Abstract: This article aims to highlight the guidelines and the fundamental results of research conducted as part of my master degree in Urban Studies (ISCTE/FCSH-UNL) and focuses on the relationships between emerging local urban intervention initiatives, promoted by architects or architecture collectives and motivated by social and political issues, and the dynamics of social and territorial innovation. Starting with a brief reflection on the architect’s involvement in contemporary society, in which critical concepts such as Unsolicited Architecture and Spatial Agency are included, this research addresses the real transformative power of the social and institutional contexts of such interventions. Through an exploratory case study – the TISA and Casa do Vapor initiatives conducted in the informal neighbourhood of Cova do Vapor (Almada, Portugal) – this research shows that, while not generating Social and Territorial Innovation in all their dimensions, these initiatives disclose features of Creative Social Strategies and therefore some capacity for reinforcing them.




Keywords: Unsolicited Architecture, Spatial Agency, Creative Social Strategies, Social and Territorial Innovation, Cova do Vapor. 



Architecture and Social Innovation: intersections in the territory of Cova do Vapor


I. Introduction


Whereas the issue of participation in architecture, so trendy in the 1960s and 1970s, rested on the need for greater integration of people/users in the design and architectural construction processes (Carlo, 2010 [1980]), early in the twenty-first century it seems to re-emerge associated, above all, with the need for more direct involvement of architects in the urban socio-spatial reality (Bunschoten, 2003). Although the debate on the architect's social commitment is rescued and fed by structural changes of this period - such as increased mobility, the ease of movement of information and the expansion of social networks through new technologies – it intensified particularly in 2007/2008 with the onset of the global economic and financial crisis, which greatly affected the architectural market in Europe, especially in Portugal, drastically reducing demand and increasing the levels of unemployment in the profession. It was at the beginning and during of this crisis that new critical concepts on the participation of architects were developed as manifests of own initiative practice, such as: Unsolicited Architecture (Bouman, 2007), Critical Spatial Practice (Miessen, 2010) and Spatial Agency (Awan; Schneider; Till, 2011).


These concepts/demonstrations, and other ongoing discourses about proactive practices in progress, are mostly associated with social and political transformation motivations: those who stress the need for architects to cease being mere "building designers" to become “moderators of change” (Lepik, 2010), and those who reinforce the need to reach, together with some communities, “innovative solutions to social and urban problems" (Leite; Ribeiro, 2013: 109). However, little or no information is produced on the actual effects of these initiatives. Protected by critics and the academy in the huge umbrella of "social architecture" or "participatory architecture" and analysed only from the point of view of their motivations and development models, these projects lack studies on the real transformative power of the social and institutional contexts in which they take place.


This shortage led to a research project that crosses the scientific field of architecture with the social sciences (Ferreira, 2014). This crossing resulted in framing the issues identified in contemporary theoretical literature related to Creative Social Strategies - new responses of civil society to inadequate or poorly resolved problems by the state or the market (Andrew, Rousselle, 2010) - and to Social and Territorial Innovation – the process arising from these strategies, implying the satisfaction of unmet or not recognized human needs, the empowerment of excluded or marginalized groups and the change in social and power relations in terms of territorial governance (González; Moulaert, Martinelli, 2010). This enabled experimenting an evaluation model of the essence and impacts of local initiatives and their application in an exploratory case study – architects’ intervention initiatives in Cova do Vapor (Almada, Portugal), particularly the  TISA projects - The informal School of Architecture and Casa do Vapor. This article basically intends to synthesize the research conducted in three main chapters: the theoretical and conceptual framework, the research design and the case study.


II. Theoretical and conceptual framework


1. Architects’ Participation in Contemporary Society

According to Montaner and Muxí (2011), the monopoly of economic power, which characterizes the beginning of the twenty-first century, made the role of the architect "more ambiguous and ambivalent" (id: 38). In their view, the architect has become a slave of the interests of private power and of the ideology of public power, which has annulled "the possibilities for developing a critical culture" (id.: ibid.). For them, this crisis that the profession is experiencing does not result solely from a mismatch between the architect’s culture and what society demands of him, but also from an elitist education centred on the creation of a "group of excellence", whose actions must be understood as pure assistance and at the service of power and the most privileged classes. Against this background, the authors highlight two stances adopted by architecture professionals: those who remain "faithful to the status quo", seeking media attention and social recognition, and those who "attempt to improve people’s lives" through social projects and multidisciplinary cooperation (id: ibid.).


In the view of Massad and Guerrero Yeste (2014), the limits of this division may not be as clear as they seem. According to these authors, some architects who have been involved in social projects do it often in order to keep the media attention and social recognition given to them. They point out that the growing interest of some architects for such projects is, to a large extent, due to the forecasted economic and financial recession in the US and Europe, which deeply shook the established system with the consolidation of neoliberalism and globalization of the market economy in the 1990s, based on the figure of the "star-architect" and of "iconic building", serving the "information society’s" desire for show business. The emergence of the economic and financial crisis has changed the "facade of their modus operandi" (id : 38), with this type of architects denying the system they were already part of or aspired to belong, subordinating "formal obsessions" and praising an architecture that was once despised and marginalized.


