ZARQ -  Building Salazar’s people: Architecture in the making of portugueseness (1932-1945)

Principal researcher: Marta Prista

External principal researcher: Rita Almeida de Carvalho (ICS-ULisboa)

Research group: Practices and Politics of Culture


Architecture & Politics | Nationalism | National Identity | Salazarism

Funding Institution

Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia


ICS-ULisboa (coord.)



Start date


End date





Academic debates over the political and ideological nature of the Salazar dictatorship (Estado Novo, 1932-1974) have been at the forefront of recent historiographical controversies, frequently assuming the proportions of a Portuguese Historikerstreit. As has been publicly documented, not least in the national press, scholars of the Estado Novo have emphatically put forward diverging interpretations of the regime as either ‘fully-fledged fascist’ or ‘conservative authoritarian’ (notwithstanding elements of hybridisation). These arguments, and indeed the debate itself, have been informed almost exclusively by the results of research carried out in the fields of political science and social and political history. Researchers from other disciplinary fields have failed to contribute to the debate. This is particularly clear in the case of cultural history and, more specifically, of cultural approaches to architecture, whose practitioners have proceeded to openly (and uncritically) define the regime’s architectural forms as somehow ‘self-evidently’ fascist. This is problematic in two ways. On the one hand, political scientists and social historians have overlooked the empirical value of architecture in its capacity to ‘make things happen’ – namely for its role in the construction of nations (Anderson) and the materialisation of invented traditions (Hobsbawm). On the other, historians of material forms have themselves remained oblivious to the political and ideological dimensions inherent to architectural forms. ZARQ aims precisely to assert the importance of architecture – duly restored to its ideological and political dimensions – as a novel and heuristically valuable analytical framework, capable of providing new insights on the very nature of the Estado Novo’s programme for the nation from 1932 to 1945. Nationalism being at the core of the value system of the inter-war right-wing dictatorships, the project focuses primarily on the processes through which architecture served to promote (or inculcate) new narratives of Portuguese nationalism and to bring into existence a renovated sense of national identity from 1932 to 1945. Though the importance of architectural production in giving substance to worldviews and forging national imaginings has been recognised in other geographical contexts (Gentile 2007, Crimson 2004), its value and implications as a de facto cultural artefact have so far been ignored in the Portuguese case. By introducing material forms as a source and object of scholarly research on the Estado Novo, ZARQ offer an original perspective and contribution to ongoing historiographical debates in Portugal and engage critically with the international studies of fascism produced from a cultural perspective. In methodological terms, the project adopts a cultural approach to politics, namely by ‘reading the text’ of architectural forms ‘between the lines’, to use Peter Burke’s expressive metaphor. The research itself is articulated around one fundamental research question: if fascist and communist material forms embodied the revolutionary impetus of their respective regimes, what can be learnt from Portuguese architecture under the Estado Novo? In empirical terms, the research question and the thematic areas that derive from it will be addressed by carrying out four distinct case studies, selected for their relevance in terms of geographical distribution, typological representativeness, scale, and symbolic value, namely: 1. Social housing project Bairro de Casas Económicas do Ameal (Porto, 1938) 2. Ephemeral architecture in the context of the Festas da Cidade de Lisboa (Lisbon, 1935) 3. Public infrastructure Barragem Salazar – Alcácer do Sal (Setúbal, 1936) 4. Rural settlement Colónia de Pegões (Setúbal, 1937) The analysis will systematically include the systems of representation, reception, and experimentation associated to each of the case studies. In conceptual terms, it will be carried out according to the following key ideas: a) dialectics of the modern and traditional; b) exclusive identity and external encounters; c) private and public spheres. ZARQ is in direct continuation of the PI previous research on fascist and para-fascist interwar dictatorships, which has included: the co-edition of a two volumes special issue in Fascism: Journal of Comparative Fascist Studies, with R. Griffin (‘Architectural Projections of a 'New Order' in Fascist and Para-Fascist Interwar Dictatorships’); the publication of an article on ‘Ideology and Architecture in the Portuguese Estado Novo’, focused on governmental buildings; the co-authoring, with António Costa Pinto, of the book chapter ‘The 'Everyman' of the Portuguese New State during the fascist era: longing for the past or moving towards the future?’ (See CV). ZARQ will enable the PI to extend her research to new architectural typologies, adopting new methodologies and using new primary sources, in turn allowing for a more complete approach to the regime.