CONFORM – Conflicting Neighbours over the Built Form: Exploring Lisbon's Legal Building Disputes in a Time of Regulatory Transition



Code   .   2022.05965PTDC
Start   .   2023
Duration   .   18 month
Principal Investigators  .   Sandra MG Pinto (CHAM)   .   Alice Santiago Faria (CHAM) 






Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia


CHAM — Centro de Humanidades


Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas / Universidade Nova de Lisboa


What can historical legal documents teach us about the history of buildings and the built environment? The FCT-funded CONFORM project explores this issue by focusing on a type of sources that are rarely used by architectural historians, but whose content is serial and consistent, allowing it to be studied and compared with each other. The chosen corpus comprises court records, mostly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, belonging to a specific legal institution in the city of Lisbon that resolved building disputes between neighbours. The research model is based on the interconnection of formal and spatial aspects of architectural culture with users, procedural aspects, and substantive rules of socio-legal culture. It crosses new perspectives from Architectural History with Legal History, relying on concepts and categories such as ordinary people, everyday life, and group identity, to investigate the relationships between legal rules, built form and gender. Methodologically, it combines traditional research procedures of close reading, thorough examination, and interpretation of handwritten documents with new computational techniques and up-to-date analysis of the Digital Humanities, thus being a digital history project. By placing conflicting neighbours at the centre of historical research on the built environment, the project seeks to understand the nature of a problem that cuts across cultures, times, and spaces. Indeed, conflicting neighbourhood relationships derived from the building activity are as old as cities, and it does not seem that they will ever end, as today most of the population lives in urban settlements. Furthermore, it allows identifying and emphasising the role of ordinary people in the (trans)formation of the built environment and appreciating the stories and forms of ordinary buildings that were conditioned by legal rules, so that this built and cultural heritage can be properly valued.



The scientific goals of the project are: 1) understand the enforcement of legal building rules in building disputes and assess whether the causes that generated the conflicts only fit the regulatory framework in force, or already reflected the regulatory changes that came to occur in the mid-nineteenth century; 2) acknowledge the role of neighbours, as external actors to each particular building activity, in conditioning the built form, and distinguish which urban and architectural forms resulted from building disputes; 3) identify the female agency in building activity by focusing on the women who were defendants in the disputes (the building developers or clients) and plaintiffs in the disputes (the building owners or users), also assessing whether or not the causes of these disputes can be explained from a gender perspective. The main outcome of the project will be an online platform that compiles, cross-references, and presents the analysis of data taken from court records, which will later integrate and (inter)relate data from other legal documents, such as work contracts, construction licenses, property titles or inventories. This tool could also be useful for professionals in the built heritage of Lisbon (architects, art historians and archaeologists), allowing their studies and projects to be contextualized by legal documents, as well as providing important information for non-academic researchers interested in the genealogical history of their families, their buildings, or their city.








Sandra MG Pinto .   Coordenator

Alice Santiago Faria    .   Co - Coordenator

Daniel Alves (IHC | NOVA FCSH)

Nuno Senos (IHA | NOVA FCSH)

José Domingues (CEJEA)

Mafalda Batista Pacheco (CHAM | NOVA FCSH)

Pedro Pinto (IEM | NOVA FCSH)


Research Fellow:

Ana Margarida Roberto (NOVA FCSH)

Sandra Osório (NOVA FCSH)



Robert Carvais (Université de Paris Nanterre)