Whatever the actual personal motivations leading to this apparent or actual change in the architects’ action, that is, either due to real opposition to the architecture of the "star system", or to the need to maintain their status quo in a context of economic and financial crisis or to any other reason, the attention paid to, and dissemination given to, the said "social" architecture is unquestionable. Although paradoxical, since all architecture "acts on a society and shall be exercised in a social situation" (Baptista, 2014: 3), this term seems to define a practice that presents itself as the society's transformation tool and, in this sense, resuming the modern idea of architecture as a driver of "social revolution" (id: ibid.). Whereas many consider it to be "out of range" of the discipline, others stress that it is only "beyond" its limits, also calling it "expansive architecture" (Bell; Wakeford, 2008). It is understood here that the "expansion" of architecture has meant basically two things: architects’ less autonomy in the realization of projects, and greater autonomy in the search for intervention opportunities, subverting the commission traditional logic. Whereas the first condition is common to the ideas and practices of the 1960s and 1970s, of which the experience of SAAL in Portugal stands out, the second condition is believed to be the main distinguishing factor between socially committed architects of yesterday and of today, and is reflected in the following emerging critical concepts:



·         “Urban Curating”, developed by Raoul Bunschoten (2003) – founding architect of the London office Chora – and by artist Jeanne van Heeswijk with the aim of describing “a new planning tool” in analogy with current practices of contemporary art (Petrescu, 2005: 56). “Urban curator” is deemed to be the architect who, before designing physical objects, gives form to organizational principles, i.e. designs processes and interactions between people (Awan; Schneider; Till, 2011: 119), thus becoming “an animator of human behaviour” (Bunschoten, 2003). According to Petrescu (2005), the curator is above all a mediator, “a connector of people, things, desires, stories, opportunities” (Petrescu, 2005: 57).

·         “Unsolicited Architecture”, defined by Dutch architect Ole Bouman (2007), which defends greater autonomy and proactivity of architectural interventions. The Office for Unsolicited Architecture, led by Bouman, “seeks to define the logic of the architect’s participation in society, placing him on a critically productive position” (Baptista, 2011: 7), that is, taking advantage of “the hidden and unexplored intervention opportunities, adopting a more active and independent role in defining the project’s scope and strategy” (id.ibid.).

·         “Critical Spatial Practice”, defined by German architect Markus Miessen (2010), which “develops an idea of participation not from the “consensus” but from the “conflict”” (Baptista, 2011: 6), that is, claiming that the “spatial practitioner” must be understood as a stranger who, instead of trying to establish and sustain consensus common denominators, comes into existing situations and projects by deliberately instigating conflicts as a micro-political way of critically engaging with the environment in which he is operating” (Miessen apud Baptista, 2011: 7).

·         And “Spatial Agency”, developed by Nishat Awan, Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till. These authors recently described the architect as a “spatial agent”, as someone who is “responsible for the long-term desires and needs of the multitudes of others who build, live, work, occupy, and experience architecture and social space” (Awan; Schneider; Till apud Baptista, 2013: 20-21). In this sense, “spatial agents are neither helpless nor all powerful: they are negotiators of existing conditions in order to partially reform them” (id.: 21).


2. Creative Social Strategies and Social and Territorial Innovation

The concept of creativity as the capacity to produce new things or create new situations (André, Henriques; Malheiros, 2009), has been, over the past decades, quite covered in the research of spatial and urban dynamics. In general, creativity is associated with artistic and cultural production and understood as an engine for economic growth (Hall, 2000). On this basis, several cities have adopted a development model based on attracting a creative class as a way to increase innovation and the competitiveness of the territory (Landry, 2000; Florida, 2002). However, this model of "creative city" has proved little innovative from a social point of view. The dramatization of public space and gentrification associated with urban regeneration centred on real estate offer to this creative class are factors that lead, several times, to social exclusion (André, Henriques; Malheiros, 2009). In response to this scenario, alternative views on the role of creativity in urban development have emerged, based on the idea of the "socially creative city" (Gertler, 2004; Scott, 2006), an inclusive and caring city (André; Reis, 2009) where the mobilization of creative resources is essentially the result of bottom-up processes, a fundamental condition for social innovation (André, Henriques; Malheiros, 2009).


