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Principal Investigator

Ricardo Costa Agarez


funding institution

FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia

Research Group

The Architecture of Need: Community Facilities in Portugal 1945-1985





The Architecture of Need: Community Facilities in Portugal 1945-1985 looks at the commission, design and production processes of essential local community civic and farmingfacilities in Portugal between the end of WWII and accession to the European Community. These buildings, mostly architect-designed, are part of our daily lives and testify toarchitecture’s attempts at social relevance, as material bonds between creators and users of the built environment; but they have been largely ignored by the dominant culture ofarchitecture, with its metropolitan-, art-historical-slanted approach. Now that dwindling resources must be used rationally and communities large and small need to build up theirresilience in a sustainable way, a novel, comprehensive understanding of these facilities, the agents, concepts, discourses and strategies behind them and their architecturaldefinition is paramount. This is an academic project designed to retrieve the long-lost DNA of everyday public-use and farming facilities in Portugal in order both to advance theculture of architecture and to empower local communities to knowingly reuse, transform, repurpose, maintain or eliminate critical pieces of their architecture of proximity.Building on career-long efforts by the team, this project moves away from the architecture of auteurs and artistic canons to discuss agents, pragmatic responses and service, incontexts where basic needs are met by works seen as mundane, the product of purportedly unremarkable processes. It investigates how unsung architecture, relevant for laypeopleand architects in the past, might be so again in the future, by looking at where it was most directly called to address need: in essential civic and farming facilities erected in non-metropolitan areas of Portugal. These include buildings for health care (medical centres, nursing homes); general public services (parish and town halls, market halls, public spaces);social support (adult and child care, community centres, transitional and lowest-income housing); public safety (fire and police stations); education, culture and leisure (museums,libraries, sports halls); and farming (granaries, co-ops, wineries, mills, slaughterhouses). Most were local initiatives by public and private bodies, with state support (technical andfinancial) via Public Works departments; many drew on philanthropic aid, notably from the Gulbenkian Foundation’s statutory endowments.The Architecture of Need is based in Évora, at the centre of the Alentejo region in south Portugal, and uses this specificity as a motive to probe its premises there, in an in-depthapproach where geographical limits are key. Historically the less urbanised and populated, occasionally the most disadvantaged, part of the country, it was dubbed “the granary ofPortugal”. The project also encompasses Alentejo’s southern neighbour the Algarve, which shares some of its cultural and geographical features and, until tourism developmentspread in the 1980s, its economic pains. The enquiry focuses on a four-decade period from around 1945, when the Estado Novo dictatorship regime strengthened earlier policies tocapitalise on local initiative that transformed the infrastructure of mid- and small-size communities; through socio-political changes after the 1974 revolution; to the late 1980s,when the country’s efforts to join the European Community (1986) and devolve powers to municipalities changed the equation behind metropolitan, regional and local initiatives.Outputs serve a specific outreach strategy (for local communities and those involved in decision-making processes on the production, management and use of buildings) andscientific advancement. Substantial fieldwork and research campaigns in central, regional and local archives and libraries support the construction of a databank that feeds theteam’s critical enquiry programme and informs local resilience planning actions via existing online-faced outlets, participated by, and customised for, communities and stakeholders.Working on this solid knowledge base to communicate, write, discuss and publish, advised by a group of international experts, we address 3 main sets of questions: 1. NegotiatingNeed – Who were the subjects of need here? Who spoke for them and how, in dictatorship and democracy? Who decided on priority, on what grounds and conditions? How didprogrammes and responses follow local specificities? 2. Negotiating Form – Under quantity and economy constraints, how did architectural design survive, including its capacity toembody national, regional and local identities? Did pragmatism trump creativity? How do these buildings add to / alter recognised architectural typologies? 3. Learning to Reuse –What was the essential toolkit employed in this architecture of proximity? Which mechanisms, of design, technology and materiality, proved lasting? What can we learn from the usehistory of these buildings?


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