Every two years the Royal Institute of British Architects awards its International Prize to a “building that exemplifies design excellence and architectural ambition and delivers meaningful social impact.” It’s one of the most prestigious awards in the industry, with the winning entry often described in the press as ‘the best new building in the world’.
This year’s winner is a boarding school in Brazil, named the Children Village.
Two of these large wooden complexes, one for boys and one for girls, house 540 children between them at the Canuanã School on the edge of the rainforest. Each building has a huge white canopy roof, which is divided into three courtyard gardens. Rooms for six children are arranged around the courtyards, with areas for play and study arranged on the upper floor and connected with balconies and walkways.
It’s a very sustainable building, made of wood and mud drawn from the site. The planted courtyards draw air through the building, keeping it naturally cooled and ventilated in its tropical setting. It’s a culturally sensitive building, combining modern techniques with local traditions. Though they don’t use the word specifically, it demonstrates lots of principles of biophilic design in its sight-lines and the way it connects indoors and outdoors.
The way that buildings are designed and planned matters too, and the Children’s Village was developed in a people-first process called A Gente Transforma. The Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum agencies worked with the local community, including the children. Their contributions include the TV rooms, reading spaces and hammocks that run through the top floor. It gives the children a real sense of ownership and responsibility over their living quarters.
Most of the photos, of which there are plenty here, show it empty and I’d love to see what it looks like occupied. I’d also like to see what it looks like in a few years’ time, when the trees that surround it have grown and it sits better in its landscape. It’s a great building, and it’s one that will change over time as the setting changes around it.
There’s a lot to like about the Children’s Village. It’s a good example of how sustainable architecture is going to mean different things in different places, of how it can fit within local traditions, and how the best architects work with local people to create buildings that really belong to those who use them.