Thus, the alternative approaches to the theory of the creative class do not seek to challenge the importance of creativity in urban development, but rather an elitist and limited notion of it (Klein, Tremblay, 2009). I.e. "one looks at creativity oriented to collective action that aims to improve the population's quality of life, encouraging and promoting the construction of a transformative and participatory city" (Freitas; Estevens, 2012: 12), towards creativity, according to Swyngedouw and Moulaert (2010), which formulates, claims and exercises Henri Lefebvre’s "right to the city" of (id.: 220). It is in this context, according to some authors, that the role of artists in the city should be reinterpreted. Considering that art helps to express local views and inspires action, this may be "an instrument for stimulating the creativity necessary for the process of change and transformation that is inherent to social innovation" (Freitas; Estevens, 2012: 12).Despite several mentions to the social innovation process since the eighteenth century, social innovation only arose in the 1960s and 1970s with the student and labour movements in several European and American cities, "(...) as a kind of common denominator for the different types of collective actions and social transformations that would lead from the top down economy and society to a more bottom-up, creative and participatory society" (Moulaert; MacCallum; Hillier, 2010: 13-14).


There are several definitions for the term “social innovation” since it was first coined by author James Taylor (Cloutier, 2003) in 1970. According to Julie Cloutier (2003), a researcher at the Centre de Recherche sur les Innovations Sociales (CRISES) [1], in Taylor’s view “l’innovation sociale désigne de nouvelles façons de faire les choses (new ways of doing things) dans le but explicite de répondre à des besoins sociaux” (id.: 3).

This definition encompasses two conditions that have been questioned by several authors who, since then, have addressed this topic: its innovative nature and the objectives pursued. According to Cloutier (2003), although most consider social innovation as a solution or a new response, some reinforce its alternative nature and not necessarily its novelty, such as Jean-Louis Chambon, Alix David and Jean-Marie Devevey [2]. At the same time, there is a division between those who take social innovation only as a means for solving social problems and those who see it, also, as a response to an ideal or social aspiration. Chombart de Lauwe stands out as the initiator of this strand.


Although James Taylor stresses the cooperation between different actors as an essential condition for the creation and production of social innovations, he considers the solution presented to the problem, i.e., the result of the resolution process as the object of these innovations, not the process in itself (Cloutier, 2003). This view is also contested by some authors who defend the process as an integral part of the concept and dependent on two main conditions: the diversity of actors and the participation of the recipients of the initiatives at different times (id.).


Despite these differences, in general, social innovation is seen as improving the living conditions of individuals, of their livelihood (territory) or working environment (businesses) (Cloutier, 2003: 38). Whereas in the 1990s his concept was addressed mainly in the field of management and business administration, in the twenty-first century it has gained prominence in various areas, with territorial development standing out. In this field, social innovation is seen as the positive changes that have occurred in a given territory, more precisely, according to Hillier, Moulaert and Nussbaumer (2004) “changements au niveau tant institutionnel que des comportements collectifs et individuels (personnes éminentes, leadership) contribuant à l’intégration sociale” (id.: 137).


Frank Moulaert and his fellow researchers in the SINGOCOM project (Social Innovation, Governance and Community Building) gave one of the main contributions to the conceptualisation of social innovation in the field of territorial development. The research conducted under this project, founded in 2001 and part of a European Commission programme, led to the emergence of the post-disciplinary model of analysis of strategies and local social innovation processes ALMOLIN (Alternative Model of Local Innovation). In the context of ALMOLIN, the concept of social innovation involves three interdependent dimensions: 1) the satisfaction of unmet or unrecognized human needs; 2) the empowerment of groups/marginalized communities; and 3) the change of social and power relations, particularly with regard to territorial governance relationships (González; Moulaert, Martinelli, 2010: 54).


According to researchers, these dimensions, which characterize the contents of the local social innovation, are directly influenced by the time and space in which they operate, due to the historical trajectory of a given territory and its context at the widest ranges, and to their contingency or social and institutional specificity (id.: 56). In their view, the opportunities and constraints revealed by time and space also influence nature, stimuli, resources and social innovation dynamics, which can be promoted by various agents - state and civil society, private institutions and the tertiary sector.


Another important contribution to the definition of an analytical model of social and territorial innovation based on the conceptual matrix of the SINGOCOM project, is given by Portuguese researchers Isabel André and Alexandre Abreu (2006) in the project "LINKS - Social Capital and Innovation, networks in the promotion of local development" (Capital Social e Inovação, as redes na promoção do desenvolvimento local), which started in 2002. In 2009, also coordinated by Isabel André, project "Rucas - Real utopias in socially creative spaces" (Utopias Reais em Espaços socialmente criativos) was inaugurated, which in particular has furthered the study of the relationship between creativity and social and territorial innovation. In this study, particular attention is paid to civil society as a territorially-based social innovation promoting agent, and to creativity in its collective dimension, that is, as a resource for the collective development of new solutions to social problems, leading to the development of concepts such as "creative social strategies" and "socially creative means". While the former are seen as "new responses of society or of specific communities to problems that the state or the market do not address adequately or satisfactorily" (André, Rousselle, 2010: 73), capable of generating social innovation if "they are sufficiently recognized and adopted "(id.: ibid.), the latter are those that enable this recognition and implementation “without fragmenting and maintaining, or rebuilding, their identity" (id.: 75), i.e., which have high resilience or plasticity.


