Clustered low-riseRow house
Quinta da Malagueira
Siza, Álvaro | Évora, Portugal | 1977-1998
Image of Quinta da ...
Typical group of 2-story patio houses

ProjectQuinta da Malagueira
ArchitectSiza, Álvaro
AddressAv. da Malagueira, c. 2 km w. of Évora
Building TypeClustered low-rise
Row house
Number of Dwellings1200
Date Built1977-1998
Dwelling Types2-4 BR courtyard houses
No. Floors2
Section Typerowhouse
Exterior Finish
plaster, conc., wood windows
Construction Typeconc. frame, masonry walls
Ancillary Servicesparking, commercial, communal open spaces

Between 1973 and 1977 , Álvaro Siza designed three housing projects that together form a defining period in the architect’s early work. Two of these, Bouça and São Victor were low cost projects designed for the SAAL organization in Porto, the worker’s council that formed to address the severe housing conditions that existed in Portugal after the 1974 revolution. Both projects were built on difficult inner city sites in the center of Porto to provide adequate housing and prevent the displacement of low-income citizens. Malagueira, the third project, was designed as a suburban community on the outskirts of Évora, an old Roman town of about 40,000 that was the capital of the Alentejo region, located about 100 miles east of Lisbon. Bouça and São Victor are examples of limited infill building, (40 and 12 units respectively). Malagueira, by comparison, is a large,low-rise, high density complex of about 1200 dwellings built over a period of about 20 years on a 27 hectare site between two existing barrio communities. All three projects demonstrate a design process for building in dense urban conditions that Siza characterizes as “forming a whole with ruins”. All three are made of similar dwelling types in which an architectural vocabulary of similar, sparse cubic forms is used to develop the geometry and repetitive order typical to most housing designs while at the same time achieving a high degree of architectural variety.

Prior to 1973, Siza was known for a series of small private commissions, including several houses, the Boca Nova restaurant, the Pinto & Sotto Maior bank at Oliveira de Azemis, and a swimming pool at Leça da Palimeira, a small community along the coast north of Porto. These buildings display a developed modernist style and clearly show Siza’s skill interpreting site conditions, his use of primary geometric forms, and the attention given to the selection of basic materials and careful detailing.

Siza’s housing, especially work done for the workers’ Councils that formed after 25 April 1974, was designed under very difficult political and economic conditions in a very contentious participatory process that made it almost impossible for the architect to function as a designer. Certainly the astringent, minimalist results of Bouça and São Victor are a product of this condition but they are also a testament to Siza’s skills using a few basic design strategies and elements to create a powerful collective result. The extreme angst surrounding the construction of Bouça and São Victor that seems to be part of the history of these two housing projects, lasted for many years as these buildings deteriorated over time, culminating with the demolition of São Victor and, happily, the final completion of the original design for Bouça in 2007. It was the experience of these two projects that form precedents and set the stage for Malagueira.

Siza was given the commission for Malagueira because of his experience with Bouça and São Victor. Housing conditions in Portugal were desperate at this time and the Évora City Council wanted to build new housing in the rolling landscape west of the old city along the road to Lisbon. The Évora program was quite different from the Porto work and the idea was to build a completely new satellite community that would eventually be owned by the residents in a cooperative organization. Siza objected to the title “social housing” pointing out that all housing is social but within the framework of a pressing national need for new housing, Malagueira was not thought of as a typical installation of subsidized social housing. Land was expropriated for a new community planned for about 1200 dwellings.

Two existing barrio communities, Santa Maria and Nossa Senhora da Gloria, had grown up along one of the radial roads leading out of the city, creating am east-west axis. A meandering stream running in a general north-south direction on this side of the city, passed between the two villages and this space was the site for the new community. Other traces of the former occupation of this area included the remains of an Arab bath, a water tank, some cork oaks, a school, 2 old windmills, and the old residence of Malagueirinha with an adjacent orange grove. A system of paths had developed over time as people walked to different destinations in this landscape between villages to shop, get water, or make the 35-minute walk to the center of Évora on the hilltop.

