Maria Rita Pais

Researcher, Professor and Architecture PhD Coordinator


Maria Rita Pais (Lisbon, 1975) is an architect, teacher, researcher and curator with degree in Architecture (FAUTL, 1999), Master in Construction (IST, 2004) and PhD in Architecture (FAUTL, 2012). Currently teaches and coordinates PhD at ULHT with Mário Kruger and is vice-diretor for Arq-ID (Architecture Research center for ULHT and ULP Ideas and Development), with Carlos Guimarães. Co-curates Lisbon Open House 2018 (with Luis Santiago Baptista), Habitar Portugal 2009-2011 (with Susana Ventura and Rita Dourado) and co-curate the independent project, exhibition and co-edit the book Journey into the Invisible (with Luís Santiago Baptista), which has won FAD Award for Though and Critics in 2020. Is CoCo at SOSClimateWaterfront Marie Curie Project (with Pedro Ressano Garcia). Currently is coordination the research of two main projects: (1) Modern Post-Military Landscapes and (2) Art as Document, both gathering a set of international specialist academic and non-academic partners.

  • Modern Post-Military Landscapes
  • Art as Document in History of Architecture
  • Curatorial and Editorial developments in Architecture
  • Historiographic Studies in Architecture
  • Art as essential element to bring subjectivity in architecture
  • Research in architecture
  • 2022: Pais, Maria Rita; Barbas, Isabel. “Future archeology: anticipating the rise of the sea water level”; in Thessaloniki 2019 Waterfront, Pedro Ressano Garcia (coord.), Alkmini Paka (ed.), Thessaloniki: Aristotle University. (in press).
  • 2022: Pais, Maria Rita; Santiago Baptista, Luís (2020) “Vestígios da Invisibilidade: Leituras a partir dos registos”, in Inês Moreira (ed.),  Oblique Think Tank; Porto (prelo).
  • 2022: Pais. Maria Rita. Manual APA Universidade Lusófona. Edições Lusófonas (in press).
  • 2022: Amado, António; López-Chao, Vicente; Pais, Maria Rita; Pastor, Carmen Escoda. “La aportación de las arquitectas al análisis gráfico del patrimonio arquitectónico” ZARCH, Zaragoza. (prelo)
  • 2022: Pais, Maria Rita; Borucka, Justyna (ed). Journey into the Invisible in Gdansk, Gdańsk University of Technology, Faculty of Architecture, Gdansk (prelo). O livro encontra-se à espera de ISBN e autorização para publicação.
  • 2021: Pais, Maria Rita; Hoffmann, Katiuska; Campos, Sandra (2021) “Understanding bunker architecture heritage as a climate action tool: Plan Barron in Lisbon as a “milieu” and as “common good” when dealing with the rise of the water levels.”; in Heritage Journal, Basel: Mdpi. p. 4609–4628. DOI (
  • 2021: Pais, Maria Rita. “Designing for anthropocene: bringing creativity as method and “milieu” as a new paradigm of looking to the world”. In Diana Babalis (ed) Cities, Design &Sustainability. The new Series.Altralinea Edizioni: Florence (prelo).
  • 2021: Pais, Maria Rita; Nogueira Simões, Rui (2021) “Arquitectura pós-Inquérito em Portugal: entre a Finlândia e o Mediterrâneo”; in DOCOMOMO Ibérico International XI Congreso DOCOMOMO Ibérico: Arquitectura e o Meio: o Mediterrâneo, Murcia.
  • 2020: Pais, Maria Rita (2020) “Spatialize the Feminine: Medea Myth and Architecture”; in SPACE International Conference 2020 on Gender, Space and Architecture; London SPACE Studies.
  • 2021: Pais, Maria Rita. “Inhabiting Suburbia: art (registers) of living”, in Optimistic Suburbia 2, Middle-Class Mass Housing Complexes, Proceedings, Session 9, (ed) Ana Vaz Milheiro, Inês Lima Rodrigues; Beatriz Serrazina; Leonor Matos Silva, DINÂMIA’CET – Iscte, 2021, Lisboa, 2021. ISBN | 978-989-781-550-8 (este texto não é uma conferência, é um texto de enquadramento dos investigadores que apresentaram, por isso foi pedida e escrita como um capítulo de introdução aos papers dos conferencistas).
  • 2020: Pais, Maria Rita; Santiago Baptista, Luís (2020) “No encalço do Invisível”, in Revista Bica; Viseu;
  • 2020: Pais, Maria Rita; Santiago Baptista, Luís (2020) “Traces of Invisibilty: Readings from Artistic Records”, in Ambiances, Alloaesthesia: Senses, Inventions, Worlds; Santa Barbara: International Ambiences Network Journal, University of California.
  • 2019: Pais, Maria Rita; Luís Santiago Baptista (2019) Viagem ao Invisível, Purga: Lisboa. (FAD Award)
  • 2019: Ressano Garcia, Pedro (coord.) (2019) Lisbon 2019 Waterfront: Cascais, Mafra, Alcochete, Maria Rita Pais, Lucyna Nyca, Justyna Borucka, Alkmini Paka (ed.), Lisboa: LEAU.
  • 2018: Pais, Maria Rita; Santiago Baptista, Luís (2018) Open House Lisboa 2018, Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa: Lisboa
  • 2018: Pais, Maria Rita (2018) “Domestic Topographies: The house of Lino Gaspar, Caxias, 1953-1955”, in Congresso Cultura y Ciudad Historica, Granada. pp. 1551-1562

