in the country’s housing policies, what was the extent to which the architectural project contributed to accommodate the urban poor’s culture of commoning and to pursue disciplinary approaches resonant with Hatch’s idea of social architecture?
    In this paper I will attempt to answer this question examining the case of the Malagueira neighbourhood, a housing estate designed in the aftermath of the SAAL process by Álvaro Siza for the periphery of the Portuguese city of Évora. The neighbourhood was planned to cater for housing developed by such different stakeholders as the governmental housing agency, the municipality, housing co-operatives, and the private sector. While these agents had conflicting interests, Álvaro Siza struggled relentlessly to bring them together using the architectural project as a medium to involve the grassroots in the creation of meaningful spatial structures. I will contend that this disciplinary approach was instrumental to accommodate change and growth through time shaped by the dwellers’ social and spatial practices, thus creating an instance of social architecture and a compelling example of housing with the people.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationII Congresso International de Habitação Colectiva Sustentável
    EditorsPaulo Bruna, Leandro Medrano, Josep Maria Montaner, Zaida Muxi Martínes, Renata Coradin
    Place of PublicationSão Paulo
    ISBN (Print)978-85-8089-083-9
    Publication statusPublished - 2016
    EventII Congresso Internacional de Habitação Colectiva Sustentável - São Paulo, Brazil
    Duration: 18 Apr 201620 Apr 2016


    ConferenceII Congresso Internacional de Habitação Colectiva Sustentável
    CitySão Paulo


    • Housing
    • Portugal
    • SAAL Process
    • Álvaro Siza


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