laba Studio PORTUGAL 2017/18


Each year laba conducts a research and design studio with a single topic that is common to both semesters. By having a full two semesters for a project, participants are able to develop urban design and an architectural project from the regional scale down to the architectural project.

laba’s teaching method uses cartography in the first semester to make descriptions of the territory and integrate them in an overall urban reading. The second semester then allows individual participants to define an architectural project within these urban guidelines and develop the project, from a feasibility study through project design.


Project description PDF

The word ‘environment’ comes from the French environer, meaning ‘to surround, enclose, encircle’. The word object comes from the Latin objectum, meaning ‘thing lying before, opposite’ (the mind or sight), from obicere, ‘to present, oppose’. The environment envelops the spectator; it is infinite but its perceptual limit is the horizon. It is real but immaterial, ethereal. It is the milieu, the ‘mid-place’, the medium in-between. The object, on the other hand, is finite. It confronts the environment by creating a limit, a form. It is objective, meaning it has intentions, it occupies a position. In its delineation, it encloses an inside and excludes an outside. In doing so, it creates a subject, a point of view and a sense of belonging in familiarity set against the strange otherness of the outside.

To think of architecture as an environmental object means to question this very opposition by analyzing some of the inherent dichotomies of separation here at play — figure and ground, inside and outside, autonomy and analogy. By refusing them, we hope to replace separation with confrontation, and segregation with coexistence. If ecology is the ‘study of the house’ (from the Greek oikos, ‘house’ and –logia, ‘study of’), it must also be the practice of thinking the threshold of the house — who do we live with, who do we extend our hospitality to?

The house is the place where we attempt to divide the familiar from the unfamiliar, the domesticated space from the otherness of the environment, and where everyday affairs are ritualized into a spatial organization, a form of life. Its sense of permanence (residence, from residere, ‘to remain’) makes the confrontation between architecture and place all the more evident. It raises questions of limits, naturalizes social reproduction, and frames our point of departure towards the outside, our worldview.

The choice of Portugal as case study derives from its rich architectural history and from its peripheral position, from which a distanced critique of Western modernism and industrial capitalism is easier to ascertain. We find traces of these ideas in the architecture of the so-called ‘School of Porto’, but also in older historical examples where a tradition of asceticism and Franciscan aesthetics already foregrounds a sense of ‘environmentality’ over iconic form and spectacle.