Climate emergence has become a significant topic in urban, landscape, and architectural heritage policies and, it is noticed that many policy efforts at an international level have already been taken to address numerous major problems we are currently facing. UNESCO’s “Policy Document on Climate Action for World Heritage”, which establishes a “Policy Framework” together with an “Implementation Policy Document” has a new concern focused on the heritage adaptation to the climate impacts in heritage, but also on “climate mitigation”, as point 59 describes, by creating “value and inspirational power of World Heritage properties to showcase ‘win-win’ mitigation practices that both reduce greenhouse gases and safeguard Outstanding Universal Value” (UNESCO, 2021, p. 12).

As Plan Barron is totally designed around the Lisbon Atlantic basin, we were driven to an understanding of the whole structure as a strategic waterfront facing Mean Sea Level rise. Can Plan Barron, a set of eight separated batteries, be understood as a set of architectural interests at a territorial level, so that it can have an impact on combating climate change?

This “Anthopofossil” (fossil from Anthopocene) is composed by a set of bomb-proof buildings resisting along Lisbon Coast. Our proposal reveals three features Trienal exhibition:

(1) Techno-aesthetics – Presenting the Map of Plan Barron.

The map explains PB design as a territorial machine for surveillance. The concept of Georges Simondon explains the aesthetical beauty of a technical object, a panopticon territorial machine.

(2) Millieu – Presenting the topographical and typological plans of Plan Barron.

Unlike previous forts and fortresses, bunkers were designed to be invisible and respond to a new geography of control and surveillance, through new technical and spatial devices (Bentham, 1791; Foucault 1975).

We also present Plan Barron as a camouflage design, a reason that brings an identification factor as well as a reason for greater forgetfulness and, in this sense, a greater enabler of nature’s growth and urban uniqueness. According to Georges Teyssot this landscape can be seen as a “millieu”, a particular form of “genius loci”, as he calls it. Luke Bennett also noticed suggesting that bunkers may not be becoming redundant, the place where society is saved but an enlarged “milieu” (2018, p. 125).

(3) Territory of aggression as future potencial – Presenting a series of photographs by Daniel Malhão or Mónica de Miranda, together with a sound taken in these different eight “milieus”.

We have inherit a set of forgotten and protected “millieu’s”, made possible by decades of state and urban planning laws protection, and ecological resilience that allowed the preservation and development of countless animal and plant species, together with a set of camouflaged and hyper-strong construction. Plan Barron is a palimpsest waiting for a big change.

Caitlin Desilvey’s idea of curated decay (2017) prints the possibility to carefully control, not decay, but evolution through controlled maintenance of a territory. This concept could allow us to interpret UNESCO’s idea of looking into the past while looking ahead to a future, more sustainable and peaceful.

What do to these super resistant landscapes?

Can present peaceful Europe maintain the memory of its aggressive past? Is it useful to maintain peace?

Can we transform this memory of aggression into a common good

In another relevant perspective, we are facing a “‘Crises’ of accumulation of the Past” (Harrison 2013).

Can we preserve the invisible bunker heritage?

And what about sustainability, can these landscapes be used as buffers zones to improve ecology facing climate crises?

We propose to look to military architecture and think in depth and critically about them, and about bunker landscapes in particular. For that we intend to mingle military, academia, local population, central politics and local stakeholders. The importance of this variety sits on the need for these different perspectives, to try to find a sustainable future for these.

