IASTE 2018: The Politics of Tradition

16th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE) [to program]

Coimbra, Portugal, October 4-7, 2018

Track 3: The politics in tradition and place: an open track – Portuguese Discourse

1 MODSCAPES paper:

Joaquim FloresThe Junta de Colonização Interna Colonies: Reinvention of the rural tradition


The Junta de Colonização lnterna (JCI) was a Portuguese state institution created in 1936 to develop a program of agricultural colonization during the period of the Estado Novo. It promoted a total of seven new or reorganized colonies (Milagres, Martim Rei, Pegões, Gafanha, Barroso, Alvão and Boalhosa), which were designed and built between 1936 and 1960. The colonies were implemented mainly in the centre and north of Portugal, based on a model that blended political-ideological and technical concerns. Based on previous Italian and Spanish experiences, the settlements were established with the support of preliminary studies in the field of agronomy. Their layouts and housing typologies were then designed by architects to express the regime’s political ideas of national identity and rural tradition. In the propaganda of the Salazar regime, these would then spread the idea of a “national resurgence.”

The design of these colonies resulted from prolonged action, influenced by a variety of events and transformations in different political and economic contexts, and according to disciplinary debates of architecture and urbanism of that period. But they also arose from the application of principles which took into account regional specificities and site conditions. It was within this context that a new approach to traditional architecture also emerged after 1955 under the guidance of the Sindicato Nacional dos Arquitectos, which conducted the Inquerito a Arquitectura Popular em Portugal [Portuguese Vernacular Architecture Survey], published in 1961. The survey covered the entire Portuguese mainland, which it divided into six regional sectors, revealing through systematic fieldwork the full nature of existing rural settlements and their traditional buildings.

This paper aims to compare the visions of tradition promoted by the JCI in their rural settlements with the ones found by the 1961 survey. The first presented a filtered vison of tradition, which was the result of the nationalist propaganda of the Salazar regime mixed with architects’ interpretations of such tradition. As such, it frequently presented conflict between modernity, tradition and politics. The second, as a result of direct fieldwork, represented the genuine tradition found in Portuguese rural settlements.

As a preliminary conclusion, it is possible to stress that the JCl’s settlement schemes and housing designs, despite incorporating local specificities, presented a reinvention of rural tradition. As such, they revealed their architects’ erudite background and struggle to introduce modern design. This pattern emerged in different degrees in several of the colonies, but was most evident in the colony of Pegões.

In parallel, settlement design reflected an urban vision that can also be found in the social housing districts program (bairros sociais de habitação económica), likewise promoted by the regime between 1933 and 1960. Their design applied diverse types of grid, from which emerged an axial system emphasizing the location of the main buildings – usually churches and schools. Most of the agrarian colonies replicated this approach, which can symbolically be seen as a translation of the regime’s motto: Deus, Pátria e Família [God, Nation and Family].