Practice of Social Architecture – Our pilot project

Originally published on September 6th, 2016

On Saturday, September 4, we handed over the key to social housing resident Sr. Alfredo, which officially concluded our rehabilitation project through Critical Concrete’s educational programme.

With the help of the district municipality of Bonfim, we identified the house back in April this year. At the same time, we gathered 40 students from all over the globe to Porto to take on this exciting challenge – transforming this under-maintained house into a functioning home.

This social housing configuration is a typical Ilha (island) house that emerged in the city of Porto in the late 19th century for the working class residents (for more information about this house, the history of Ilhas, and the Bonfim neighborhood, check out the previous post). Long and narrow, the house occupies an area of 37m² in addition to a small front yard, a terrace, and a 35m² backyard. Before refurbishment, this house lacked basic living conditions such as running water, insulation, and sanitary facilities.

In the three weeks working with our summer school participants and an additional two weeks of refinement with help from friends, we accomplished a lot. The house now has a living area, an insulated bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, running water and electricity. The hard work and creativity from the students, mentors, and friends all contributed to the final results. See here for some before & after photos.

Before Refurbishment

After Refurbishment

We are not satisfied by transforming this one house, Critical Concrete is now in conversation with the district municipality about the next project. Many more of these out-of-condition houses exist in the city of Porto. Due to the lack of financial and technical support, underserved families cannot afford to maintain a healthy living environment. This summer, despite difficulties in financials, time, logistics, we saw our model of combining educational opportunities with much needed refurbishment work for low-income families function. We are eager to improve with the lessons learned, and create broader impact with more projects to come.

We are very proud of our first year graduates. We had a wonderful crowd who brought enthusiasm, curiosity, motivation, creativity, and persistent dedication. We all are very proud of what the students have achieved with us together.

We are extremely grateful to have such great support from the municipality and its passionate engineer, from our great partners including Bosch, Cin, Umbelino Monteiro, Bricodepot Gaia, Amorim Revestimentos, Fundação Millennium, Junker, and of course to be part of Actors of Urban Change promoted by MitOst and Robert Bosch Stiftung, that brought both financial and organizational support.

To ensure the transparency of the financials, we disclosed a digestive economical result of this pilot project here.

Now it is time to reflect on this part of the project. How was the original concept respected? Are the technical solutions truly sustainable and repairable? How do we engage the user more effectively in the refurbishment process? How can we improve our logistics and time management in the next workshop? How do we better incorporate theoretical input and feedback in the design process?

Coming next, we will focus on the opening of the production centre, which was also substantially refurbished during the summer school. The centre will become a coworking – cobuilding – coliving space, with facilities for small neighbourhood events and workshops. The programme will be developed and explained more in a later blog post very soon.

Thank you for following our progress. Like always, we welcome any feedback / comment / suggestion. We can be reached on twitter @criticalconcrt, on Facebook, or via email at mail@criticalconcrete.com.

** UPDATE 8/12/2016 **

At the beginning of the month November, mentors Colectivo Warehouse (Ruben Teodoro, Sebastião de Botton and Maddalena Pornaro), Pedro Cavaco Leitão, and former students from the summer school Marcello Corradi, Dalila Giampietro, Saskia de Fabritiis, Julia Hachiya, Lilli Scheucher and João Mário came back to fine tune the house of Alfredo, so that it would be ready for the winter!


It was an intense and lovely weekend, together again. During this time, we:

– replaced the back door that was a bit fragile
– closed the bedroom, so that it stays insulated during the now-too-real winter
– installed a water heater paired with the water solar heating system, so that Alfredo can take warm showers in winter as well
– secured some electrical plugs, put extra plugs in the kitchen
– reinforced the solar water tower

At the end of November we went to check with Alfredo if all is fine, and take some more “final” pictures of the house. Now the project is evolving through his own magical hands!

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