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19 July 2019

The Terras da Costa Community Kitchen or the Processual Dimension of Public Space

Rodrigo Coelho

The community kitchen of Terras da Costa, a joint project of Atelier Mob and the Warehouse Collective, lies between the cliffs and the sea of Costa de Caparica, in Almada, on the southern side of the Tagus River. This is a small intervention carried out in Terras da Costa, a neighbourhood of illegal genesis consisting of some five hundred people, mainly of Roma or Cape Verde origins. From its beginnings in the 1970s, the neighbourhood had to deal with a situation of isolation and its population was living in extremely precarious conditions without access to the most basic sanitation, running water or electricity (which was only connected very recently). These conditions meant that, for cooking, it was a common practice to light fires in or near homes, and that residents had to go almost a kilometre away to get water from a public fountain.

In a zone that was invisible to the city that kept growing around it, the community kitchen of Terras da Costa is a notable example of how a modest intervention (of just a little more than 200 square metres) oriented by a participative process, can be a factor for improving the standard of living, and acknowledging and reinforcing a community spirit. If it is essential to draw attention to the end result and the working methodology adopted (discussed below), it is equally important to return to the genealogy of these kinds of project in order to better understand their premises and the real scope they could have today, especially in the case of Portugal.

 

Background: the 1960s and 1970s in the shaping of political and social responsibility in Portuguese architecture

“Because he is a man and because his action is not determined by fate, he must try to create forms that can offer the best service to society, or whatever resembles society and, with this aim, more than the drama of the choice, his action will entail a sense, a goal, and the permanent wish to serve.”[1]

Without a doubt, the Terras da Costa community kitchen constitutes a notable example of a participative architectural project, heir to a tradition which, since the 1960s, has been at the centre of the concerns of the best Portuguese architecture and architects. Hence, Fernando Távora, Nuno Portas and Álvaro Siza, in both their theoretical discourse and in their professional practice, highlight the political and social responsibility of architecture with ideas and praxis that have consolidated and have left a deep impression in architectural culture, especially as a result of the SAAL Programme.[2]

 

 

[1] TÁVORA, Fernando. Da organização do espaço. Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto, Porto, 1996, p. 74.

1] The SAAL (“Serviço de Apoio Ambulatório Local” – Local Ambulatory Support Service) programme, which took place between 1974 and 1976, went into action immediately after the Revolution of 25 April 1974 (also known as the Carnation Revolution) with aim of responding to a generalised and effective lack of housing, which had been ignored during the years of the dictatorship in Portugal.