The UK can "learn lessons from school-building
in Brazil" - Aberrant Architecture

| 7 comments

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

News: following this week's news that the UK government is restricting curved and glass walls on new school buildings, Aberrant Architecture's Kevin Haley and David Chambers are urging the Department of Education to look to the standardised schools designed by Oscar Niemeyer for Brazil in the 1980s, which the architects are presenting in the British Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

"Learning lessons from school-building in Brazil helps us develop the new ideas that are sorely needed to improve the design and production of school buildings in the UK," said Chambers, while Haley explained how the pair are "using the research we have collected to investigate the design potential for a similar approach for the UK."

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

The standardised ‘baseline’ templates for primary and secondary schools published this week place restrictions on room sizes, storey heights and building shapes for 261 replacement school buildings planned across the UK, as part of a bid to cut costs.

In response Haley has said: "In Brazil, the design of the 508 Integrated Centres of Public Education (CIEPs) was not simply standardised to reduce costs. The highly ambitious design, shared by each school, induces a global perception of a standard, a new standard - a standard of high quality."

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

Above: Animating Education at the British Pavilion

Like Brazil's CIEPs, Haley proposes that the UK should "allow our schools to become more open to their context" and suggests that "each region could create its own standardised design, incorporating local cultural and climatic requirements."

"The idea that every community, from suburb to favela, can take pride in first-class architecture, giving every child the same opportunities, is certainly a compelling ideal, especially today, when modern society in Brazil, as well as increasingly in the UK, is more and more divided between rich and poor," said Haley.

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

Above: Animating Education at the British Pavilion

Aberrant Architecture's initial research is documented in their exhibition "Animating Education" at the biennale, where they are showing models to represent each of the CIEPs completed in Brazil.

Read more about the government restrictions in our earlier story.

See more stories about Aberrant Architecture »

Here's the full statement from Kevin Haley:


The pressing need in the UK to build new primary schools to address overcrowded classrooms and growing competition for school places thus begs the question: what lessons can we learn from the CIEPs example? Which of the ideas championed by Brazil should we adopt and which ideas can we build upon?

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

Above: Animating Education at the British Pavilion

In the 1980s, Rio de Janeiro, much like the UK now, had limited money to spend on education. In response to this, Oscar Niemeyer put forward a standardized design for the CIEPs. The strong design of his principle educational building, prefabricated to ensure consistent quality, contained architectural spaces, using strong durable materials that were specifically designed to support, help and enhance the educational curriculum. Architectural additions such as the dedicated sports hall, library, canteen & rooftop housing spaces, supported and enhanced the recreational, cultural, nutritional & residential aspects of the full time program. These standardised elements could be arranged in multiple configurations in order to respond to varying site conditions.

Money saved through standardisation could subsequently be invested into the curriculum. Schools could offer a full time curriculum available from 7am – 10pm. CIEP programs not only respected students’ cultures but also enhanced them. Some subjects were not taught if they were not beneficial to the class of children. Other subjects were therefore introduced, creating a personalised curriculum. Such an idea could no doubt also be used to address the increasingly culturally diverse communities of the UK.

The full time curriculum helped working parents avoid expensive childcare, a very pertinent problem in the UK today. It also gave those from poorer backgrounds access to a wider range of cultural stimuli. Three meals a day, designed by a nutritionist, helped the diets of some of the undernourished children. It could be argued that childhood obesity, rather than undernourishment, is the problem in the UK. But in any case, being offered the option of three healthy meals a day would no doubt make a huge difference in a lot of cases.

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

Above: Animating Education at the British Pavilion

Each region of the UK could create its own standardised design, incorporating local cultural and climatic requirements. The constant would be the full time education and the commitment to taking care of the children’s individual needs.

In Brazil, it was put to us that the design of the 508 CIEPs was not simply standardized to reduce costs. The highly ambitious design, shared by each school, induces a global perception of a standard, a new standard - a standard of high quality. The high architectural standard on the outside subsequently encourages a perception of high quality education on the inside. The idea that every community, from suburb to favela, can take pride in first-class architecture, giving every child the same opportunities, is certainly a compelling ideal – especially today, when modern society in Brazil, as well as increasingly in the UK, is more and more divided between rich and poor.

