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Meet ACAN Portugal...

Nazaré, Portugal. Photography: Helio Dilolwa

Are you based in Portugal with an interest in the built environment and an urge to help make change across construction and policy for a better world?


If you didn’t already know, ACAN groups have been setting up across the world to help tackle climate change issues around the built environment. Here, we introduce ACAN Portugal (ACAN PT). The group has been set up by architect Filipa Oliveira, who you will meet below: “We welcome people from all backgrounds and competences and we believe that a collective effort can shift the dark course we are heading,” she says.

“At the moment, Portugal is experiencing an increase in new construction and retrofitting, but new builds are still the preferred option. We believe there is still a lot of work to be done improving urban planning and policies from local authorities, as well as bringing more awareness to the impact construction has on climate change. Many sustainability issues are held back by outdated concepts and ideas, and we would like to start an open discussion to share professional knowledge,” says Oliveira.

ACAN PT recognise that many challenges are economically and culturally specific too. They seek to shine light on issues surrounding the precariousness of the architecture profession, particularly relevant to the Portugal. These include the cycle of low architecture fees, low salaries, unpaid internships and competitions, long working hours and consequently low interest in the environment. Their plan of action will entail acting locally and creating regional groups that will work towards changing mentalities around volunteering and activism.

What’s on the upcoming agenda for ACAN Portugal to tackle in 2021?

  • The national lack of sustainable urban planning

  • Circular economy in architecture and construction; the production of a ‘Good practice manual’ specific to Portugal with case studies

  • Climate and environmental literacy in education; a guide for teachers and students, and a student survey

Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian. Photography: Paula Pallares
Casa das Historias Paula Rego by Eduardo Souto de Moura
Casa das Historias Paula Rego by Eduardo Souto de Moura. Photography: Ruben Garcia


Miguel Del Castilho dos Santos Rodrigues, Architect

I joined ACAN because I wanted to become part of a like-minded community – to cease feeling alone in the climatic and environmental struggle, and act both as an individual and as part of a collective. Not to mention the motivation one gets when meeting minds who think and act alike!

Having always suffered aversion to the waste of any resource with potential, I am very interested in the concept of circular economy. It pains me to see construction materials thrown into landfill after demolition. Then they are forgotten. Why? They must be given new life.

I admire the architecture of many contemporary buildings in Portugal (Serralves, Gulbenkian - my all-time-favourite building in Lisbon - Casa das Histórias, Casa em Ofir, Casa Sande e Castro, etc.) but I know their construction process was not exactly sustainable. What inspires me the most and gives me real pleasure are the “architectless” houses of the countryside. Their materials, their details, their simplicity and their sustainability. They are erected with local materials. With the soil, stone, wood, clay and lime from their site.

Filipa Oliveira, Architect

I remember attending the last in person ACAN event before the first lockdown in 2020. It was March and I had just been to a lecture by architect and academic Duncan Baker Brown where he said “Check ACAN!”. There was no need to think twice, I volunteered at the end of the event and quickly joined the group and meetings that followed. To find a collective of people who think alike and are taking action into their own hands seemed both surreal and fascinating and I instantly felt welcomed and inspired.

I'm interested in circular economy – my obsession with waste has increased substantially in the last couple of years. I’m particularly interested in skip waste and reclaimed materials, and how to apply circular principles everyday as an architect. However, I recognise that education lacks climate literacy, and policy-making plays a crucial part in the way our built environment exists, so there is much work to do. That's why I’m so proud to be part of ACAN – the thematic groups focus on all these aspects and then come together as a strong solid network to fight climate change.

Personally, buildings that inspire me are linked to memories. For any Portuguese architecture student we grow fond of Siza and Souto de Moura as the first reference, really early on. However, with age comes experience and I now have a wider understanding of what my role is. The traditional and popular architecture of my country is beautiful in all its imperfections and ultimately part of my identity. I finally fully appreciate our heritage and all the ancient techniques and materials that create unique city landscapes from North to South.

Ana Carolina Helena, Architect

Last summer, I Googled “architects and climate change” in the hope of finding other professionals and individuals with the same interests as me, also looking for better ways to create great architecture while protecting the climate and putting people first. I found the ACAN website and I have been a part of the group ever since.

After graduating and not feeling particularly equipped to tackle the challenges architects face today, I have a particular interest in how education can promote positive change! With the right information and adequate curricula, we can empower a new generation of professionals to question the impact of how we build, the materials we choose, and inspire new creative approaches to sustainable design.

Portugal is full of hidden gems. Our traditional architecture never ceases to amaze me; the richness and diversity is fascinating. Thinking of a favourite building is hard, but the one that always comes to mind is Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, in Lisboa. Even if the materials used were not the most sustainable (it was built in the 50s), it is a good example of how construction and landscape can work synergistically. I also hugely admire the work of Raul Lino and Miguel Ventura Terra.

Saint Martha's Lighthouse. Photography: starrynight1
Saint Martha's Lighthouse and Saint Mary's House, Cascais, by Raul Lino

Get inspired!

ACAN PT pick out some positive examples of contemporary sustainable design practices, buildings and people leading the way in Portugal.

Catarina Pinto from Atelier Terrapalha

André Tereso from Projecto de Restauro

Casa Grande Turismo by Ricardo Camacho

Get involved!

Stay tuned for ACAN PT’s first event, an open assembly that seeks to engage with industry professionals and the wider public.

Join the ACAN PT What's App group for news and conversation here

Email ACAN PT to say hello:

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