Post-WWII Modernism with a glaze

A comparison between Antwerp and Lisbon


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Middle-Class Mass Housing, Local Modernism, Lucínio Cruz, Jos Smolderen, High-rise, Art-Deco


Post World War II European modern housing often exhibited a Corbusian influence, but Le Corbusier was not embraced to the same extent everywhere, as noticed during exchanges between the University of Lisbon and the University of Antwerp in the ambit of the COST-Action 18137 on MCMH. While Belgium has several 1950s social housing projects, strongly indebted in its Unité d’habitation in Marseilles, Portugal does not. There, social housing architecture remained rather conservative, even though Corbusian features manifested themselves in some middle-class mass housing projects, such as the complex on Avenida Estados Unidos da América in Lisbon (1954-1966) designed by Lucínio Cruz, Alberto Ayres de Sousa and Mário Oliveira. While the housing blocks are on pilotis, they also have notable Art-Deco elements. In Belgium, free-standing modernist housing on pilotis with Art-Deco features also appears, such as the housing project at the Jan De Voslei in Antwerp designed by Jos Smolderen (1952-1967). These Modernist/Art-Deco hybrids have never been explored in depth because they are considered not radical enough. However, these cases shed light on how (older) architects mediated between traditional architecture and Modernism, between their own preferences and those of the state or housing company. They illuminate the political, social, and urban context in which these buildings were created. This paper explains why the principles Belgian architects applied to social housing were closer to Lisbon’s middle-class housing than their similar buildings for low-income housing. Based on cross-referencing archival material, legislation, on-site observations, and a study of the political, urban and social context, this paper posits a re-reading of Le Corbusier’s legacy in middle-class housing in Lisbon versus Antwerp.

How to Cite

De Vos, E., Geerinckx, S., Lima Rodrigues, I., & Vaz Milheiro, A. (2023). Post-WWII Modernism with a glaze: A comparison between Antwerp and Lisbon . Docomomo Journal, (68), 8–17.




Author Biographies

Els De Vos, University of Antwerp

Is Professor at the University of Antwerp. Her research concerns the field of history and theory of (interior) architecture, home culture and public space in the 20th century. She published her Ph.D. with the University Press Leuven and has co-edited several volumes, including Reuse of modernist buildings: a case study handbook. She has curated different exhibitions, including Living in Colour. As WG2 Leader in the COST-Action ‘European Middle-Class Mass-Housing’, she focuses on definitions and concepts to study MCMH.

Selin Geerinckx, University of Antwerp

Is Affiliated Researcher at the University of Antwerp. Her research centers on the effects of interwar housing ideologies. She recently published on the work of choreographer Lea Daan in Home Cultures and in the edited volume Interiors in the era of Covid-19. She has co-tutored Docomomo International Student Workshops (Japan, Valencia) and presented at the 17th IDC a talk about abstract painter Jozef Peeters’ home interior. As a recipient of research visit grants (Delft, Lisbon) and assistant in the Antwerp writing workshop, she is an active member of the COST-Action ‘European Middle-Class Mass Housing’ group.

Inês Lima Rodrigues, Dinâmia’Cet-IUL

Is Integrated Researcher at Dinâmia’Cet-IUL. Her research focuses on architecture and urban planning in Portuguese-speaking territories, highlighting the role of modern housing. Currently, she is doing postdoctoral research on the Modern Movement in Sub-Saharan Africa and Portuguese-Angolan tropical architecture (2017-2023). She is the WG1 Leader in the COST-Action ‘European Middle-Class Mass Housing’ group for developing new methodologies for “Documenting MCMH” by consolidating a growing international network of housing experts.

Ana Vaz Milheiro, University of Lisbon

Is Assistant Professor at the University of Lisbon. She is principal investigator of research projects focused on architecture and urban planning in former Portuguese colonial African countries and in middle-class housing funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT). She has published A Construção do Brasil (2005), Nos Trópicos sem Le Corbusier – Arquitectura Luso-Africana no Estado Novo (2012), and African Colonial Architectures – At the end of the ‘Portuguese Empire (2017). She chairs the COST-Action ‘European Middle-Class Mass Housing’ group.


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