Mass housing in Lisbon: sometimes it works


Unlike some European countries, high-rise housing estates have been quite neglected within the Portuguese research agenda. This is partially explained by one of its main national specificities: as many of these estates were developed by the private sector, their major target was the broad spectrum of the middle classes. Therefore, it was not identified as a research priority in the same way as social or illegal housing. Nevertheless, as an emblematic housing type of Lisbon’s suburbanisation that boomed in the (1974) Revolution period, its longitudinal study is an important tool to further knowledge of the social and urban history of contemporary Portugal. This article explores high-rise housing in Portugal (the context of its appearance, development and specificities) through the study of a paradigmatic case: Portela in the north periphery of Lisbon. This case is a contrast with the most visible trajectory of high-rise estates, marked by decay and embraced by stigma: therefore the article also focuses on analysing the factors, dynamics and indicators of its positive trajectory. Here, the analysis explores the context in which the estate developed, the social profile of its inhabitants, their perceptions of it and their daily-life practices by means of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

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Fig. 1

Source: Census 2011

Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Source: Archives of Loures Municipality

Fig. 4

Source: Survey, 2014 and Miguel (2014)

Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Source: Survey, 2014

Fig. 7

Source: Survey, 2014


  1. 1.

    FCT PTDC/ATP-AQI/3707/2012, funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.

  2. 2.

    For a comparative analysis between Lisbon’ case and Luanda’s see Pereira, S. M. & Guerra, I. (forthcoming). De Lisboa a Luanda, biografia comparada de dois bairros modernos: da forma ao contexto. Passagens. 4.

  3. 3.

    Developed within a dissertation (architecture) supervised by the author of this article (Miguel 2014).

  4. 4.

    Part of it was developed by the students of Urban Sociology under the supervision of Teresa Costa Pinto, professor of that course at ISCTE, University Institute of Lisbon. This is part of a pedagogical practice, developed by that teacher and the author of this paper that consist in working jointly the same subject of study in their respective courses. The author of this paper is responsible for the course ‘Society and Architecture’ at the same university.

  5. 5.

    Confidence level of 95 % (λ = 0.95) and a maximum error less than (E < 5 %).

  6. 6.

    Interviewee’s names were changed to ensure anonymity.

  7. 7.

    By popular the architect means for working class people.

  8. 8.

    From the late 1970s until the end of 1980s.

  9. 9.

    2011 Census data.

  10. 10.

    2011 Census data.


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I would like to thank: Ana Vaz Milheiro, the main researcher of this research project ‘Homes for the Biggest Number’ for inviting me to participate and to the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia/ FCT that funded it; Isabel Guerra, the project’s sociologist responsible for the Luanda case study, for her input throughout the project; to Ana Cristina Ferreira for her contributions regarding the sample design; to Daniel Alves and Diana Machado for their essential support in the statistical treatment of the survey data; to Richard Turkington for his comments on a preliminary version presented at the 2015 Lisbon Conference of the European Network for Housing Research; to the Municipal Archive of Loures for the provision of documents that were essential to reconstruct the planning and building process of the estate, to which the final dissertations (Integrated Master of Architecture) of Isadora Miguel, Bruno Macedo Ferreira and Débora Felix were also relevant insights; to Teresa Costa Pinto, their students of Urban Sociology and my own students of Society and Architecture (all from ISCTE-IUL), for their works about Portela which were an exploratory approach to the estate; to the reviewers for their important contributions to the improvement of the final version; and finally to all the residents of Portela, notably to the survey respondents and the interviewees and specially to Daniel Ferreira (a ‘native’) and Miguel Matias (President of Residents Association) for all the support inside the neighborhood.

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Correspondence to Sandra Marques Pereira.

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Pereira, S.M. Mass housing in Lisbon: sometimes it works. J Hous and the Built Environ 32, 513–532 (2017).

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  • High-rise housing estates
  • Lisbon
  • Suburbanisation
  • Revolution
  • Modernity
  • Middle classes
  • Perceptions