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Animating education: Learning from Rio de Janeiro

[Aberrant Architecture] ‘Aberrant proposes that standardising school design will reduce costs and ensure accessibility to all students’

Aberrant Architecture investigated a radical and experimental school building programme conceived by Leonel Brizola, Darcy Ribeiro and Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil in the 1980s. The programme provided a series of high-quality standardised and prefabricated primary schools, known as Integrated Centres of Public Education (CIEPs), which were designed to support and enhance curricula. Today, this network of 508 CIEPs covers the entire city and state of Rio de Janeiro.

From towns and cities to favelas and beach resorts, wherever you find people, you’ll find a CIEP. In a climate of austerity in the UK, with limited educational funds and a shortage of space for new primary schools, Aberrant proposes that standardising school design will not only reduce costs but also set a new global standard of high-quality schools that are accessible to any student.

Where did your idea come from?

You could say it happened by accident, but we would say it came as a result of intrepid exploration and research! We try to visit Brazil regularly. On a trip last year, while driving to a beach outside Rio de Janeiro, we stumbled across an interesting but relatively unknown building by Oscar Niemeyer, similar to a more familiar building in Rio. After doing some digging, we learned that both buildings are examples of CIEPs. What began as casual curiosity about an obscure Niemeyer project sparked a wider investigation into a radical school- building programme.

Most surprising thing you found out?

The architect Jair Valera, Oscar Niemeyer’s right-hand man, said the original plan was to construct 10,000 CIEPs across the entire country. The school-building programme in Rio stopped at 508 because the state governor failed in his bid for Brazil’s presidency. Had he been successful, each state would have created its own standardised design, which would have incorporated local cultural and climatic requirements. The most surprising features, though, are the small housing blocks on the roofs of each CIEP - one for girls and one for boys. Some students live there during the week and return to their homes on weekends.

Most challenging part of your trip?

Without question, it was getting our heads around the enormity of the CIEP project. We are talking about hundreds of school buildings and a radical programme rolled out across the entire state of Rio de Janeiro - an area double the size of Wales. The schools outside the city are separated by relatively large distances and long travel times. The social nature of the project also means that many CIEPs are located in some of the poorest and historically violent areas of Rio, including the notorious favelas where CIEPs play a key community role.

How do you plan to take this forward?

We plan to use the knowledge gained from our investigations to engage in wider conversations regarding the future of school-building in the UK. We also plan to address some of the issues currently surrounding the

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