Field trip explores architecture, space, and culture in Torrão, Portugal

April 11, 2024


At the beginning of the year 2024, a team of Year 4 students from the Department of Architecture at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University's Design School embarked on a study trip to Portugal, at the invitation of "Design a Sustainable Tomorrow" (DaST). Guided by mentors and DaST staff, the student team delved into research and learning in the town of Torrão in central Portugal from January 4th to 18th, for a half-month.

Torrão, photo by Ao Liu

Torrão is situated in the hills of the Alentejo region of Portugal, covering an area of about 1.84 square kilometers with a population of less than a thousand. Despite being a small town, Torrão possesses a rich heritage of historical buildings and complete urban functions. As the site for the studio’s Final Year Project, Torrão's basic situation was divided into several categories, including public spaces, municipal facilities, derelict sites, architectural features, landscape, hardscapes and etc.

The students conducted research and learning in groups, presenting their findings creatively. Additionally, the local culture and traditions were an important part of the research process, with the student team visiting residents of different ages and backgrounds, documenting the process into a documentary.

The core theme of this research was the architecture and space of Torrão, thus the focus was on the local architectural features and the sense of scale of space, says Ziyi Huang, a Y4 architecture student who’s part of the team.

"We selected representative public buildings such as the abandoned olive oil refinery, school, clock tower, and water tower, and created 1:50 scale architectural models to visually demonstrate the differences in scale and form among them.

“Furthermore, we paid attention to the specific architectural features, documenting the forms of doors and windows, facade decorations, and construction materials and techniques. In the final exhibition catalogue, we not only saw overall photographs of various buildings but also observed the stacking patterns of different bricks and tiles, the material colors of doors and windows, and the decorative patterns on walls, demonstrating a comprehensive research approach.”

Models exhibition, photo by Zheng Gu

Jiashi Yu, the supervisor of this study trip and Assistant Professor at XJTLU Department of Architecture, says that in the process of architectural design, both overall control and attention to detail are indispensable, which is why she formulated this research approach.

“Perhaps within these bricks and tiles lies architectural information that can inspire and serve as a blueprint for their Final Year Projects,” she says.

Research booklets, photo by Jess Yu

As a town with a long history, the passage of time has left its mark on Torrão's buildings, and DaST, committed to restoring historic buildings and revitalizing their vitality, chose Torrão for this reason. Under the guidance of DaST, students entered the abandoned olive oil refinery and monastery ruins, touching and experiencing the unique charm emanating from historic buildings.

Another important significance of this journey was to provide students with the opportunity to experience walking among historic buildings, enriching their understanding and thinking about architecture from a historical perspective.

Photo by Guangyao Cao

The charming natural landscape here also became part of the students' research. They recorded the typical vegetation of Torrão through photos and cyanotype prints. They also invited local middle school students to graffiti on a large canvas, depicting the vegetation of Torrão and their impressions of their hometown.

Photo by Guangyao Cao

Architecture is always situated within a specific environment, so the local customs and traditions of Torrão were also important objectives of this research.

“During the half-month spent with the locals, we encountered Luísa, always smiling and gifting us fabrics; the stubborn artisan Mário; Sónia and Filipa, who took care of their daily meals; and the lively conversations with local residents during dinners at different restaurants every day, even though some of them didn't understand English, they warmly communicated with the students through gestures,” says Ziyi.

Frederic Coustols, the founder of DaST, stated that the core of architectural revival is always people, and only when local residents are confident and hopeful about this land can the reconstruction of historic buildings succeed. In the final stage of the research, students created a montage map of Torrão, featuring photos of the doors of each household. Looking at each familiar door, students seemed to recall the warm smiles of the homeowners they met each time.

The Diorama Map, photo by Jess Yu

In the final exhibition, students invited every resident to attend, and the local elderly women's choir performed traditional songs Cante Alentejano. In the daily rural life of Torrão, the arrival of the XJTLU student team brought vitality and surprises to the locals. When they saw supermarkets they visited every day, squares they passed by, and even their own front doors recorded and appearing in the students' works, they expressed sincere gratitude and admiration to the students.

Photo by Zheng Gu

The study trip concluded on the morning of the 18th, and the students' works and graduation designs will be exhibited in Torrão Aqui Gallery in July 2024.



Organization: Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University Department of Architecture, DaST Foundation, Nomads Group

Tutors and Consultants: Jess Yu, Zheng Gu, Frederic Coustols, Maria Coustols, Sammy Gao, Vasco Braga, Filipa de Assis, Sara Ibrahim, Angelica Rimoldi, Mário Caeiro, Luísa Penedo, Sónia Figueira

Trip Supervisor: Jess Yu

Participating Students: Cao Guangyao, Chen Junli, Huang Ziyi, Li Haige, Li Ruiyan, Lin Ruofan, Liu Ao, Liu Shengtong, Liu Yigao, Pan Yi, Qian Jiaxin, Qiang Zike, Tan Kaiqing, Wang Yilin, Wei Lan, Xiao Peiyao, Yang Songxian, Zhang Yi, Zhang Beining, Zhu Hongxuan

Video Editing: Lin Ruofan, Xiao Peiyao, Cao Guangyao, Pan Yi


Story provided by Ziyi Huang

Proofread by Feng Gao

Edited by Lan Wei and Yi Qian

April 11, 2024