III. Research Design


Whereas the discourses of contemporary architects about their involvement in society led to questions about the true transformative power of the social and institutional contexts where they intervene proactively, their place in the theoretical literature related to Creative Social Strategies (CSS) and to Social and Territorial Innovation led to the following reformulation of this question: What is the essence and the impacts of architects’ local intervention efforts in terms of social and territorial innovation? Are these creative social strategies’ initiatives capable of generating this innovation?


This question/ research hypothesis translated into an analysis model that is characterized by two key steps: identifying creative social strategies and identifying impacts in terms of social and territorial innovation. In turn, this two-part analysis model resulted in a single analytical grid composed of six fundamental problems (Ferreira, 2014: 57-60): 1) Where are the initiatives produced (means of intervention)? 2) Who promotes the initiatives (promoters)? 3) What is produced through them (type of intervention)? 4) Why is it produced (stimuli to intervention)? 5) How is it produced (intervention process)? 6) What are the effects attained (intervention impacts)?


All these problems are associated with dimensions and identification criteria that will be explained in this paper in the chapter on case study results, the chosen research strategy. This case study is understood to be not only instrumental - in the terminology of Robert Stake - to the extent that supports the understanding of the relationship between proactive architectural practice and creative social strategies capable of generating social and territorial innovation, but also critical and exploratory – in the words of Robert Yin - given that it enables both testing a hypothesis and is, in itself, a pilot study of a little studied phenomenon (Alves-Mazzotti, 2006).


As an object of empirical study for this case study two interventions made in 2011 and 2013 in Cova do Vapor – an informal neighbourhood located in the village of Trafaria, municipality of Almada – were chosen, the TISA initiative (The Informal School of Architecture) and Casa do Vapor (Temporary Community Centre), respectively. The reasons for this choice were not only their pioneering nature in the Portuguese context, but also the fact that they took place in the same territory, making it possible to explore the spatial and temporal dimensions of the social and territorial innovation, i.e., understand the characteristics of Cova do Vapor that may have favoured the emergence and development of both projects.


This case study used a methodological strategy based essentially on ascertaining the public and individual perception of promoting and operating agents, the target community, and representatives of local governance institutions regarding the production conditions of the initiatives and their impact on the intervention territory. This involved using various instruments to collect information, such as literature review, documentary and statistical data analysis, and carrying out semi-structured interviews.


These interviews were conducted in three samples of respondents, corresponding to the three identified types of actors - promoters and operators of TISA and Casa do Vapor, residents in Cova do Vapor, and representatives of the Residents' Association and of Almada Town Hall - and prepared according to convenience, since the intention was not that they were representative of the perception of the different groups, but rather to identify critical aspects that could substantiate the essence and the impact of the initiatives in terms of social and territorial innovation. The interviews were analysed using the structuring qualitative content analysis technique.


IV. Case study – Architects’ intervention initiatives in Cova do Vapor: TISA and Casa do Vapor


This chapter provides an overview of the study conducted on the intervention initiatives architects/collective architecture in Cova do Vapor and exposes the main results of the analysis of the presence of dimensions and basic criteria for the identification of CSS capable of generating socio-territorial innovation in the TISA and Casa do Vapor projects, distributed among the six issues identified in the previous chapter.


1. As regards the means of intervention - Cova do Vapor - it was found that this is coincident, in terms of scale, with most means conducive to the development of CSS, i.e. the local micro-scale. In a generic way, Cova do Vapor can be defined as a small informal neighbourhood located in an area of large morphological dynamics in the Setúbal Peninsula (Image 1), more precisely “in the 'elbow' of land that the river Tagus built with the Atlantic Ocean, in the extreme north of Costa da Caparica"(Queirós, 2011: 44). The origins of Cova do Vapor date back to the 1920s when it was a small fishing village situated on a long sandy area near Bugio (id.). Since the 1940s, its history has been marked by a number of threats to its existence. After a process of demolition of houses built spontaneously by fishermen and the construction of the first wooden houses, which they were authorized to build by the public authorities responsible for the area in that decade, Cova do Vapor grew again spontaneously as a seaside town and a permanent residence area, while the sea pushed it towards private land belonging to the former Explosives Factory of Trafaria - Fábrica de Explosivos da Trafaria- (id.). As a result of shoreline retreating, a strip of this land now belongs to the public maritime area, currently administered by the Ministry of Environment and by the Port of Lisbon Authorities (Ferreira, 2014). 


Image 1. Geographical location of Cova do Vapor at the western end of the Trafaria Coast, Almada, Portugal. Source: Google Earth. 


Although facing a new demolition threat in the post-revolutionary period of the 1970s, when there was uncontrolled housing growth, the residents, who had already united in the process of moving their wooden houses to escape the onslaught of the sea and to pay for the setting up of piped water in the neighbourhood, once again joined efforts in the building of other infrastructure in the following decades. However, the 2000s brought more obstacles to their stay. Earlier in this decade, part of the occupied lands and surrounding ones were acquired by the company URPRASOL with a view to making a major urban renovation project, designed for tourism. These intentions were presented in 2002 and predicted the "re-naturalisation" of Cova do Vapor, that is, the demolition of existing buildings. These objectives were also framed in the Regulations of the Coastal Zone Management Plan (POOC) Sintra-Sado (2003: 3649).


