Middle-class large housing complexes


June 2021


Due to the pandemic the Congress provide conditions conditions for both presential and online participation



The “Optimistic Suburbia II - Middle-Class Large Housing Complexes” has its starting point in a research on large housing complexes in the outskirts of Lisbon, Luanda and Macau, then enlarged to Antwerp and Milan. In the last decades of the 20th century, these housing complexes were instrumental for the urban growth, showing similarities as well as differences in Europe and beyond. Drawing from this context the conference intends to open the reflection on these complexes on broad realities, showing the multiple features of urbanizations in several geographical, chronological and social contexts.


The objective is to put into perspective the shaping and the pattern of autonomous neighbourhoods, both of private and public promotion, on the outskirts of big cities, for the middle-class and designed in the second half of the twentieth century. Originally isolated in the orbit of large cities, they were characterized by a set of high-rise buildings of modern design, which were progressively articulated with the evolution of the historical city through major roads, which often ended up determining its limits.

identify the existing housing and urban models and to map the changes after 50 years

This model, which arose in the interwar period (1918-1939), marked, globally and in particular in the cities which were most affected by the two major wars, more than 40 years of an urban planning convinced of the benefits of decongesting the historic centres – freeing them of degraded and insalubrious living conditions –, of the rationalization of the city and of the development of metropolises served by circulatory systems of transportation to wooded suburbs. Imbued with desires of progress and social aspirations of a new culture and optimism, this model was also controversial and the target of criticism.


Although the origin of the referred model is located within an architectonic culture of central European matrix, its use occurred throughout a long time and in very diverse contexts, such as in Africa, South America and Asia (while in the United States of America this model never triumphed, facing the strength of the “American dream house”), with the middle-class as its target.


The objective of this Second International Conference is that of acknowledging the initial principles of the model proposed for the middle-class, describing and reflecting on the diversity of results and on the different ways of appropriation in very diverse geographical, social, chronological and cultural contexts. Therefore, are welcomed researches on architecture, urbanism, architecture and urbanism history, impact on the periphery urban areas, social sciencies, economics, cultural issues related with the theme, as art, image and media (publications, film, photography...) and other important subjects. Aspects as terminology, concepts and representation will be addressed as well.


identify the existing housing and urban models and to map the changes after 50 years

“Optimistic Suburbia II - Middle-Class Large Housing Complexes” International Conference, to be held in Lisbon in June 2021, follows the “Optimistic Suburbia-Large Housing Complexes for the Middle Class Beyond Europe” congress which took place at ISCTE from 20 to 22 January 2015.


“Optimistic Suburbia II - Middle-Class Large Housing Complexes” is part of the research project “MCMH - Middle Class Housing Developments in Europe, Africa and Asia – Middle Class Mass Housing in Europe, Africa and Asia” [PTDC / ART-DAQ / 30594/2017], started in October 2018, also funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology, and is being developed at ISCTE by DINÂMIA’CET-IUL research center. ISCTE partners in the project are Universidade Agostinho Neto in Luanda (Angola), Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium) and the Politecnico di Milano (Italy), as well as Docomomo Macau and Docomomo Angola. The goal of this research project is to carry out a compared analysis of Middle Class Mass Housing (MCMH) in Europe, Africa and Asia, introducing new case studies to deepen the existing research, made with successfully tested methodologies: survey, catalogue and contextualization of housing complexes built between the 1950s and the 1980s in Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Angola and China.


With this conference it is intended to identify the existing housing and urban models and to map the changes after 50 years of use in order to understand how they have adapted to current (urban and social) conditions, and to support future actions. Based on on-going national studies, a cross-reading that reflects the expansion of cities in the context of demographic growth after WWII would be proposed. The impact of residential models developed by architects in European contexts would also be analysed, as their transposition to territories formerly under colonial rule. A more global vision in the MCMH context should be assured by including: 1) Historical descriptions of the physical evolution of the dwelling, the building and the neighbourhood; 2) Surveys and analysis of their inhabitants' profile. It would be also addressed the resilience of MCMH complexes, including testing and proposing ways to prolong its life by updating the functional organization of the apartments, by renewing the infrastructures and building systems and by outlining the profile of its residents. Special attention should be given to the way of promotion (public or private) and its effect on the profile of the current inhabitants (pioneer, recent, immigrant).

