The SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal 1974-76 at the Canadian Centre for Architecture

Taking place at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal from May 12-October 4, 2015, this is the first major exhibition documenting SAAL, a pioneering political and architectural experiment designed to address extreme housing shortages and degrading living conditions. Named the Serviço Ambulatório de Apoio Local (SAAL), meaning Local Ambulatory Support Service, this government initiative deployed architects across Portugal to develop housing solutions that gave the underprivileged a place in the city. Its ambitious and idealistic character reflected the revolutionary spirit following the 1974 coup that ended the authoritarian Estado Novo regime. The newly created democratic government guaranteed financial support to enable a bottom-up social process joining architects with neighbourhood associations and citizens. The architects led technical teams (known as brigades) that designed projects with the residents rather than for them. SAAL resulted in 170 projects involving more than 40,000 families during its short period of only 26 months.

Forty years after its existence, SAAL remains relevant for expanding the social and political role of the architect, for addressing housing on the scale of the neighbourhood, and for inviting the participation of the buildings’ occupants at the beginning of the process. Architects such as Gonçalo Byrne, Artur Rosa, Álvaro Siza, Fernando Távora and Manuel Vicente played a crucialrole in dialogue with the population, developing new models for social housing that reconsidered the status of underprivileged neighbourhoods in the urban areas of Lisbon, Setúbal and Porto. Their work gained international attention at the time and had a deep impact on subsequent projects throughout Europe.

The SAAL Process is curated by Delfim Sardo and is organized by the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, in collaboration with the CCA. The exhibition presents 10 specific projects through architectural plans and models, archival documents, recordings and films, as well as contemporary photographs by André Cepeda, José Pedro Cortes, and Daniel Malhão.

CCA Director Mirko Zardini stated, “This exhibition reflects the CCA’s growing international network and the resulting opportunities to bring such influential material to North America for the first time. The SAAL Process highlights the complex role of an architect, particularly the benefits of hands-on social involvement and political leadership, which is an important lesson to share with a younger generation of architects. In this sense, SAAL extends the CCA’s series of exhibitions that explore a range of contemporary issues in architecture with a specific focus on urban, social, and environmental concerns.”

For more information, please visit