The URPRASOL project, in partnership with Parque Expo, was turned down by the Water Institute in 2007 due to the high risk of coastline erosion; the vagueness of POOC Sintra-Sado, also transposed to the Detailed Plan of São João da Caparica, about the fate of the populations in the event of the demolition taking place; and the financial inability of the Almada Town Hall (CMA) to carry out a programme of such financial scale, have contributed to maintaining Cova do Vapor as it is, yet reinforcing the hope of residents of a future legalization and spatial qualification. However, given the constraints posed by the POOC, also preventing CMA from taking any action to improve existing buildings or expanding the neighbourhood’s built area, at the time of both initiatives (2011 and 2013) it was believed there were no immediate opportunities for change in their physical and legal conditions. In addition, despite the existing tolerance and collective memory, at the time of the interventions there was socio-cultural homogeneity, lack of civic participation within the community, and weak relational capital regarding the links established with the outside, which led to the idea there was lack of plasticity/resiliency of the environment that could facilitate the implementation of CSS. However, given that creative ways can be not only a "condition for" but also a “CSS product", the initiatives made in Cova do Vapor could come to meet conditions for breaking with some existing local situations.


1.  As for the agents promoting the interventions, two features are usually associated with the CSS: they are highly skilled and get their inspiration from ideals from the 1960s and 1970s. These features have been proven in the analysis of the agents driving both initiatives - Filipe Balestra of the collective Urban Nouveau* and Alexander Römer of the collective Exyzt. This analysis identified the agents’ special links with the discourses of "utopian architecture" of that period. Their previous professional experiences in different contexts - the Urban Nouveau*, responsible for TISA, in informal spaces, and Exyzt, responsible for Casa do Vapor, in formal contexts - did not prove decisive for the success of an initiative in relation to the other. However, the diversity of operating agents, particularly actors from different disciplines, had special influence on the results of the Casa do Vapor project.


2. As regards the type of the interventions, this proved to be, in both, simultaneously material (product) and immaterial (process), in that it consisted, not only in the case of TISA, in creating an informal school of architecture that was responsible for carrying out a survey and a scale model of the neighbourhood (Image 2), and, in the case of Casa do Vapor, in constructing and activating a temporary community house with a community kitchen, skate ramp, a bicycle cooperative, multipurpose spaces and a public library (Image 3), and in a process to express and culturally enhance the community.


3. In terms of stimuli to the interventions, these also coincided with the characteristics of the CSS. Both personal and social motivations were instrumental in both initiatives, despite the nature of the latter being divergent. While TISA resulted, at first, from the limitations of architectural education and professional practice in the face of crisis, Casa do Vapor stemmed essentially from available human and material resources following the project/workshop "Building Together" (Construir Juntos), carried out under the European Capital of Culture - Guimarães 2012. At the same time, although the principles and values of the Cova do Vapor community, such as collective self-building, have been considered by both initiatives as intervention opportunities, their goals have proved to be different. TISA focused on trying to solve community problems, particularly sorting out the legalization and spatial qualification of the territory through media coverage of the project; Casa do Vapor emerged out of a social order aspiration by promoting a place for meeting and sharing between the community and the outside.


4. Despite all the resources that traditionally determine the success of the CSS processes (human/social, organizational and financial) that have been used in the two initiatives, not all were actually used in TISA, which conditioned its duration. Although having integrated the community in the intervention process, created partnerships with the Residents’ Association of Cova do Vapor (AMCV) and with vocational schools EPAD and Gustav Eiffel, and mobilized external volunteers, the fact they were unable to raise financing and above all to work in partnership with CMA - given that its objectives were thwarted by the action constraints of this entity - led Urban Nouveau to halt the intervention process after completing the initial analysis and the scale model of the neighbourhood. 


Image 2. Urban Nouveau*, TISA, scale model, Cova do Vapor, Almada, Portugal, 2011. Author: Pedro Aperta/Global Imagens. Source: Diário de Notícias, 07/08/2011 


Image 3. Exyzt and ConstructLab, Casa do Vapor, Cova do Vapor, Almada, Portugal, 2013. Author: Alex Roemer. Source: Domus magazine (online), 06/08/2013. 


In contrast, Casa do Vapor has proven to be more successful in mobilizing financial and organizational resources and showed some weaknesses regarding community participation. Still, although most of the volunteers involved in the construction and activation of the house did not belong to the community, the initiative also involved volunteers from the neighbourhood. This participation, along with work in partnership with AMCV and other entities at different levels, and the financing of the CMA - supporting all activities other than the construction - were instrumental for the project’s dynamics. Although, months after its start, the architects determined that their intervention, which had always been deemed to be short-term, had been concluded, not only because ephemerality is one of the guiding principles of the Exyzt collective’s work methodology but also because of the restrictions about the building permit granted by the Portuguese Environment Agency, some agents with whom they agreed to collaborate with began a new lifecycle in the project. After the deconstruction of the House, the public library it contained was transferred to a room offered by the AMCV (Image 4), its governance mechanisms were redesigned and its community integrated in its organizational structure - the Management Board of the Vapor Library - Conselho Gestor da Biblioteca do Vapor (CGBV). 


