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


Rui Seco

Rute Figueiredo


The absence of common ground on architecture and the city marked the practice and the debate in the 1960s, contrasting with the context of the heroic generation of the early CIAM, three decades before.

Portuguese architect Fernando Távora, reporting the Royaumont Team 10 meeting in 1962 in the journal ‘Arquitectura’, stated that the perception of this impossibility of consensus shouldn’t be considered pessimism but awareness of reality, and that the individual responsibility of the architect, in a framework of “(...) no concrete, clear, precise truths, is a question that more acutely arises, since responsibility is always linked with possibility of choice (...)”.

Less than a decade later, in 1970, Ramon Puig published his criticism on the poor quality of the architecture that was being vastly produced in standard housing in the Spanish territory, a pessimistic architecture, or even a subarchitecure, as he named it. Result of a passive and conformist behaviour of its authors, of the pessimism, ignorance and disbelieve in the capabilities of architecture, it prevailed in the architectonic panorama of the time, he argued. In addition, Carlos Duarte signaled the focus of architectural journals on the exceptional projects, whose quality contrasted with the ordinary production that created the desolate landscapes that were being built - a tendency that would prevail in the following decades.

This session aims to address these questions, the disconnection between the debate, incorporating both a growing attention to the complexity of society and an increasingly distant and utopian avant-garde from the everyday practice that led the extensive transformation of the built environment. Did these and other critics’ production create new challenges and tensions in the practice of architecture? Was the Critic an active voice and important player in the 1960s public debate on the city and collective housing creation? What role played periodicals, singular reflections and reference texts?

Short bio

Rui Seco 

Architect, urban planner, teacher, editor and researcher on architecture and urbanism, studying the city, modern architecture and the evolution of concepts and urban models throughout the twentieth century, with emphasis on Portuguese urban transformation. He post-graduated in Planning and Design of the Urban Environment and in Architecture, Territory and Memory, followed the program of advanced studies in Architecture, with the dissertation “Concepts and experimentation in urban design in Portugal: from modernism to model revision”, and is presently studying, for his doctorate, public promotion collective housing and its role in portuguese modern city. For these studies, he holded scholarships by the Marquês de Pombal Foundation by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). He pursues his practice as an architect and urban planner, designing at different scales and environments. From 1998, he taught architectural design, urban theory and city history in Coimbra Arts College (EUAC), and he was cofunder and editor of A[#] architecture journal. Currently he is research fellow at CITAD (Research Center on Territory, Architecture and Design), at Lusíada University in Lisbon, working on the Tagus river estuarine territory Research Project.

Rute Figueiredo

Architect and architectural historian, who has long been studying the interplay between architecture and the institutions of discursive mediation and construction — with a specific focus on the architectural magazines, Venice Architecture Biennale, and the biennial culture. More recently, she has expanded her focus of interest towards the agents of criticism, their constellations of relationships, and their formal and informal ‘sites’ of meeting and exchange. She received her PhD in History and Theory of Architecture from the ETH - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich (2018). Currently, she is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Rennes 2 University, working in the Department of Art History. Here, she is co-organising the series of international workshops Mapping Architectural Criticism_Meetings and is pursuing her own research investigation. Author of the book Architecture and Critical Discourse in Portugal (Prize José Figueiredo’2008 awarded by the Portuguese National Academy of Fine Arts), she set up and led the R&D project The Site of Discourse (2012-15), sponsored by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) — the first inquiry and study on the Portuguese architectural periodical press over the 20th century. Her work has been funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020, Swiss National Scientific Foundation, and the FCT. She is associate member of the scientific network Mapping Architectural Criticism (sponsored by the French Agence Nationale de la Recherche), the European Architectural History Network, the Society of Architectural Historians, and integrated researcher at the CEAA/Escola Superior Artística do Porto, working in the international project MODSCAPES-Modernist Reinventions of the Rural Landscape (HERA 2016-2019) and co-coordinating the research axis Strong Relations.

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