School on edge of Brazilian rainforest wins prize for the world’s best new building

Riba Award Children Village Main Copy
The Brazilian school has won the RIBA Award for International Excellence 2018 (Leonardo Finotti)

Where is the world’s best new building likely to be? New York? Dubai? Shanghai?

Not quite. The winner of that title for 2018 is an environmentally-sustainable school complex tucked away on the edge of rainforest in northern Brazil.

Children Village is run by a foundation that provides education for youngsters in rural communities across the country.

Architecture School Prize 1

There are large openings above three beautifully landscaped courtyard gardens, which are lined by the dormitories (Leonardo Finotti)

It has boarding accommodation for 540 children aged from 13 to 18 who go to the Canuanã School. Students come from remote areas, some travelling many hours by boat.

Its remarkable design – done in conjunction with the needs and desires of the children – saw Brazilian architecture firms Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum named today as the winners of the RIBA International Prize 2018. 

It is given every two years by the Royal Institute of British Architects to a building that exemplifies design excellence and architectural ambition, and delivers meaningful social impact.

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Children Village provides boarding accommodation for 540 senior school children (Leonardo Finotti)

“It has been a joy to see the children making the building their own and adapting the space to fit their needs,” said Gustavo Utrabo and Pedro Duschenes from Aleph Zero.

Replacing dormitories for 40 students, the new design provides rooms for six children in a more intimate environment.

Children Village has two identical complexes – one for girls and one for boys. Residences are centred around three large, open and well-shaded courtyards at ground level, where the dormitory accommodation is located. 

Architecture School Prize 2

The site has numerous school buildings, a refectory and a small hospital (Leonardo Finotti)

On the first floor, there are several flexible communal spaces, ranging from reading spaces and television rooms to balconies and hammocks, where the children can relax and play.

The ecosystem around the complex – particularly the tropical climate, where temperatures reach the mid-40s in summertime – was one of the major challenges cleverly addressed by the architects.

The large canopy roof provides shade and means there is no need for air conditioning.

The building was constructed with local resources and based on local techniques. Earth blocks handmade on site were used to construct the walls and latticework, chosen for their thermal, technical and aesthetic properties. 

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Run and funded by the Bradesco Foundation, the school is one of 40 schools providing education for disadvantaged local children (Leonardo Finotti)

Children Village is one of 40 schools run by the Bradesco Foundation.

RIBA President Ben Derbyshire said: “Children Village provides an exceptional environment designed to improve the lives and wellbeing of the school’s children, and illustrates the immeasurable value of good educational design.”

The prize shortlist of four also included a university campus in Budapest, Hungary, and a music school in Tokyo, Japan.