“Optimistic Suburbia II - Middle-Class Large Housing Complexes” is linked to COST Action CA 18137 “European Middle Class Mass Housing”, which is co-organizer of this conference. The main challenge of this Cost Action is to create a transnational network that gathers European researchers carrying studies on Middle-Class Mass Housing (MCMH) built in Europe since the 1950s. This network will allow the development new scientific approaches by discussing, testing and assessing case studies and their different methodologies and perspectives. The Action will be developed by three Working Groups, coordinated by a Core Group: Documenting the MCMH; Development of a specific set of (new) concepts for MCMH analyses; Leverage contemporary architecture interventions and Public Policies. In the Action will be involved researchers related to Mass Housing, MCMH Architecture and Urbanism, Planning and Public Policies, Sociological studies, Architecture History and Modern Heritage.



“Optimistic Suburbia II - Middle-Class Large Housing Complexes” is also related with Israel Institute for Advanced Studies (IIAS) Working Group "Re-theorizing the Architecture of Housing as Grounds for Research and Practice". This Research Group brings together a diverse group of scholars at the IIAS to engage in research questions of common interest. The vision of this Research Group consists of new outlook on the development of the housing crisis and on architecture’s role in addressing it, by rethinking the terminology used to discuss housing, and by developing anew the vocabulary for researching and designing housing for the general public.


Parallel Sessions

Sessions I to IV


Writing the History of Post-war Housing Complexes and Neighborhoods. A Take on Research Strategies and Methodologies

Gaia Caramellino

Filippo De Pieri


Covid-19, Housing and Middle Class: Discussing socio-spatial imbalances and materialities in the Portuguese context.

Sílvia Leiria Viegas

Sílvia Jorge


Publicness in middle-class large housing complexes as a new way to examine the premises of cultural encounters and social integration

Marie Glaser

Ellen Braae


City, housing and architecture in the 1960s' debate: between activism, scepticism and imagination

Rui Seco

Rute Figueiredo


Middle Class Mass Housing: public / private joint-ventures

Filipa Fiúza


Spatial practice, representation and meaning of suburban housing estates

Madalena Corte-Real

Maria João Gomes


The Imagined Community of Middle Class Mass Housing

Laurence Heindryckx

Tom Broes


What makes mass housing representations so different, so appealing?

Alexandra Areia

Carlos Machado e Moura


Non-central, peripheral, low rise suburbia

Pedro Guilherme

Sofia Salema


Ideological resonances in architecture Genealogies and futures of middle class gated communities on the fringes of Maputo, Mozambique

Alicia Hayashi Lazzarini


New technologies in housing construction: a path towards a new city?

João Cardim


Inhabiting Suburbia: art (registers) of living

Maria Rita Pais


Building a Key Analytical Framework for MCMH

Els De Vos

Eva Storgaard


Middle‐Class Mass Housing. The role or European proposals in other countries

Teresa Rovira

Carla Herrera


Demolition Vs Renovation: an open question with regard to Middle-Class Mass Housing in the contemporary city.

Alessandra Como

Luisa Smeragliuolo Perrotta



20 Apr 2020

Call for sessions (new date)

8 June 2020

Notification of acceptance of sessions

2 Nov 2020

Call for papers

4 Jan 2021

Notification of acceptance of paper

29 Mar 2021

Deadline for registration

8 Mar 2021

Deadline for submission of presentation or full paper

16-19 June 2021



suburbia II

Middle-class large housing complexes

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Funded by the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme of the European Union


suburbia II