To address the questions, we propose workshop that gather academics in architecture design that will lead project design workshops; students from 2rd and 3rd cycles that will participate and critically propose a future scenario for a case-study; a set of specialists in the the. These specialists should gather local experts, military experts, theoretical experts (landscapes of war, ruins, heritage, bunkers, military landscapes, ecology, sociology, construction and politics); local population and local stockholders that will be informed in advance; central political representatives, that will be invited to bring the European strategical lines, but also to bring from the event the knowledge for that place in particular and sensitivity to the topic more generally.

The events intend to discuss the FUTURE of these structures, pursuing three main objectives/milestones:

  1. Identify, locate, organize and preserve: archive and built heritage of Plan Barron.
  2. Think critically about existent structure at the level of architecture, degrees of ruination, social             environment, cultural interest, economical interest; informal uses, cultural activism and ecological interest of Plan Barron structures.
  3. Predict after-life Bunker (Bennett 2018) solutions based on the premise of sustainability and in the             alteration of nationalist readings in recognition of a common and public good, not forgetting the                                              architectural classification.


Art as Document in History of Architecture


Architecture research is traditionally addressed on perspectives aiming for object and author comprehension. We propose to change research point of view from creation to reception, revealing the dialogue between architect and clients, inhabitants and space appropriations by users or beholders. Inspired by the revisitation of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1960) idea of experience of art, we propose to gather, understand and discuss architecture throughout art production reading, and more specifically to understand suburbia habitat complexity through artistic vision. This idea also follows Hans Robert Jauss Aesthetics of Reception (1964), including what happens in the consciousness received and in its aesthetic fruition.

In the scope of the inhabitant spatial recognition, three researchers have been highlighted in recent years, with a perspective of relation with the work in architecture: Dana Arnold, (Arnold, 2014) presents methods of spatial investigation through biographies of the inhabitant, revealing personal meanings and strategies of relation with space; Jane Rendell with a work in understanding space through site-writing and site-specific as fictional forms of emotional relationship with the space; and Giuliana Bruno through the rescue of the “maps of the emotions” to make understandable some relations with space.

Throughout history, Albrecht Dürer with Saint Jerome in His Study (1514) unveils the notion of comfort and interiorism, Johannes Vermeer explores the intimacy, and Le Brun presents a motto for the idea of building character (Boffrand, 1745). More recently, Richard Hamilton’s Just what is It that Makes Today’s Home so Different, so Appealling? (1956) reflects on the ephemeral and the habitat symbolisms and Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting (1974) destabilize the image of suburban domesticity. Suburbia represent an impressive space sample scenario on space in a domestic scale. Can we really represent, understand or make history about suburbia? Can we read day-to-day living, social resonance, political pretensions, aesthetic proposals, reveries or functional issues through inhabitants?

Within the scope of this session, we don’t aspire to propose a new methodology, instead, we want to collect examples, discuss cases and check the potential of art making and art reading as a way to interpret space and, of course, suburbia.

But before entering in the case-study texts, we suggest to debate some ideas along this introductory text, questions that other thinkers have already asked and that may bring relevant issues and demands regarding research in architecture at the present day.

Architecture beyond authorship

Para uma casa sobreviver, tem de se transformar

According to José Gil, “for a house to survive, it has to transform itself”. We propose to shift the focus of research from the author to the inhabitant and learn from him. We recognize the obvious relevance of the author of an architectural work, but we defend the relevance of the work during its existence also. Therefore, we propose to study architecture, and more specifically the suburbia, through the intervening parties from its creation to its use through the Aesthetics of Reception (Jauss, 1967) and the Opera Aperta (Eco, 1962). And, in this sense, we understand space as a result of the duality between authors conceptual ideas, together with the inhabitant understanding, embodiment and social behavior. Otherwise, as Gil says, maybe it can not last.

Space and performativity

perçu, conçu and vécu

In other hand, the sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre is responsible for this approach that crosses this phenomenological basis with a critical analysis of a more political and social content. In his seminal book La Production de l’Espace, Lefebvre proposes an approach based on the triad of the “perceived” space of the “physical” world, the “conceived” space of the “mental” world and the “lived” space of the “social” world, what he defines respectively as “spatial practice”, “space representations” and “representational spaces”, seeking with this distinction to capture different analytical perspectives on spatial reality.

Beyond Lefebvre’s attempt to establish a “unitary theory” of space, the truth is that it can only be truly understood in the intersection between the ways in which space is appropriated by a given community, the conceptions of those who design and build it, and the symbolic systems that structure a given society, at the limit, at the confluence of practices, models and representations materially manifested in the living space. In this sense, there is a certain performativity inherent in the “everyday space”, a space framed by regimes, modalities, procedures and protocols, more or less unconscious, of an ideological and symbolic nature, which delimit and determine the horizon of experience, while enabling displacements and transformations in its borders or interstices. In fact, this idea that space is ideologically and culturally motivated by institutions and agents of society, but open to a potentially questioning and critical social appropriation by those who inhabit it and act in it, enables a historical and productive interpretation of works in the their contexts, which moves away from both naively subjectivizing and merely formalistic perspectives of approach.