The gridiron organization of Santa Maria was the model for the layout of the new quarter forming a new street pattern of smaller fragments of a tartan grid of parallel rows of streets and alleys and back-to-back patio houses. The largest of these groups extends along the north edge of Santa Maria forming a long narrow zone opening to open public spaces along the stream. Other smaller fragments of the grid were attached to the ends of the original barrio, essentially enlarging the perimeter of the village. Still other groups were sited at different angles forming several separate neighborhoods responding to alignments suggested in the landscape. The meandering interstitial spaces between neighborhoods are part of the public open spaces that followed preexisting paths and other features in the landscape. These areas between built-up regular clusters of houses are used for community uses, shopping, parking, recreation, and pedestrian circulation.

A system of raised concrete aqueducts connects the separate residential clusters together and provides the infrastructure for water and electric distribution. Aqueducts were a feature of the Roman and later of the Renaissance era and remains of these are still visible in Évora. This established a precedent for a system of aqueducts to be used to distribute water in the new community. Raised channels made of exposed concrete block that are supported on columns forming a more-or-less continuous loggia structure that connects neighborhoods while servicing each house within the neighborhood clusters. The aqueduct system was justified on the basis of cost, but it also functions as a large-scale planning device that connects neighborhoods and forms public arcades defining entrances to groups of shops and other public facilities. Because it is built to the height of the roof of the second floor and is left as unfinished concrete, it provides visual and formal relief to the relentless, repetitive white walls of the dwellings.

The scale of Malagueira is much larger than the earlier Porto sites, but the basic 2-story dwellings are similar. In Bouça, 2-story maisonettes are combined back-to-back in 4-story, gallery-access building. The rows of dwellings in Malagueira, although they are only 2-stories high, share a similar back-to-back section concept with each facing a street. At São Victor, on a much smaller site, 2-story dwellings were used in an articulated row of individual houses with some defined exterior spaces front and rear.

The dwellings at Malagueira are patio or atrium types with an “ell”-shaped group of rooms on two sides of a small interior patio. There are two similar types, both built on an 8m x 12m plot, one with the courtyard in front and the other with the courtyard at the rear. Both have living, dining and kitchen spaces at the courtyard level with an interior stair leading to bedrooms and terraces above. The two types can be combined in several different ways resulting in different patterns of solid and void. This manipulation of the paired combinations is a key to the rich concatenated rhythm that is achieved with a pallet of only two dwelling types. Wall heights vary from entry gate height, to the second floor height to a vent wall that is perpendicular to the street and extends to the height of the second floor roof. This range of wall heights coupled with the alternating position of the patios and terraces results in a rich three-dimensional composition. The construction follows the topography so the houses step along the street as well as stepping perpendicular to the street. This further adds to the compositional variety. Seen from a distance, the houses seem to be taller than just 2 floors as they step up the contours giving the impression of a much denser, taller, terraced organization. The very limited pallet of doors and window shapes also vary in height with the contours furthering the concatenated organization of walls. The houses are designed to be added on to over time by the occupants so that they can begin as a simple two room house built on one level that can be transformed into a much larger dwelling with several bedrooms, multiple baths, and roof terraces. The incomplete quality of the evolving houses within the walled volume helps break down the strict repetition typical of most low cost housing.

