In 2012, we were one of ten lucky architecture firms selected by the British Council to create work for the Venice Architecture Biennale. In response to the Biennale theme, ‘Common Ground’, curators Vicky Richardson and Vanessa Norwood sent all ten teams across the globe to research innovative architectural responses to universal issues and share their findings in the British Pavilion in an exhibition titled Venice Takeaway: Ideas to Change British Architecture.
We travelled to Rio de Janeiro to investigate the Integrated Centres of Public Education (CIEPs), a radical school building program created and developed by Leonel Brizola, Darcy Ribeiro and Oscar Niemeyer in the 1980s in Brazil. The program offered a range of high-quality, standardised, prefabricated schools which were cost-effective and quick to build. During our trip, we visited various CIEPs in and around Rio de Janeiro, and interviewed people associated with the project including teachers, architects and students.
For our resulting Venice Takeaway project, ‘Animating Education: Learning from Rio de Janeiro’, we shared our research and displayed 508 small models of CIEPs to represent the current network of schools throughout the city and the state of Rio de Janeiro.
For us, this project was an incredible opportunity to solve contemporary problems with research-driven design and connect the international with the local. Learning lessons from the CIEPs in Rio de Janeiro helps us develop new ideas that are sorely needed to improve the design and production of school buildings in the UK. With limited funding for education and lack of space for new primary schools, the UK is fertile ground for a similar low-cost, high-quality school model accessible to all students, irrelevant of their economic background.
At the end of the Biennale, Venice Takeaway transferred back to Britain where it was updated and redesigned for RIBA, London in 2013. The display of research, proposals, installations and objects all illustrating the creative potential of sharing design and architectural ideas across borders was accompanied by a stirring programme of events.
We later compiled all the research, interviews and photographs we gathered for this project into a book, Wherever You Find People: The Radical Schools of Oscar Niemeyer, Darcy Ribeiro and Leonel Brizola, published in 2016 by Park Books.
“In my capacity as Director of Architecture, Design and Fashion at the British Council I have known both David and Kevin since 2011. As the commissioner and co-curator of the British council’s Venice Takeaway exhibition in the British Pavillion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, I was part of the advisory panel that selected Aberrant Architecture’s proposal to feature in the show. Given the current debate in the UK about a proposed new generation of stripped-down, ‘flat pack’ schools, Aberrant Architecture’s exploration of Oscar Niemeyer’s hundreds of prefabricated schools in Rio de Janeiro was both fascinating and timely. Their project for the British Pavillion and recent projects such as the new ‘roaming market’ structure they designed for Lower Marsh Market in Waterloo, London, highlight how important research and exploration are to their practice, and their preoccupation with playfully addressing contemporary problems with research-based design. Having completed projects in a number of different regions around the world, I particularly admire the international nature of the practice and their ability to cross multiple design disciplines and scales, by simultaneously operating in the fields of architecture, design, contemporary art and cultural analysis.”
Vicky Richardson, Former Director of Architecture, Design Fashion at the British Council.
“The research is thorough and potent and, given the UK government’s scathing attitude towards architecture and its political need to build schools, well-timed.”
Beatrice Galilee, Domus magazine
“Aberrant Architecture was on the money with its investigation of Rio’s Niemeyer-designed prefabricated schools programme.”
Hugh Pearman, architecture critic of The Sunday Times and editor of the RIBA Journal.
British Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Italy