On the edge of a rainforest in northern Brazil, a recently built school complex by Brazilian architecture firms Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum has been awarded the RIBA International Prize 2018 for the ‘world’s best new building.’ Dubbed Children Village, the contemporary project earned praise not only for its beautiful and low-impact design but also for its social impact as boarding accommodation to 540 children aged 13 to 18 attending the Canuanã School. The winning entry was selected by a grand jury chaired by visionary architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

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children walking outside of timber school building

Funded by the Bradesco Foundation, the roughly 25,000-square-meter Children Village is one of 40 schools backed by the foundation that provides education for children in rural communities across Brazil. The architects — Gustavo Utrabo and Petro Duschenes from Aleph Zero along with Marcelo Rosenbaum and Adriana Benguela from Rosenbaum — worked closely with the children while designing the school. Key to the design was creating an intimate environment that felt like a “home away from home.” Instead of dormitories for 40 students, for instance, Children Village offers rooms for six children as well as a mix of private and public spaces that cater to study, play and relaxation. The school comprises two identical complexes: one for girls, one for boys.

trees in front of a timber school building

children running and playing outside timber school building

The building has been praised for “reinventing Brazilian vernacular” by bringing together a contemporary aesthetic with traditional techniques and local resources. The architects also drew from the local vernacular to mitigate the sweltering summertime temperatures in a cost-effective and sustainable way. For instance, the large canopy roof built from cross-laminated timber beams and columns allows for cooling cross-breezes as well as shade. Earth blocks handmade on site were also used for the walls and latticework.

Related: Carbon-neutral Caring Wood wins RIBA award for best new house in the UK

children on walkway surrounded by plants

covered outdoor walkways facing a garden

“Beyond being a standout work of architecture, Children Village embodies the generosity of the Bradesco Foundation’s philanthropic mission to provide much-needed amenities to those who otherwise have limited access to schools,” Diller said. “Aleph Zero and Rosenbaum have achieved a humble heroism, utilizing a sophisticated approach to detailing and construction that belies the fact that the building’s users are predominately teenagers, age 13-18, in a remote area in Brazil. The architect’s inventive rethinking of the region’s traditional techniques and materials succeeds in building community and in proving that space matters in education.”

+ RIBA International Prize

Images via Leonardo Finotti and Cristobal Palma of Estudio Palma

aerial view of timber school building near trees and a river