Image 4. Reopening of the Vapor Library, Cova do Vapor, Almada, Portugal, 2014. Source:


  1. 1.     With regard to the impacts of the TISA initiative, needs were not met as a result of the direct action of the architects, with the exception of a small financial and technical support to the process of meeting drainage and paving needs, already triggered by the population. Despite the weakness in terms of satisfying needs, the TISA intervention still had some outcome in terms of empowerment, namely by extending the community’s relations with the outside world through friendship bonds established with the intervention agents, and resulted in an enhanced community identity, especially through the appreciation of its buildings and construction process. In terms of changing social and power relations regarding territorial governance, the following aspects were noted: improved perception of the community about itself in relation to the outside, i.e. mitigating the sense of abandonment and neglect; greater self-esteem, triggering small improvements in buildings, conducted by the residents; and the creation of a positive public image of the neighbourhood through dissemination of the project in the media. There were no changes in the relationship with the local authorities due to the previously mentioned procedural issues, that is, the confrontation between the project’s objectives and the constraints CMA had to face. As in most of the CSS, the TISA initiative, although forcibly interrupted in Cova do Vapor, turned out to expand its scope of action. The project mentor continues to promote it in international conferences and reproduce the intervention model in other territorial contexts. Despite meeting needs not being the main objective of the project, Casa do Vapor made it possible to meet needs not acknowledged by the community, such as artistic and cultural expression, as well as meeting, albeit temporarily, the material needs of some people, such as employment and the supply of leisure/recreation equipment. With regard to community empowerment, there were also more significant results than in the TISA project, as follows:in terms of internal relations, improving relationship between young and old and among children; regarding expression of identity, strengthening the collective memory through the House’s cultural activities and the local library’s resources; in terms of acquired knowledge and skills, the learning provided by the bicycle cooperative and by the cultural and artistic activities of the Casa do Vapor and Vapor Library for children and adults of the neighbourhood, especially those included in the CGBV; and in terms of shared knowledge, the learning among members of the CGBV, between them and the children and among the children. Finally, with regard to the change in social and power relations in terms of territorial governance, the most significant consequences were: the strengthening of positive public opinion about the neighbourhood through media coverage of the project; the changing relationships between residents and the AMCV, by encouraging greater participation of the former in the community, their integration into the CGBV being an example of that change; and the change in the relationship between the residents and the CMA itself, which started to be made directly, no longer through the sole mediation of AMCV, but through direct dialogue that allows residents to be more informed about the municipality's action impediments, and the latter to  be more attentive to the problems and needs of the community. In this sense, Casa do Vapor has been deemed to have built a bridge between the community and the government. This bridge reinforced the importance of these initiatives in the eyes of the CMA, which started to see it as an opportunity to intervene in places where its action is highly limited. As in most of the CSS, the Casa do Vapor project, despite being small at its inception and local, eventually became larger and extended its effects to other territories, by way of association with other projects, through the provision of material resources and the involvement of its operating agents in the projects of the Community Kitchen of Terras da Costa and the Trafaria Library, both conducted in the municipality of Almada.


    Final Thoughts


    From the detailed analysis of the six research issues, it was possible to identify, in both initiatives, the presence of characteristics of CSS, albeit more fully in Casa do Vapor, which allowed it to attain more significant results in terms of social and territorial innovation than TISA. Therefore, the research hypothesis is deemed to have been partially confirmed in the case study, namely, the architects’ intervention initiatives in Casa do Vapor have CSS characteristics, but were unable to generate social and territorial innovation at all levels, though generally denoting capacity to foster it. Based on the case study and existing theoretical production on the subject of participation in architecture, we identified some challenges that we believe architects need to address in order to pursue a socially innovative practice. They are: 1) take on the motivations and political implications of the processes and products of their practice and avoid manipulating the communities for personal gain; 2) consider the political nature of space and, as such, the constraints faced by interventions, at local and supra-local levels; 3) be aware that, being outsiders, "external" to the environment where they decide to intervene, they risk, however high their "goodwill" may be, falling into involuntary paternalism (Friedman, 2000 [1974]); 4) consider the community’s requirements and needs; 5) lose their fear of dealing with the community and, therefore, not be seen as architects (Till, 2005); 6) establish new means of communication for this negotiation as opposed to using the hermetic language and design codes that help legitimize the profession (id.); 7) collaborate with various actors external to the community; 8) consider the advantages and disadvantages of media coverage of their activities; and finally 9) anticipate the evolution of the project in the long-term, i.e. its ownership by the community, even if the intervention is temporary.


