Álvaro Siza: Housing in the Contested City

Theme Editors

Marta Caldeira

William Mann


May 31, 2024




Submission / OJS Platform


“Housing is a constant presence in the city and it is always social.” With his 1998 critique of the term “social housing,” Álvaro Siza emphasised the vital role of housing in the city and the architect’s social responsibility in its design. In laying out buildings and spaces, architects mediate between the individual, the group, and wider society; by intervening in existing structures they express continuities with past values and sketch new freedoms. Since housing also forms part of the framework for shared services and public life, considerations for its design extend far beyond the collective habitat, requiring what amounts to a project for the city. Yet this responsibility is exercised within a complex and contested force field, working within the constraints of land value, financing structures, and building codes, but also within broader movements in urban politics, social programmes, and economic forces competing in city-making. As Siza has often reflected, the design of housing is contingent, contested, and intensely co-produced.

For over half a century, Álvaro Siza has been active in this force field, designing housing and developing urban transformation projects. From the Vila Cova housing in Caxinas to 611 West 56th Street in New York; from housing as a social project to housing as an investment market; from the final years of the autocratic Estado Novo, through the Provisional Governments and the SAAL, to European social democracies and international practice, Siza’s projects bear witness to political shifts, social reforms, and economic changes, consistently embracing the city as a “site of conflict”. Contestation of the city is perhaps most explicit in the participatory processes of the 1970s in Portugal and the 1980s in Germany and the Netherlands. However, it remains present, albeit in different forms, in the face of the increasing dominance of market mechanisms and the social and economic tensions of the contemporary city.

With Álvaro Siza: Housing in the Contested City, the editors seek to explore the entangled practices and imaginaries of housing and city-making over the past five decades, and to situate Siza’s work within this history. 

In recent years, a range of pressures on urban land and housing have increasingly found expression in an intense crisis of affordability across Europe, the Americas, and beyond. Alternative development models such as co-operatives have largely been undermined or co-opted to the market model. Pressure on collective resources has fuelled a populist backlash against immigrant populations. Against this backdrop, informed research that builds on progressive precedents in the history of housing and reflects on Siza’s contributions to this legacy can intensify the discussion of this essential but often undervalued practice. 

By investigating the complex force field that shapes the design of urban housing, the editors hope to reinvigorate consideration of the architect’s work as socially engaged, collaborative and contested, a work on and with the collective urban imaginary. Eschewing notions of poetics, tectonics, or art that have dominated the discussion of Siza’s architectural imagination, we propose to foreground approaches that cast light on the expanded web of collaborations, the disputed arena of social, material, and policy contingencies, and the politics of participation, inclusion, and citizenship: dynamics that have shaped each housing project, and in turn, have been reshaped by them. 

With Álvaro Siza: Housing in the Contested City, the editors adopt a broad approach to chart Siza’s trajectory in the design of housing and cities (including built and unbuilt projects), considering how this guiding thread may be used to trace broader movements in the history of progressive housing. 

Our editorial aim is threefold. Firstly, we seek to curate a conceptual and critical atlas of Siza’s urban housing over the last half-century. We aim to assemble an atlas not only of Siza’s designs but also of the multiple and complex conditions within which they  were projected and realised – in other words, of the reality that was in each case operated on and transformed.

Secondly, we propose to explore the entangled agency and temporalities that shaped these projects. We invite consideration of the force fields of alliance and opposition within which these projects  were designed and constructed, and of the stop-start time in which they were progressively realised; we encourage representation of these dimensions of the housing project. .

Thirdly, we seek to position both Siza’s projects and their conditions of making within a broad historical perspective. We welcome comparative analyses, relational approaches, or intersected histories exploring urban regeneration and reconstruction, municipal or state housing programmes, participatory action, urban cooperatives and community movements, and relevant housing projects by other authors that may situate Siza’s work as a coordinate within expanded maps in the history of progressive housing action.

Project : Research invites contributions in the categories of Project Essays, Full Articles, and Review Articles. 

In the category of Project Essays, essays should be  predominantly visual in nature and include a written component of 3000-4000 words. We invite drawings or other forms of visualisation of groups of housing projects in terms of the urban morphologies found and transformed.

Submissions may also consider drawn and photographic typologies charting the aberrant and marginal types revalued and embraced in Siza’s projects, including the Ilhas, patio houses, Portiekwoningen, or the Berliner Mietskaserne, among others.

We welcome visual narratives documenting public engagement processes, communication techniques and shared decision-making in housing design. We also invite drawings of early iterations or of the unbuilt components of urban renewal schemes.

Contributions are to be supported by cogent interpretation of the presented material.

Submissions for Full Articles might contextualise the mobilisation of housing in public policies as a strategy for urban transformation—such as the regeneration of derelict, interstitial, marginal, and peripheral city areas, or the reconstruction of damaged urban sites. To this end, papers might examine cities across geographies and time, working comparatively with the housing policies of Siza’s projects in distinct cities such as Porto, Berlin, Evora, Venice, and Den Haag among others; but also reflect on additional projects, authors, and cities relevant to this study. Contributions might also address housing programmes as urban social infrastructure projects, examining the successes and limitations of community engagement and participatory action as strategies for urban inclusion and citizenship. 

We are also interested in the cultural exchanges that have promoted the discourse on housing as city-making since the 1970s, facilitating encounters among architects, experts, communities, and policy makers and the dissemination of ideas and projects through publications and exhibitions.  Of particular interest are also the historical studies that informed the re-interpretation of previously overlooked urban types—from Egle R. Trincanato’s Venezia Minore (1948) to J.F. Geist and K. Kürvers’ Berliner Mietshaus (1980) —and the ways in which they may have informed Siza’s urban thought and housing interventions.

Finally,  exploring the pedagogy of the Oporto School of Architecture (ESBAP-FAUP), including the post-1958 curriculum renewal, the post-May 1968 experiment at ESBAP, and Siza’s pedagogy thereafter, may illuminate the understanding of the architect’s social responsibility in relation to housing or urban interventions in general.

Articles should be 6000-8000 words in length and may include up to ten images.

Contributions to Review Articles might address the way the different dimensions or contingencies of a particular project informed the housing solution, reflecting on Siza’s work as an act of mediation. The review might interweave the project’s institutional frame, land access, communication with residents, interdisciplinary collaborations, financing model, material constraints, building codes, and site integration, teasing out tensions and highlighting moments of decision. The review may also adopt a forward-looking perspective, contrasting the reality of the design moment with the transformed reality of post-occupancy in the short and long term.

We welcome considered contributions on unbuilt projects—for example, from the late Estado Novo period, or the IBA in Berlin—or indeed on later projects which have received little critical attention. 

We invite consideration of key alliances in the execution of Siza’s housing schemes as well as entrenched institutional obstacles and opponents. We are also interested in broader sociological and economic perspectives, including those that closely examine the class identity and dynamics of participating publics in a selected project; analysis of the economics of the urban renewal project; and the ongoing contestation of the urban area. These perspectives pave the way for reflections on Siza’s ‘voice’ and ‘hand’ as elements of an engaged imaginary of the city.

Review articles should be between 3000-4000 words and may include up to ten visual elements.

Image: Detailed Plan of the Santa Maria Neighbourhood juxtaposed with the plan of new house plots, Quinta da Malagueira, Évora, Álvaro Siza, 1983. Courtesy of the Drawing Matter Collection. desenvolvido por Bondhabits. Agência de marketing digital e desenvolvimento de websites e desenvolvimento de apps mobile