Title Image

Summer school 2018

Summer school 2018

Looking to gain practical experience of sustainable architecture like our summer schools? Apply now for our Postgraduate: a blend of practical workshops, online courses and participatory design!

The 3rd year of a process in action

Summer school has ended and summer season is almost over. Now comes the time to reflect and share the experience. The last 30th of July marked the beginning of  three intense weeks: 45 participants from more than 30 different countries worked alongside with ten mentors and a team of eleven people, all united by the same objective: learn and exchange about sustainable and social architecture by taking part in a social action refurbishing a house for a family in need.This collaborative experience has a lot to say in itself, and this third refurbishment is a good opportunity to go throughout the whole process – with its methodology, temporalities and actors – and along with its main core: a social, ecological and educational architecture format that aims to be leading the development towards a sustainable practice.

Before – after gallery



Searching for a house, meeting a family

The refurbishment of the house was prepared in a collaborative process of ten months with the Junta de Freguesia, the district municipality of Ramalde and the help of their social workers. Together, regarding criteria such as low ressources and low incomes of families and technical feasibility of the intervention, we considered and evaluated different situations to find an ideal scenario. This year, thanks to the help of Ana Luisa Portela, social worker at the Centro Social Paroquial Santíssimo Sacramento, we were lucky to get together with Maria Lurdes, Joaquim, and Laura who trusted us their house.

As a collaborative experience, the refurbishment involves the family all along the journey as much as they can and wish to take part. Thus, the participatory design process conducted during the first days gave them the chance to hear and debate the proposals elaborated by the students. The family discussed the developed concepts and at the end of the design day we could all together decide for a spatial organization, interior details as well as the outdoor atmosphere.

Samuel, Maria Lurdes and Joaquim

Raising support, finding partners

Besides the support coming from the district municipality and the family, the refurbishment of the house required some additional endorsement.

Fortunately we could also count on the support of our partners yet again. Many of these partnerships have been established in the last years during previous editions of the summer school, and we thankfully continue engaging in an even stronger collaboration. Together, we keep on track and take this journey forward to refurbish socially relevant spaces.

Security review and tools
Tiles for the roof
Wool insulation
Cardboard and trash facilitation
Wood panels


House research, family meeting and socialization
Lunch preparation
Alternative city tour
Grants for five participants

Calling for individuals, setting up a team

During the entire year, we have been collecting applications from all over the world. We succeeded to set up a group of different individuals, cultures and personalities as a team. The three weeks of refurbishment turned out to be a collective challenge, offering a full personal learning experience.  In this sense, after a participatory design process, the work was carried out by different groups simultaneously, fostering a sense for responsibility and team work in every group.  At Critical Concrete’s production center, teams adapted the design of the new future space, created prototypes of furniture and elements like a new staircase, leading to finally turn their ideas into reality. Other teams worked on the construction site, tearing down walls, extending roofs, building new floors and a new bathroom.  It’s a complete hands on experience and a complex back and forth process. Communication and coordination between the different teams was also an important learning factor for the students. Weekly updates and rotation among the working groups kept everybody on the same line and also enabled the students to get to work with different tools and materials.

The refurbishment was lead by the supervision of both architects and builders on the practical level. This year, Pedro Santos joined Hugo Dourado to lead the teams working in the production center. João Moura and Samuel Kalika supervised the construction site. The experience was completed by regular work and practice reflection times offered by lecturers from different fields: architectural scale to urban perspective between practice and thinking. In the whole, the summer school program becomes a proper time and a place for sharing, confronting ideas and expectations to create foundations for a further collaborative network.

Production center group
Team meeting
Construction site group

Experimenting with alternatives,
defining new materials

Working on both the environmental and social level involves to find other ways to proceed within the financial limits. Aiming to apply the latest results of Critical Concretes Research Lab, we worked with alternative insulation. In a context where heating and coldness remains one of the biggest issues in terms of housing and health, we have put our cardboard insulation panels to action and also taken the experiments with Mycelium to the next level.

The insulation topic became quite challenging during the refurbishment process. Through a fascinating workshop with Maurizio Montalti and our own experiments with Miguel — our local mushroom producer, we followed and shared our research on mycelium based insulation panels, and produced our first panels to test them and develop the process. In parallel, another group produced cardboard insulation panels, adapting a process already developed and tested by the research lab before. 53 square meters of cardboard panels were installed on the site.

Mycelium experimentation
Cardboard production

Refurbishing a house, offering a new home

In the weeks prior to the Summer School we prepared the Production Center, set up a big functioning kitchen, ordered materials and organised the logistical schedule. The first day began with the appearance of the 45 participants and the introduction to the working context. The three-week long workflow started rather suddenly.

Week 1 :
Think, design, discuss and starts

The participatory design process led the project on to the following strategy: keeping the original space organisation in a way to save time and energy in the technical aspects, but giving more space and functionality to make the circulation and daily life easier. Demolition started for the walls, stairs and floor. Better space, better light and improved intimacy were key.

Week 2 :
Build prototypes and apply them

In the production center, the students produced prototypes for the kitchen extension walls, the new kitchen furniture in the room and the new stairs along the bedroom wall, tested them on site and then built the final objects. Meanwhile, at the construction site, the plumbing and electricity team coordinated their work to figure out the needs of materials. The bathroom team raised and tiled a  wall. Upstairs, the insulation team started installing the cardboard panels that were produced at the production center.

Week 3 :
Keep the good hard work and … finish it

Time was running and stress growing, but the installations proceeded successfully. More and more students came from the production center to the site, ready to install what they had built, turning the construction site into an even more inspiring, crowded and hectic place. The kitchen was extended, the stairs adjusted and fixed, the floor got paved and tiled, the walls got painted, lights installed and old furnitures were made new. On the last day, we rushed to finish the last details and managed to clean the space just in time to receive Maria Lurdes, Joaquim and Laura. After three intense weeks, and with a solemn ceremony, we gave them back their key.



This third edition of the Summer school, thanks to the high amount of human resources in the team we were able to improve the organisation and coordination of all the tasks necessary to run this big project. We distributed the responsibilities and tasks onto five teams, each consisting of two people. Following a tight schedule, the staff assisted the mentors, helped in the kitchen, managed the construction materials and the powertools and drove the truck, just to name a few. Also, the staff set up the theoretical lectures, documented the whole process through pictures and videos and kept everybody informed through social media. Everything was highlighted by a respectful and kind atmosphere. Naturally there are still things to be improved. But with the experience gained by yet another very successful summer school, the program advances as well to a more sustainable system in itself.

We’ll continue our journey, researching through the year to improve the natural construction processes and logistics for the 2019 edition of the summer school. Application will open soon for next year, so stay tuned!

Liked it? Take a second to support our reseach on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!