    We believe that the research conducted allows expanding the analysis to other cases, in order to deepen understanding of the relationships between architects’ or multi-disciplinary collectives’ local urban intervention initiatives aimed at effective and lasting socio-spatial transformations through architecture and art and the CSS capable of generating social and territorial innovation. In this sense, and considering that these initiatives are becoming a growing phenomenon, we believe that the potential of this research is that it paves the way to the development of mechanisms that facilitate their future implementation and ensure the sustainability of results, taking into account the specificities of each local context.




    [2] “Canadian interuniversity and multidisciplinary organization, founded in 1986, which pioneered studies on social innovation” (André; Abreu, 2006).

    [3] Jean-Louis Chambon, Alix David and Jean-Marie Devevey published, in 1982, “Les Innovations Sociales”, the first major contribution to the conceptualisation of the term.






    ALVES-MAZZOTTI, Alda – Usos e abusos dos estudos de caso. Cadernos de Pesquisa [Online]. 36:129 (2006) 637-651. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 1980-5314.

    ANDRÉ, Isabel; ABREU, Alexandre – Dimensões e Espaços da Inovação Social. Finisterra [Online].XLI:81 (2006) 121-141. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 0430-5027.

    ANDRÉ, Isabel; HENRIQUES, Eduardo Brito; MALHEIROS, Jorge – Inclusive Places, Arts and Socially Creative Milieux. In MACCALLUM, Diana [et al.], eds. – Social Innovation and Territorial Development. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7546-7233-3. Pp.149-166.

    ANDRÉ, Isabel; REIS, João – O circo chegou à cidade! Oportunidades de Inovação Sócio-Territorial. Finisterra [Online].XLIV:88 (2009) 79-94. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 0430-5027.

    ANDRÉ, Isabel; ROUSSELLE, Muriel – Estratégias Sociais Criativas em Barcelona. O caso do Walden-7. Finisterra [Online] XlV:90 (2010) 71-90. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 0430-5027.

    AWAN, Nishat; SCHNEIDER, Tatjana; TILL, Jeremy – Spatial Agency: Other Ways of Doing Architecture. New York: Routledge, 2011. ISBN 9780415571937.

    BAPTISTA, Luís Santiago – Experiências Participativas: Práticas arquitectónicas interventivas perante a uniformização profissional. arqa: Arquitectura e Arte. Lisbon: Futurmagazine. ISSN 1647-077X. Ano XI: 90-91 (2011) 6-7.

    BAPTISTA, Luís Santiago – Novas Coletividades: A genealogia moderna do coletivo e as novas estratégias comunitárias.Arqa: Arquitetura e Arte. Lisboa: Futurmagazine. ISSN 1647-077X. Ano XIV: 107 (2013) 20-21.

    BAPTISTA, Luís Santiago – “Arquitectura ou Revolução”: Um Atlas da Arquitectura Social. In BAPTISTA, Luís Santiago [et al.] – Arquitectura Social: Três Olhares Críticos. Lisbon: Centro Cultural de Belém, 2014. Pp.3-25.

    BELL, Bryan; WAKEFORD Katie – Expanding architecture: Design as activism. [S.l.]: Metropolis Books, 2008. ISBN 1933045787.

    BOUMAN, Ole – Unsolicited, or: The New Autonomy of Architecture. Volume, [Online]. 14 (2007). [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>.

    BUNSCHOTEN, Raoul – The architect as Curator. In SIGLER, Jennifer, ed. – One Hundred and Nine Provisional Attempts to Address Six Simple and Hard Questions about what Architects Do Today and where Their Profession Might Go Tomorrow. Rotterdam: The Berlage Institute, 2003. (hunch, 6/7) ISBN 9080536261. Pp.120-122.

    CARLO, Giancarlo de – Arquitectura da Participação. In RODRIGUES, José Manuel, orgs. – Teoria e crítica de Arquitectura: século XX. Casal de Cambra: Ordem dos Arquitectos/Caleidoscópio, 2010 [1980]. ISBN 9789896580650. Pp.753-758.

    CLOUTIER, Julie – Qu’est-ce que l’innovation sociale? Montreal: Les Cahiers du CRISES, 2003. (Collection Études théoriques, ET0314).

    FLORIDA, Richard – The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, and everyday life. New York: Basic Books, 2002. ISBN 0465024777.

    FERREIRA, Ana Catarina de Sousa Louro – As Iniciativas de Intervenção Local da Arquitetos: Oportunidades de Inovação Sócio-Territorial? Estudo de caso na Cova do Vapor. Lisbon: Escola de Ciências Sociais e Humanas e Escola de Sociologia e Políticas Públicas do ISCTE - Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, 2014. Master degree dissertation.

