This year, 40th anniversary of the Portuguese revolution of 25th of April 1974 was reached. Throughout spring, when it was celebrated, I could feel how crucial that event was for their contemporary history.
Right after the revolutionary events, in August 1974, SAAL (Ambulatory Support to Local Residents) was founded in order to resolve the overwhelming problems of the working class’ habitation. In some two years before it was suspended, architects produced around 170 projects and a part of them was executed, in a way that the state donated the building material, and the workforce were the future residents themselves. They were organized in brigades, which has been pointed out as a unique strategy in Europe (in WESTERN Europe, I’d say, as we in ex-Yugoslavia have quite vast experience with the post-WWII work brigades and some parallels can be established).
It was not the first attempt to resolve the workers’ burning housing problem, at least for what I know about Porto; there were previous attempts of state and city authorities, but SAAL was charged with the idea that architecture can make the world better and the social relations fairer. Here we come to the strong link with Marxist philosophers’ thought, namely Lefèbvre and his “right to the city”, first formulated in his book of the same name published in 1968. “Right to the city” has to do with the citizens’ rights to be active participants in the control and management of the urban space, as well as active agents of urban social life.
It was striking to see evidence how Portuguese lived in the 1970s and how passionately they identified themselves with the initiative. Until a bomb exploded in the SAAL headquarters in Porto!
Many of the most prominent Portuguese contemporary architects, like Siza or Souto Moura, were a part of SAAL and the fraction of its spirit is certainly embedded in their architectural sensibilities.
If you are in Porto (or in Canada next year), do pay a visit to the excellent exhibition on SAAL in Serralves museum.