Quinta da Malagueira is perhaps the last great ‘social housing project’. That is, it is the last great architectural contribution to the city in which architecture plays a fundamental role. In the last 40 years there has been a split between architecture as ‘form’ and its political role. Not that architecture is no longer political: today it is more political than ever but rarely in an explicit or intentional way. […] Here Siza has given form to a political ethos of community and solidarity without any ideological representation. — Pier Vittorio Aureli
In 1974, following Portugal’s national revolution, ending five decades of dictatorship, the country entered a new Communist government addressing the country’s housing shortage as one of its main policy priorities. This new administration brought us some of the last great social housings mandated by the state in Europe and some of Álvaro Siza’s greatest works.
Along with the two SAAL projects — Bouça and S. Vitor social housings in Porto — the construction of Malagueira (1977-95) not only holds in itself all of the new politics from the new left wing state but also a whole Architecture dialogue bringing together some of the modernists rational ideas with Portugal’s national crisis. Back then, this housing shortage came from the massive migration from rural territories to the main cities. At the time, over 150’000 people were living in tents in Lisbon and Porto.
Located on expropriated agricultural land outside of Évora, a one-time Roman hill town that now serves as the main city of the arid region of the Alentejo in southern Portugal. The initial project intended on building about 1’200 homes, making Malagueira a big neighborhood with its own center and autonomy. The rational urban plan, at first sight, seems to connect two opposites architectural conception: a rational parallel organisation on site without context, echoing by abstraction Hilberseimer’s work, and the individual housing component of patio houses. Nowadays, by their ruin like aspect, and their densely packed building plan, these patio houses metaphorically connect themselves to the patio houses of Pompeii. They also reference the traditional white housing in this Portuguese region (due to the very hot climate), as well as refereeing the white of modernist architecture, such as Adolf Loos, which the unbuilt project for actor Alexander Moissi also echoes Siza’s work in Malagueira. One can also connect them to a more radically abstracted cousin — Mies’ patio houses.
Another relavant point from this project is its use of economy of means from the beginning of the project. The stacking of the houses in a rational system of parallel rows is an easy and direct way to lower the cost, as everything becomes a matter of repetition put together. But it goes further, it has been chosen to build all the water supplants externally, keeping the cost low since digging underground would have rise the costs. This decision brought two important consequences. The plan has to follow the slopes of the sites so that the water goes down between the houses, due to the inexistent water conducts underground. The second consequence is the construction of a grand aqueduc distributing the water to all the houses. This aqueduc brings a monumental presence to the neighborhood has it also references to the old roman aqueduc going through the city of Évora. Like in the city, constructions are build under it, shops and Cafés are placed there. They make the head of the bars of patio houses and the aqueduc, passing over, creates a brise-soleil making a some king of threshold in this public space in front of the commerces.
But why is this project relevant for our Superstudio ? We understand that a platform or bars made of patio house cannot bring the intensity of a new metropolitan life style in a new context. But here we are interested in the autonomy of the whole neighborhood. What if the patio houses were rational bars on top of a platform ? If we scale this project up, like in a O. M. Ungers method, would the territory organisation still work ? We can find some similarities with OFFICE KGDVS’ project Green archipelago. But on their artificial platforms, public places are spread regularly on the square, here a centrality is pronounced with a green void in the center, embraced by the monumental aqueduc and a grand unbuilt half-dome was imagined as a collective monument and for public use.
We can also look at this project in a smaller scale. What if our bars were inhabited by these patio houses? What if we pushed the abstraction of these bars further to dissolve the property limites, transforming these patio houses in dwelling cells. Creating a gradient of privacy limits going from the private cell, the semi-private patio and finishing on the collective street?