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November 28, 2018

A look at the world’s best new building that is located in Brazil

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What and where is the world’s best new building? Today, the judges of the 2018 RIBA International Prize have announced that it’s a pair of school boarding houses (named “Children Village”) set in a remote rural location on the fringes of enormous rice fields in Brazil’s tropical Tocantins province some 370 miles north east of Brasília and 930 miles from the sea.

So that’s two buildings? Technically speaking, yes, although these timber structures are mirror images of one another, so a prize given to one is an award made to both

“The best new building in the world,” said Elizabeth Diller of the US practice Diller Scofidio + Renfro and chair of the 2018 RIBA International Prize jury, “needs to wake us out of our everyday stupor to something challenging that teaches us why architecture is still relevant.”

The spacious and effortlessly gracious new boarding houses of the Canuanã School at Formoso do Araguaia, designed by Rosenbaum + Aleph Zero, exactly meet Diller’s criterion. They are both intelligent architecture and a wake-up call.

Eschewing air conditioning and even glazing, they open up to the countryside around them, a land, that aside from cattle ranching and the cultivation of rice, cassava, maize and watermelons, is home to thermal pools, white sand riverine beaches, orchids, blue herons, jaguars, alligators, endangered Amazonian trees, cattle ranching and indigenous Avá-Canoeiros tribes people, who choose to have no contact with what we call civilization.

The Canuanã School educates children from local towns and settlements, as well as from far-flung ranches and encampments, and so the need for dormitories for up to 540 students. The dormitories are clustered in nine groups of five adobe brick structures in each building, under vast single and gently sloping white metallic roofs — sloped to deal with the drainage of tropical rain — supported by slim laminated eucalyptus columns that seem barely to touch the ground.

The dormitories are set around large courtyards planted with local trees and vegetation. Each dormitory is home to just six 13 to 18-year old students, and is kitted out with storage space, lavatories, showers and laundry. Steam evaporates through perforated bricks, while rainwater spilling from the big roof is collected in a pool alive with small local fish in a central courtyard. Storm water is channeled into the nearby Rio Javaés.

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