Many comparisons have been made between Siza’s housing and Dutch and German siedlungen of the 1920’s and to some of the work of Adolf Loos. The use of flat roofs, white plaster exterior walls, the sparse application of windows and doors and the absence of decoration are all similar shared features. São Victor could be seen as a version of Oud’s Weissenhof row houses that have been inserted into an almost impossible site. Malagueira might be seen as Weisenhoff units facing the street on each side and backed up to each other in repetitive rows. The parallel rows of apartments with the rounded commercial ends at Bouça have similarities with Kiefhoek although Bouça is a 4-story high, gallery type. Bouça may have similarities to Mart Stam’s slabs, but the layered qualities of the section the use of colored walls on the upper floors, the complex section, upper terraces and the careful fitting of the building to the site are qualities quite different from the zeilenbau typology as used by Stam, and others. Loos’s early houses and his project for 20 terraced houses share many of the cubic, sparse qualities and the solid/void organization of Malagueira, but this unbuilt project was a proposal for a 4-story, point-access terraced slab. Other suggestions have been made that Malagueira was derived from vernacular Portuguese sources and rationalism. Siza, however, felt that his architecture grew from the context and from the economic and technical conditions of the time.

Unlike the Porto work, Malagueira has aged well over the 30 years of its occupation. Bouça has been completed and restored and is the product of a different residential model. Because Malaguiera was sponsored and financed and maintained by the city of Évora, and because the residents were living here under a combination of private and cooperative ownership, and rentals, the buildings have been well maintained, and for the most part, appear pretty much as they did when they were built. Of the 1100 dwellings that had been built by 1977, 60% were cooperatives, 35% rental and 5% privately owned. Financing was arranged so that houses could be owned after 25 years. The co-ops also controlled resale prices to limit speculation and sub-letting was not allowed. These and other rules limiting modifications to the original building contributed to a sense of well-being and a high level of maintenance.

There are some examples of the kind of “vernacularization” that inevitably goes on in a big housing project like this, especially one that is mostly occupant-owned. The painted wainscots and colored trim painted around doors and windows on some houses (an apparent attempt to capture the ambience of vernacular Alentejo building), the application of aftermarket accessories like roll-down shutters, door grilles, air-conditioning units (the sure sign of owner affluence), random electrical wiring, added street lights, retrofitted windows and the arbors and trellises that get built on the roof terraces are all signs of owner occupation but this is limited and have not seriously harmed the overall quality and maintenance of Malagueira. The graffiti that might have been tempting with all these white walls, and which are quite typical of most low-income housing, seem to be entirely missing here.

A more obvious problem with Malalgueira is the development and use of the interstitial spaces. The contrast between the highly structured organization of streets and houses and the more pastoral landscape of the meandering path of the stream is a seductive concept but in its unfinished state tends to read merely as leftover space. Some of the elements that have been built in this landscape, the pond, the open theater, the dam on the street, and the loggia formed in front of the shops by the aqueduct are obvious moves to inhabit the interstitial zone but ones that do not seem quite powerful enough to connect landscape and building. The curse of the suburban housing project has always been that it is so often disconnected from the needs of daily shopping; Malalgueira residents still seem destined to carry grocery bags on long walks along the original paths connecting places in the Alentejo landscape.

Frampton, Kenneth, Nuño Portas, Alexander Alves Costa, Pierluigi Nicolini, Álvaro Siza, Poetic Profession, Electa/Rizzoli, N.Y., 1986, pp. 96-108.

Dos Santos, José Paulo (ed), Álvaro Siza; Complete Works,Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 112-123.

Frampton, Kenneth, Álvaro Siza; Complete Works, Phaidon, London, c. 2000.

Zapatel, Juan Antonio, "The Malagueira Quarter in Évora, Portugal", Constructing New Worlds, Proceedings of the 1998 ACSA International Conference, Washington, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, 1998, pp. 123-128.

Rowe, Peter G., "The Malagueira Quarter", Modernity and Housing, The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA., 1993, pp. 253-263.

Testa, Peter, "The Architecture of Álvaro Siza", Thresholds, Working Paper No. 4, Department of Architecture, MIT, Cambridge, MA, 1984.

Rayon, Jean Paul, "Il Quartiere Malagueira a Évora", <Casabella, Vol, 46, March, 1982, pp. 3-15.

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