Summer School 2017’s outcome

For the second time, we did it. After a three-weeks extensive and exhausting workshop, 42 students from 19 different countries refurbished with 4 practical mentors and 10 theoretical mentors a social housing configuration, and built a prototype of passive heating in our production centre.

In the end, there was no need to prolong the pleasure, as the house was (almost) really finished in time, and only details (painting, sanding) had to be taken care of by the family who has been an active part of the process in its whole. An electrician came to check out our installation and give a final touch, a plumber came to admire the work (“you guys did that in three weeks???”) and also give his final touch… and voilà.

Yet, there are still many things to improve, and as we’re writing this article we’re collecting feedback from the participants, and did our own self-critic session, to see what can we do better, or differently, for next year’s programme.

This year’s practical mentors were Sebastião de Botton from Colectivo Warehouse, Hugo Dourado from Colectivo Mel, João Moura and Samuel Kalika, from Critical Concrete.

How did we get there?

After the first and very experimental edition, we started to look for our second house, this time in our neighbourhood, in the north west of the city, in the district of Ramalde. After a couple of meetings, in January 2017 we agreed on a basis of a collaboration: the district of Ramalde would support the project with a material grant of 2500€, and guide us through the neighbourhood to select a house. In addition, in a deep partnership with the association ASAS de Ramalde they would conduct the mediation work with the family concerned by the workshop, before, during and after its conclusion.

After visiting over 10 houses, preselected by the Junta de Ramalde and the ASAS de Ramalde, on the 20th of June we confirmed that the work would happen in the house situated in Rua dr. Pedro de Sousa, 547, in collaboration with the family unit composed by two mothers and their three children. From there, the mediation work really started with cleaning, preparing the family to the future changes, process and project in general. We documented the place thoroughly, made plans, discussed scenari with the mentors, strategies, made an interview with the family so that we could give a proper documented background to the summer school participants before their arrival.

In the meantime, we contacted our partners from the Fundação Millennium, CIN, Umbelino Monteiro and Bosch Powertools to confirm their engagement for the new edition. Like last year, CIN offered us the paint and wood protection oil, Millennium increased their involvement from 1200€ to 2400€, and Umbelino Monteiro donated us tiles to make a new roof and advised the qualified workers we contracted for this mission. It is important to mention that for the first time of our short existence, we’ve gone against our principle of not accepting volunteers for the roof, because of the economical pressure we felt when we anticipated the costs of the refurbishment. We can’t thus go further without thanking Katarína Jančovičová, Zuzana Jančovičová, Beáta Seberíniová and Emil Barlok for their engagement and r-woofing support.

Meanwhile, we formalised newly our partnership with the Fine Art Faculty (FBAUP), that delivers the certificates for the summer school, and CICCOPN, professional school engaged with us in multiple projects. We offered limited free spots for students of these institutions. As an academic support, the Robert Bosch Stiftung Alumni Network also supported three spots for their network (total of 4500€ donated). Also, we set up partnerships with Lipor and Costa Almeida Demolições, who facilitated us access to their trash paradise and helped us with technical issues during the preparatory and demolition phase.

Last but not least, Bosch Powertools supported us lending us all the tools we needed (and more), and most importantly, provided us with an outstanding power-mentor, João Paulo Teixeira, monitoring the security on site, and guiding the students through the extensive variety of powertools available, teaching them with love and dedication

The last weeks before the summer school was spreadsheet weeks for materials, organisation details, scouting for material in junkyards, and last but not least organising food and supplies, with the support of Mathias from Marcel & George and his chef Zita.

Finally… the day 1 came.

Weekly process

Week 1: (un)organised mess

Early in the morning we met the students in Ramalde, with all the partners and mentors, showed them the worksite and introduced the family, before walking to the Production Centre Co-Lateral.

The first day was our team wake-up call: messy space, coffee not ready, computer problems. A good occasion to remember that it’s not because we did it once that we know how to do it. Finally, we introduced the project, mentors, the side gigs (research project around a rocket stove prototype and an urban cat house) and the house scenari.
In the preparatory phase we assumed the groups would be balanced, like last year, 21 in each group, two mentors per group, et voilà. But everyone almost wanted to work with the family house and the research projects and urban cat furniture didn’t fascinate many.

After discussing different scenari with the theoretical mentor on site – Walter Unterrainer and Elizabeth Donovan – and the mentor team, we decided to offer a different experiment that caught the attention of some students, a Trombe Wall. Still today, we have to admit that the technical reserves about the Rocket Stove (the pipe we had seemed too thin to Walter) are not completely solved, but we thought it would be safer and more interesting to work with a passive heating method, that would suit the character of our Production Centre, and bring a new tool to our research lab.