Space and representation

Ceci n’est pas une pipe

As Magritte’s Pipe, an image of a space/building/territory is not architecture. Architecture’s relationship with its representations is not as linear as Magritte’s affirmative sentence. As it is really called, “The Treachery of Images” evoques the critical relation between an image and a “form” itself.

Maybe because architecture is built usually to be inhabited, we presuppose that its physicality (materiality, form, color, arrangement), its sensoriality (smell, texture, visuality, sound or flavor) or its sensitive (intuition, subjectivity or emotion) experience, due to its embodiment, would give us a complete experience consciousness or perception. But is it architecture just the built materialized form? I argue not. Architecture is communication from an issuer to a receptor, and in this sense, architecture is a medium.

Representing is, for man, maybe one of the things that distinguish him most from other animals. Representing is in fact necessary to communicate intellectually with others through verbal, symbolic or artistic expression. Regarding the specificity of the architecture’s discipline, it is well understood the amplitude between the artistic, social and humanistic knowledge that envolves thinking about space and territory and the nature of architectural techne, and the real need to build and materialize such complex and enormous realities.

(Art)Work and Truth

“World is the always non-objective (…)”

According to Heidegger, the experience of art give us a poetic intuition of “Being” (“Sein”) that allow us to disclose the truth of things. But also Merleau-Ponty points this experience when looking at Cezanne’s paintings in he’s last work L’Oeil et l’Esprit, in 1960. Merleau-Ponty phenomenological approach begins by distinguishing art from science. Art relates to the lived and living world, including the body, the experience and the existence, while science takes the world as an object of knowledge “dissociated” from the existing subject, to identify laws beyond the phenomena. Science lacks the primacy of perception and the fact that we are first in the world with a body and that perceptual experience constitutes first knowledge. So, in this sense, and following Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, art interpretation is a form of resistance in a science based academic world. More recently, Michel Foucault (1994) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1975) bring other approaches to understand subjectivity, both defending free thinking as an ethics to truth (Foucault, 1994) and as a unique understanding of truths, not accessible through a traditional science approach, but instead by an “experience of art” (Gadamer, 1975). As Jorge Otero-Pailos also remember, “(…) in the experience of art (…) sometimes also involve confronting another historical tradition, that of the artwork’s original moment of production.”.

Art as representation

“architecture, as distinct from building, is an interpretive, critical act”

According with the English Oxford Dictionary, representation is the “act of presenting somebody/something in a particular way; something that shows or describes something”. The word has some more specific meanings, with more reasoning in the Latin origin of the word repraesentationem (nominative repraesentatio) means literally “to place before”, something that is presented instead of another.

Among the various theories of art, which we will not discuss here, there is a very common idea about art, which the authors universally agree as art being an entity (artifact or performance) intentionally endowed by its author with a significant degree of aesthetic interest and usually distancing itself from everyday objects. In this sense, an artwork always represent something, that goes from the intencional idea of the author, the different conceptions inside author’s ideas to the real things, real concepts, real artifacts or real performances existent in human culture.

As Beatriz Colomina points, there is an interpretative act in architecture. Colomina introduced the idea that architecture, especially modern architecture activated by new technical instruments, could not be understood simply through works and manifestos, but should expand its field of analysis to the media in general:

“To think about modern architecture must be pass back and forth between the question of space and the question of representation. In deed, it will be necessary to think of architecture as a system of representation, or rather a series of overlapping systems of representation. This does not mean abandoning the traditional architectural object, the building. In the end, it means looking at it much more closely than before, but also in a different way. The building should be understood in the same terms as drawings, photographs, writing, films and advertisements; not only because these are the media in which more often we encounter it, but because the building is a mechanism of representation in its own right.”

In Architecture and Ekphrasis, Dana Arnold also brings this idea of art as representation with their own syntactical, linguistic and cultural qualities. She stresses that art expression is not about copying something, but about transmitting something. It’s not about duplicating, it is about putting new thinking: “I argue that these images are, in fact, a form of writing, in the full sense of the word, as they are syntactical and linguistic qualities that convey both ideas and experience” So, as an ekphrasis, an image has its particularities in order to describe a subject and the graphics, the sounds, the movements operate as language (words) to present an argument about art or architecture in this particular case.

