A pleasant group suicide is the title of a book by Arto Paasilinna (Relógio D’Água, January 2010) that tells the story of a group of Finns who take a bus tour in search of the best precipice to start off on. You will find your destination no less than in Portugal, on a cliff near the Sagres fortress.
The author of this book would hardly find a metaphor for the current architectural situation in Portugal in his story. But it is this title that comes to mind when I think about the state of the profession and discipline in Portuguese countries today: A pleasant group suicide. The architects freely boarded the bus that took them to the abyss. As in Arto Paasilinna’s book, there will be resigned hikers, other fatalists, others who are still naive and innocent and believe that the bus will be successful, and there will also be those who try to convince the tour to change course, but give up many failed attempts afterwards.
The process of demoting the architectural profession is not new. It began with the liberalization of the market and the associated abolition of the fee scale and continued to this day, when architectural services were auctioned at the lowest price. The reduction of architecture to its own economic added value is a process that arises not only from the external conditions defined by the market, but mainly from the internal conditions created by the discipline and the profession itself.
At a time when the state is proposing to build and refurbish the housing stock in Portugal’s main cities – a task it has neglected in recent decades – little or nothing is heard about what it’s like to be in the 21st century. Century to live. The public discussion of this structural and remarkable process for the development of our cities is reduced to a discussion of numbers. How many fires are built? What do these houses cost? How much money will the state invest in these houses? And if these are legitimate questions that the state, as a sponsor, must answer; These are not the only questions architects need to answer when asked to intervene. It’s up to the architects to start the discussion about how we want to live in society in the 21st century. However, when asked to intervene, the architects’ response was weak.
In 2020, several public tenders were launched for the design and development of collective housing projects. The Institute for Housing and Urban Rehabilitation (IHRU) has launched three tenders as part of the Almada Poente housing project and the Municipality of Porto has launched a tender for the construction of five residential buildings in the Lordelo do Ouro district.
When asked “How do we want to live in the 21st century?” Don’t answer the winning proposals with anything new and ignore the significant structural changes that have occurred in our lifestyles over the past few decades. There are no proposals for new ways of living together that take into account the diversity of households that make up today’s society and encourage innovative forms of coexistence and collective neighborhood organization. There are no proposals for apartment types outside of the logic T1, T2, T3 defined by the real estate market. There are no proposals for apartment types that integrate the work space, strengthen the economic autonomy of the individual and promote the local microeconomy. There are no proposals that go beyond the minimum legal requirements with regard to ecological sustainability and energy efficiency. There are no proposals for innovative construction methods based on the concept of the circular economy and supported by digital systems for implementation on site.
The winning proposals in these competitions are presented through a series of abstract and missing images of social or political content. Characteristics consecrated by juries, composed mainly of professional colleagues, that arouse the idea in public opinion that this is the only contribution architecture makes to society: an aesthetic organization of reality.
We are facing a process of architecture’s self-abolition. By liberating itself from its critical position on socially relevant social and political issues, architecture frees itself from its disciplinary status and makes its commercialization inevitable.
To combat the economic deterioration of the profession, it is first necessary to revive the cultural and intellectual value of architecture as a discipline that helps build a more just and egalitarian society.
It is up to us architects to prevent the bus from falling over the abyss.
The author writes according to the orthographic agreement