The groups were divided, and we started the design of the house with the family. All students involved have been invited to be part of this process, fully participatory, in which we:

1- fed the students with our thoughts on the topic

2- asked them to get together in groups to reflect on the plans and project

3- asked them to give to everyone their feedback, group by group

4- together reduce the proposals into 4 main scenari

5- with the family decided which of the scenari would be the most appropriate.

On day 2 we had a design.

Then on Wednesday started the demolition, parallelly to the plans and prototypes for the group of furnitures, staircase, windows, doors and Trombe wall.

On Thursday evening, most of the demolition was done, all the house extension were laying on the ground, the debris removed, and the proper work on site could start. On Friday we found our first dead body: a broken beam carrying part of the front of the roof. Took us two hours (two days) to fix it.

Week 2: Prototypes and applications

After deciding to re-organise our lectures to have a more balanced schedule (every second day with two lectures instead of one lecture every day), we organised the workflow in groups on Monday morning. The mentors got stressed, seeing the work not going fast enough, but we could see already that we would achieve a decent finishing with the rhythm we had.

Despite the stress, the plumbers team took time to make a water solar heater, an elegant solution to one of the main problem of the house: energy consumption. Coscientful students spend the necessary time to use the offcuts of plywood to make a floor, and broke some tiles to make patterns to fill the awkward level transitions in the floor and walls. One group took care of the exterior wall cladding, with charred wood, as other groups were doing ceilings and insulating the coldest walls of the house. Already we started some finishing work, painting areas that would not suffer major transformation.

In Co-Lateral, students developed an decentralised production line to complement the work on site, as well as the Trombe Wall project. A prototype for a wall-storage element was built and the doors team started collecting material. The window team was developing an aluminium-wood window, using upcycled frames collected from a demolition company. The stairs team, after studied four different configuration, approached with care the realisation of the elected solution. In the courtyard, the Trombe Wall team on a scaffold, took the measurements of the elevation, designed patterns with other upcycled windows, and began painting and cutting them.

After the work on site the students gathered every second day to attend the lectures, organised in three conceptual blocs: Architecture B on the first week, with Walter Unterrainer and Elizabeth Donovan from Aahrus school of Architecture and Francisco Adão da Fonseca from Skrei, Urbanities on the second week with Lena Obergfell, Miodrag Kuč and Marcela López from Contested Urban Waterscapes, to conclude in the third week with Architecture and Arts with Antoine Aubinais from Bellastock, Hugo Reis and Filipa Frois Almeida from Fahr 0213 and Samuel Carvalho of ON/OFF studio.

Week 3: A bit more than the last touch

After the last Monday morning meeting, we all finally had a clear idea of the final outcome we would reach at the end of the programme.

Nonetheless, the stress was palpable on the side of the family and students, as on Monday, there were no proper floor in half of the ground floor, the stairs still missed the last two steps, only insulated panel were attached on the wall, the plumbing system was not fully connected, and a soft breeze flowed through the windows and the doors openings, with any obstacle. But on Wednesday already, the walls were almost all covered, the students started using the bathroom again, and walking on a mosaic of wood.

The students achieved to handle the pressure of their responsibilities, and successfully managed to learn and make in this tricky time and economical constrains.

On Thursday they arrived on the site from the Production Centre, with students armed of tools and patience, refining the windows, calibrating the opening of the door, fixing together the electric wire. The place got crowded, the air saturated of screaming, good loud music, dust and smell of sweating bodies. At least the lectures of Bellastock, ON/OFF, and Fahr 0213 became a pleasure for the restless.

Finally, on Saturday morning the last window was fixed and closed, the house cleaned by 42 happy and exhausted student, willing to show their work to the family and the district municipality.

Our guests arrived in the afternoon. The district Mayor Antònio Guoieva gave the necessary closing speach, João Paulo Teixeira from Bosch Powertools offered FC Porto shirt and accessories to the kids, and we could all proudly come back to our centre for the last step.

After a quick deserved break in the evening everyone was in the Production Centre in Francos, for the ceremony and the party: all the students were honoured by a certificate from the FBAUP and enjoyed their last moment all together, and contemplating the Trombe wall finally finished, with his elaborated green/white window pattern.

Critical Concrete is now in conversation with the district municipality, ASAS Ramalde and Bosch Powertools about the next projects, expanding our activities with more workshop with social outcome. 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 succesfully function. We are eager to improve with the lessons learned, and create broader impact with more projects to come.

We had yet again a wonderful crowd who brought enthusiasm, curiosity, motivation, creativity, and persistent dedication. We are very happy and very proud of their achievements and are very looking forward in collaborating with them in the future.

Before – After gallery

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