Art as document

Tout indice concret ou symbolique, conservé ou enregistré, aux fins de représenter, de reconstituer ou de prouver un phénomène ou physique ou intellectuel.

According to the Oxford Diccionary, “an official paper, book or electronic file that gives information about something, or that can be used as evidence or proof of something” Also, according to the same reference, the origin of the word is linked to the “late Middle English: from Old French, from Latin documentum ‘lesson, proof’ (in medieval Latin ‘written instruction, official paper’),from docere ‘teach’. So, broadening specking, we understand the role of documentation as a mean to archive or to work as evidences or even to remember us of something. “Fundamentally, every document is something that references something outside itself and is part of a broader system.” In this sense, a representation becomes a document once it is situated within a classificatory scheme or other broader system in relation to an object (architectural object) or an ideia (architectural theoretical proposition).

Building the history in an archive

In 7 September 1940, The Blitz started. The German bombing campaign against the  United Kingdom took place between 1940 until 1941, during the Second World War. Beyond the physical changes, this traumatic event also shifted definitively the historiography studies as it threatening the existence of the country’s architectural heritage. By November of that same year a meeting was held at the Royal Institute of British Architects, in London, to discuss what could be done to create a record of historic architecture that was now under threat of destruction from the bombing campaigns. The result was the establishment early in 1941 of the National Buildings Record (NBR), a distinct body with a small, dedicated staff. Its purpose was to collect and create photographic and drawn surveys of historic or significant buildings deemed to be under threat from bombing, so that, in the event of a building’s destruction, a record of it would be preserved. Due to the immense scope of this work, in some instances it was only possible to record buildings after they had already been damaged by bombing. The importance of this work became even more apparent in 1942 as the Luftwaffe began their ‘Baedeker’ raids (named after the popular German guidebooks) which specifically targeted areas and buildings of cultural value. The NBR considered architectural plans and measured drawings as the most important and valued form of record. However, a comprehensive measured survey scheme could not be implemented due to the cost in time and resources. The urgency of war-time conditions meant that photography was the most practical way to record threatened buildings. The origin of this practical decision, brought also many novelties in the field of historiography and philosophy of history in the post-Second World War, arising from the danger of losing so many buildings of historic value, but also due to the construction of such a new and extensive archive of architecture. That is the case of Sir John Summerson, Sir Howard Colvin or Rupert Gunnis, all showing an certain “sense of urgency to discover order and publish facts – empirical information about a past set of values and architecture that had nearly been lost”.

Dana Arnold brings the question, “what is the relation between the historian and the facts?” Facts and events are in the past, so we only have the traces left in the present. Maybe it’s what Foucault calls an archive,

“the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity, nor do they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities (…)”.

According to Foucault, his archive of knowledge is activated by someone with its own reading and subjectivity. may be the subjectivity of the historian or the subjectivity of other authors of records or interpretations of the architectural work, in this case.

art (registers) of living in Architecture

Though the hands of an historian, history lives in two different times, in the past and in the moment of the historical narrative creation. Naturally, this opens an attention to the question of subjectivity. In addition to these post-World War II evolutions, this event of the creation of an emergency archive brings to light a seminal issue in the field of architecture, that is its visuality, its materiality and its ability to produce experiences and performativities along its physical existence. So in this sense, we stress here the relevance of the visual archive, and the narration archive to bring these visuality, this physicality, this experience and performativity into the hands of those who study architecture, and of course the artistic registers of space and architecture.

For this session, Inhabiting Suburbia: (art) registers of living, we bring this artistic registers in four different levels that we find here in the text:

(1) Visual research made by the historian/narrator on a sample to understand some evolutions of the original object presented by the visual studies around the façade of post-war mass housing (Giuseppe Resta), and an artistic interpretation by visual sketching and mapping on existing useless structures (Inês Marques).

(2) Double reading of the narrator/historian work, directly in the work of an architect and through another curatorial interpretation of the same work, presenting here the successive layers of an object’s interpretation over time, by the recent Koolhaas interpretation on a 1970’s Superstudio film who thinks about society evolutions (Spela Hudnik).

(3) An analysis of a narrator/historian through an plural urban artistic tendency, the comic strips as an embracing art interpretation and an relevant enlarged source of information to  understand an architectonic tendency, the French “grands ensembles”(Carlos Machado e Moura).

(4) The direct experience of the narrator/historian as a performative experience of art of the object by understanding how the observer reads and integrates these discursive layers involved in this relation of sensitive apprehension (Maribel Mendes Sobreira).