Finished project

Critical Housing Lab Porto (PT)

As Porto has become a booming international tourist destination, locals are feeling the squeeze. A growing number of foreigners are buying up property, and rents have risen quickly with demand. For residents with low incomes, it is becoming harder and harder to find apartments. And as locals are priced out, neighborhood identity is under threat of disappearing completely.

With an eye to this set of issues, Team Porto launched a three-week international architecture summer school with a focus on social and sustainable architecture, bringing together students from all over the world to renovate a deteriorated “ilha” – a characteristic type of social housing in Porto. The goal was not only to create a functioning home, but also to empower residents and to train a cohort of students in the skills of participatory architecture.

Their combination of aims and cross-sector collaboration allowed Team Porto to develop an innovative model: students contributed their skills, and in return for their investment, the owners agreed not to increase the building rent for five years.

The demonstration project took on an ilha house needing structural shoring up and repairs to install running water, insulation, and sanitary facilities. During the summer school, students from 16 countries and a variety of disciplines including architecture, urban design and heritage studies, lived and worked together for three weeks, taking classes in theory and working in construction. The experience contributed to the understanding of sustainable building on its many levels: how using recycled materials is cost-effective and ecologically sound, how choosing construction techniques that allow for owner-repairs makes it possible the resident to be more self-sufficient.

At the end, the team handed over the keys to the resident, Mr. Alfredo. Mr. Alfredo then proceeded to turn the house into a home: making the space his own by painting and decorating it.

The team observed a change in Mr. Alfredo – the resident’s participation in the restoration of his home helped to give him a new dignity.

The summer school was able to demonstrate new models for social housing, and for construction and refurbishment in places where the economic pressure is too high for the industry standard costs.The lessons of the summer school were published under a creative commons license online. The project space purchased by the summer school has been transformed into a year-round center for the community. It loans tools, organizes workshops in wood- and metalworking and contains a co-working space.

The summer school continues — with the goal of involving residents and the surrounding neighborhood even more in the process. The team has increased its research into the use of sustainable techniques in the refurbishment of houses. The long term goal is that the alumni of the summer school will replicate this model in their own countries.