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Lessons from Brazil: Co-creating a Traditional Nurturing Biome for Education

Posted by
on April 24, 2018 at 04:28 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

There is no doubt in the fact that the perception of built form and the way it takes shape begs for some radical change. For, if we continue building in the same way that is most prevalent in today’s urban scene we are surely and speedily ensuring irreparable damage to the nurturer of our lives - our planet. When most of us forage clueless through a haze for an alternative way forward, some building ventures shine through like a ray of hope for having figured out beautiful, empathetic solutions. One such project is a charming boarding school located in deep in rural Brazil. Designed by Brazilian firm Rosenbaum led by Marcelo Rosenbaum, in collaboration with local designers Aleph Zero, the older school premises was rebuilt in a participative exercise with the locals and school children and staff.

An external view made up of a vast array of wooden members that makes it look like a dense brown forest belongs to the sprawling pavilion of the Children’s Village – a school in Formoso de Araguaia, in Tocantins, a remote rural area of Brazil.  Fundação Bradesco, which has been supporting the school since 40 years, chose Marcelo Rosenbaum as designer primarily for his reputation of making a success of indigenous and sustainable building techniques in his practice of them in A Gente Transforma movement since 2010.

© Courtesy of internet resources

As per this practice, extensive meetings and workshops were first held with the stakeholders, i.e. the students who were to use Canuana School and the teachers and administrators who were to run it. Starting with a firm conviction that a boarding school could not be limited to being only a place of learning, the designers and the school trust agreed that the final built form was to be a home for the students in more ways than just the one of being their place of residence. It had to have the added value of being a home which nurtured development, consolidated the users’ identity with their roots and helped them build memories around the acts of erecting the building using local materials and traditional techniques and then inhabiting and using its various areas.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The new layout of this children’s village has two identical parts which, one each having a surface area of 10,700 sq m for the boys and girls to maintain an existing division, arranged on either sides of a vegetative courtyard that also serves as the entrance to the complex. A single gently pitched roof extends over the entire built expanse, leaving holes in between for the open to sky areas, supported on a dense grove of slender columns of laminated eucalyptus wood, sourced locally and regenerated easily, The massive sprawl of brown does in no way intimidate or evoke any negative feelings of aversion, but presents a striking, elegant vision, a warm and welcoming pavilion.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

The lower floor in each of the two 10,700 sq ft section of this complex has the 540 boarders’ dormitories arranged around individual open courts. There are 45 dormitories in all, each housing 6 children - a proportion redistributed from the earlier larger dorms with more students housed in each, with the intention of creating  a more intimate space of residence for the children to relate with and lead to their better development as a consequence.

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The upper level above these dorms has been developed as a maze of activity/ interaction spaces fitted with gear for sports and games, trampolines and story and craft facilities, interconnected by aerial walkways or bridges, all of it fenced with half height laminated wood railings. These extend above the external walls of the dorm rows made with adobe mud bricks that are part of the local heritage of construction techniques, frequently punctuated with perforated mashrabiah screen arrangement of bricks that aid efficient ventilation. This irresistibly aesthetic arrangement is topped by the endless sprawl of the pitched roof with massive 4 m overhangs to take care of rain and sun, and its underside lit up at night by the intermittent reflections of spotlights fitted in the slender columns.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

The view from the inner courtyards continues in the same elegant aesthetic of adobe walls and timber railings surrounding little farms and gardens, cultivated by the inmates and beautifully laid out amid mirror pools fed by harvested rain water Benches and boardwalks traverse through these intimate landscapes, creating opportunities for innumerable interactions of various types.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

The success of the Canuana School underlines the importance of the entire process of building it. From the workshops where children were asked to draw or list out their vision for their school building to the choice of building materials and technologies that are rooted in local tradition and surer to sustain, to involving the staff and students in the actual process of building the school by working alongside the traditional craftsmen, to the participatory nature of using and maintaining the premises – The entire process is an exercise in glorious co-creation. With such strong bonds already secured in the process of building, many memories and attachments have already been built up, and the superiorly aesthetic and intimately warm environment that has resulted  ensure many stronger bonds and memories in the future as well!

© Courtesy of internet resources

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