Brazil is widely regarded as a country that promotes good design. But many of us (read: me) aren’t as familiar with the story of how, and why, the country began patronizing forward-thinking architects and designers.
Take this new kindergarten from São Paulo architect Keila Costa, for instance. Located on a strangely shaped densely urban site, CEDEI Nursery School will house more than twice the built area of the lot it’s located on. Costa met the challenge by stacking iterations of the ground floor plan, creating a series of connected “towers” with space enough for 150 kids. Uncovered plazas connect the blocks, providing valuable play areas between the classrooms, lit naturally and cross-ventilated by distinctive tapered light wells reminiscent of Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura’s signature roofscapes. Metal screens (a nod to the industrial neighborhood’s infrastructure) are layered against bright colors and white-washed walls. Costa calls the school a “green oasis” amidst the industrial textures of the surrounding buildings.
CEDEI Nursery School is one of hundreds of notable Brazilian buildings underwritten by an unusual non-profit civic group called the Serviço Social do Comércio, or Social Service of Commerce. Founded in 1946, as the country was experiencing an influx of immigrants from both its rural areas and Europe, SESC promotes culture and art for the public good. That can mean anything from parks and pools to street art and a record label dedicated to local music. One of the most architecturally significant works in Brazil, Lina Bo Bardi’s 1982 conversion of an industrial factory into a community center, was an SESC-funded project.
In São Paulo alone, there are more than twenty SESC centers. The city chapter’s director, Danilo Miranda, explains that the organization uses culture–music, art and architecture–to build a strong foundation for communities in flux. “The foundation of SESC took place in a time when Brazil was experiencing considerable urban development and facing the appearance of a new type of workforce,” she says. Sounds familiar? For all of the ups and downs of the country’s economic and political development, the SESC has endured–and it could offer a case study to some American cities, struggling to adapt to dwindling budgets and changing demographics.
Costa’s design was selected for presentation at this year’s Venice Biennale, where it’ll be on view through August.