    FREITAS, Maria João; ESTEVENS, Ana – Territórios resilientes, criativos e socialmente inovadores: desafios e paradoxos à transformação e mudança face a disrupções e processos com expressões difusas e diluídas no tempo. Porto: Faculdade de Letras e Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação da Universidade do Porto, 2012. 14 p. Paper present at “VII Congresso Português de Sociologia, Porto, 2012”. Available at: <URL:>.

    FRIEDMAN, Yona – Utopies réalisables. [S.l.]: L’ Éclat, 2000 [1974]. Available at: <URL:>.

    GERTLER, Meric – Creative cities: what are they for, how do they work, and how do we build them? Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Networks, 2004. (Background Paper F, 48).

    GONZÁLEZ, Sara; MOULAERT, Frank; MARTINELLI, Flavia – ALMOLIN. How to analyse social innovation at the local level. In MOULAERT, Frank [et al.], eds. – Can Neighbourhoods Save the City? Community Development and Social Innovation. London: Routledge, 2010. ISBN 9780415485883. Pp.49-67.

    HALL, Peter – Creative Cities and Economic Development. Urban Studies [Online]. 37:4 (2000) 639-649. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 1360-063X.

    HILLIER, Jean; MOULAERT, Frank; NUSSBAUMER, Jacques – Trois essais sur le rôle de l'innovation sociale dans le développement territorial. Géographie, économie, société [Online]. 6:2 (2004) 129-152. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 1295-926X. 

    KLEIN, Juan-Luis; TREMBLAY, Diane-Gabrielle – Cultural creation and social innovation as the basis for building a cohesive city [Online]. [S.l.]: [s.n.], 20--. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>.

    LANDRY, Charles – The Creative City: a toolkit for urban innovators. London: Earthscan, 2000. ISBN 1853836133.

    LEITE, Vitório; RIBEIRO, Catarina – Arquitetura da Participação: Influências latino-americanas de um quotidiano participativo.arqa – Arquitetura e Arte. Lisboa: Futurmagazine. ISSN 1647-077X. Ano XIV: 107 (2013) 106-109.

    LEPIK, Andres – Building on Society. In LEPIK, Andres, orgs. – Small scale big change: new architectures of social engagement. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010. ISBN 9783034605885. Pp.12-22.

    MASSAD, Fredy; GUERRERO YESTE, Alicia – A Arquitectura Social na Era do Espectáculo. In BAPTISTA, Luís Santiago [et al.] – Arquitectura Social: Três Olhares Críticos. Lisbon: Centro Cultural de Belém, 2014. Pp.37-59.

    MIESSEN, Markus – The Nightmare of Participation. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2010. ISBN 9781934105078.

    MONTANER, Josep Maria; MUXÍ, Zaida – Arquitectura y Política: Ensayos para mundos alternativos. Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2011. ISBN 9788425224379.

    MOULAERT, Frank; MACCALLUM, Diana; HILLIER, Jean – The role of theory in social innovation analysis: history and challenges. In MOULAERT, Frank [et al.], orgs. – Social Innovation: Collective action, social learning and transdisciplinary research. [S.l.]: KATARSIS, 2010. Pp.13-22.

    PETRESCU, Doina – Losing control, keeping desire. In JONES; Peter Blundell; PETRESCU, Doina; TILL, Jeremy, eds. –Architecture and Participation. London: Taylor & Francis, 2005. ISBN 0415317452. Pp.43-61.

    QUEIRÓS, Margarida – A Cova do Vapor e a Escola Informal de Arquitectura: Onde ninguém ensina e todos aprendem. In ANDRÉ, Isabel; VALE, Mário, orgs. – A Criatividade Urbana na Região de Lisboa – Case Studies. Lisbon: IGOT-UL/CCDR-LVT, 2011. p. 43-62.


    SCOTT, Allen – Creative cities: conceptual issues and policy questions. Journal of Urban Affairs [Online]. 28:1 (2006) 1-17. [Accessed in April 2015]. Available at: <URL:>. ISSN 1467-9906.

    SWYNGEDOUW, Erik; MOULAERT, Frank – Socially innovative projects, governance dynamics and urban change: Between state and self-organisation. In MOULAERT, Frank [et al.], orgs. Can Neighbourhoods Save the City? Community Development and Social Innovation. London: Routledge, 2010. Pp.219-234.

    TILL, Jeremy – The negotiation of hope. In JONES; Peter Blundell; PETRESCU, Doina; TILL, Jeremy, eds. – Architecture and Participation. London: Taylor & Francis, 2005. ISBN 0415317452. Pp.23-41.




    Ana Catarina de Sousa Louro Ferreira

    Research Assistant

    Ana Catarina Ferreira (Lisbon, 1985) has a degree in Architectural Studies from the Faculty of Architecture of the Technical University of Lisbon and attended the second cycle of the Integrated Master Degree at the same institution. At the end of 2014 she completed the Master Degree in Urban Studies at ISCTE-IUL with the submission of a dissertation that examines the potential of architecture as a disciplinary practice to introduce and foster social innovation in cities. Since April 2015, she has been assistant researcher at DINAMIA-CET’IUL.