Whilst we understand the arguments for standardisation of the CIEPs it would be interesting to see how you could adjust the model school a little bit more, to better suit each individual site. Perhaps this can be achieved by starting with the CIEP model of having a main classroom block and regular CIEP accessories, such as the sports hall, library building or swimming pool, and then being able to add to or change some of these accessories later on.

Animating Education by Aberrant Architecture

Above: Animating Education at the British Pavilion

A very interesting strategy would be to allow our schools to become more open to their context. Perhaps these new accessories could create additional openness between the school and its surroundings, placing the School in the context of its neighbourhood rather than as some kind of alien visitor.

Take a covered playground as an example, a more strategic solution could be if it worked more as a city square and brought more people into the schools. This idea starts to become interesting in the UK context because this space could fill the role of a public square, which is often non-existent in many British suburbs.

Since the school is arguably the most important public building in our communities it could start to provide more functions related for the common use. School accessories could include an ‘IT room’ as well as a multi-purpose arts and culture building, which could then be used for theatre, dance and martial arts, as well as provide a space for filming and editing movies. Such a space would not only appeal to the students but also to their parents as well.

  • galessa

    I am really impressed. The great lesson, though, is about how to get a complete architetural monstrosity like the CIEPs (yes, there are all over the place here where I live) and make it sounds fantastic through academic discourse, disregarding sheer reality.

    I would advise empirical research: come to Rio in the summer (about 40°C daily) and try to study or teach in one of those concrete ovens. To allow air circulation, as if it would solve the problem of overheating, all classroom walls were open on top… try to study or teach when everybody have to shout while listening to all the inner or outer noises at the same time (oh yes, even of the intense traffic of the nearby highway; CIEPs were mostly placed near highways were they could be seem by the greatest number of people as a way of political propaganda, not exactly where they were needed or more accessible). Not to mention the ugliness of the whole thing or how poorly made they are.

    Just as a curiosity, although it tells a lot about the “architectural philosophy” of the architect, the original project would not include trees (!!!) as the famous architect stated many times that he does not include trees in his projects (think of Brasilia) cause, after all, he is an architect and not a landscape designer (!!!). That’s just to show part of the ideas framework behind the whole project.

    All of Niemeyer’s projects are simply abstractions in concrete, with complete disregard for function or whatsoever. A very nice example is the MAC museum (a walk from my place), a contemporary art museum made to house a given art collection. But after about sixteen years of completion, this collection is still not there and the place is used as an art gallery. Why? Cause although the amount of concrete used was enough to build a ten-storey high building, there is NO place there to keep the collection! No basic standards of art preservation was regarded in that project.

    The mentality that made this bad (and VERY expensive) joke is also behind the awful CIEPs. And people, here and abroad, are still talking about the “greatest modern architect”. I am really fed up of this sort of thoughtless mythology.

    • Erik

      Aberrant indeed.

  • Eric Goob

    Always enjoy an open thought process on schools and state funded proposals. Critical thinking is wholly underated and thanks to epic failures of the human condition that present themselves as noble national saviours here to ‘be fair, and to be seen to be fair’ seem to negate the wise, and fail the eveyone. Do stand and applaud Mr Gove for his short sited love affair in being an absoloute muppet, please, thank him, send him letters, send him flowers, send him a whole heap of thank yous for really being a self-righteous weasel who doesn’t understand the social schooling sytem that gives everyone an equal chance.

  • Jonathan

    While I understand the need to reduce costs when building new schools, the Governments plans are very short sighted. This kind of investigation is to be applauded, even if the CIEPs are not the exact answer, they point towards a more thought out response.

    Rather that rushing in with the cheapest options suggested by developers, the Government should be taking time to listen to architects, but more importantly, teachers.

    Also, while the suggestion of longer teaching hours, mentioned above, would indeed help out some people with childcare options, it would be highly unpopular with most teachers, many of whom also have a life outside of work.

  • http://www.zazous.co.uk Zazous

    Fascinating response from galessa. The article itself doesn't really tell us anything about how to create successful school buildings on a tight budget.

  • http://www.elevation-ad.co.uk/ Chriss

    Very different architecture style from the current UK trend in school design, especially in Scotland. They tend to be very straight lined and geometrically striking. The style above would be a massive contrast to what is currently being used in the UK

  • jasonmig

    Please do your homework. Google "centro de educação unificado", go to images (you don't need to read) and voilà.