Practice & Theory of Sustainable Architecture
City Porto, Portugal
In 2015 Critical Concrete was founded with the ambition of refurbishing abandoned and under-conditioned places for social housing through summer camp programs centred around sustainable architecture. The summer school format itself was initiated with the aim of answering the question: how to refurbish a socially relevant place with little money and an enriching project for its participants?
Monitored by senior architects and designers, the students built during the day, experimenting with the reality of a construction site that aims to be their conceptual playground. They had the chance to discuss and argue the development of the building, through a participatory design process, and thus leave a tangible trace in their first construction experience.
Each group of students worked with one practical mentor on a project, and experimented with both the traditional way of building and the sustainable techniques developed during the year in Critical Concrete’s Lab.
Late afternoons were dedicated to discussions, lectures and presentations, screenings, complementing the practical activities. Some of these moments were open to the public, and thus brought a chance to engage with the surrounding communities. This theoretical input then took the form of public events, such as a lectures and discussions, so that the neighbourhood and visiting students could benefit from each other’s presence.
Location A place to call home
Our production centre, Co-Lateral, was the centre of activities and organisation. This houses our office, spaces for planning and presentations, and the workshop. Having a central home base was vital in growing roots and building connections to the wider community and served as a place for visiting students and mentors to reconvene.
Working with welfare workers and municipalities was helpful for locating homes in need of renovation. Engaging with the residents who live in these homes is critical in understanding their needs and creating a deeper and more personable project.
Working with municipalities further creates a special opportunity to expose typically rigid and bureaucratic organisations to a different mindset and alternative building methods - with the hope that these collaborations are the beginning of a sustainable building movement to renovate social homes in Porto.
People Power Rally the troops
The Summer Schools were open to a wide range of motivated people: architecture and design professionals, graduates, students and PhD students, engineers, DIYers, builders, and artists. People who want to engage with the practice and learn how to build and meet people with inspiring background and know-how.
Use your network to gather experts within the fields of sustainable architecture, urbanism, construction, and community empowerment to act as mentors for the project, sharing knowledge to guide the participants throughout the project.
Above all, making use of the Erasmus+ mobility schemes is one of the most valuable resources of highly skilled individuals to assist facilitating projects. Many individuals have contributed to Critical Concrete through Erasmus for Entrepreneurs, European Solidarity Corps and Erasmus traineeship/internship.
Communication Get the word out
The summer schools were well-documented with photos, vlogs, blogs, articles, and interviews which offered much needed coverage and exposure to the wider community of those interested in sustainable development and social inclusion. This allowed for a year by year increase in engagement and collaborations with new individuals and organisations. Documentation of projects is also vital for presenting work in future funding applications.
Funding Financial Support
Sources of funding can be student fees, public administration grants and in-kind donations. Set-up expenses can be a large initial investment but can be minimised by loaning tools, if the projects is a one-off, or sourcing second-hand. With sustainability at the heart of projects, working in symbiosis with other organisations in your city can be a source of scrap material that may be a missing link from your project - as was done with the wool insulation in our 2019 refurbishment,
Misc Where are we now?
The summer schools ran for 4 years and the educational format evolved into a year long postgraduate course, 'Sustainable-Sustainable Architecture', in collaboration with an architecture school in Porto. In addition to this, we have launched an online learning platform and network, Criti.co, delivering interactive courses on social and sustainable development.
With ambitions to increase our social impact in Portugal, our newest projects involve designing and renovating seven houses and two public spaces in the city of Esposende, north of Porto. The educational and social projects intersect much like the summer school but on a bigger scale. With that we are able to invest our time and resources into researching the development of more coherent and sustainable materials and methods.