An ‘Ilha’ in Porto is a typology of low cost housing which spread within the city in the 19th Century as a result of the industrial development. The extremely small dwellings (around 4x4m) were established within backyards of middle class houses, connected to the street through a narrow corridor. Despite all public trials of destruction, more than 1.000 ‘Ilhas’ still shelter more than 13.000 people within the city of Porto. The subject of this article is the analysis of the morphology of the ‘Ilhas’ of Porto, Portugal. The objective is to illustrate what the typology currently means for its inhabitants and for the urban space and propose methods of improving their living standards. The social and spatial dimension of the ‘Ilhas’ as an ‘assemblage’ of the city determines the research method, focusing on a) an analysis of the morphology and typology of a selected cluster of ‘Ilhas’ in different scales; b) participatory research involving the inhabitants, including interviews and observation of daily practices and community values. Despite the low quality living conditions, the inhabitants of the ‘Ilhas’ show an impressive attachment to their living space, forming a strong community. This quality is used as a foundation for the ‘selfimprovement’ urbanism, where the community operates as the main engine of the urban transformation. The main finding of the research is that the ‘Ilhas’ could be an inexpensive solution for the current housing crisis through the further development of the ‘self-improvement’ urbanism. This innovative approach includes strong public participation and an innovative position of the planner within the process.
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