The Braamcamp Freire Secondary School in Poland is now a more connected, more modern looking structure thanks to CVDB Arquitectos’ brilliant use of concrete and colours.
Middle-school dreams can be complicated. The residents of this realm imagine existence on a plane that is a mix of the informal and the edgy, the refined and the disciplined, the bland and the colourful, possibly in equal parts. The Braamcamp Freire Secondary School, re-designed by CVDB Arquitectos, at Pontinha, in Lisbon, fulfils all these demands with a finesse that makes it all look easy.
Originally built in 1986, the school came under a fresh phase of design renewal as part of the Portuguese ‘Modernization of Secondary Schools Programme’, which has been implemented by the Parque Escolar E.P.E., since 2007.
The original structure consisted of 5 pavilions – a one-storied central block, and 4 two-storeyed pavilions. The re-imagination thus involved no breaking down and re-assembling, but building passageways that would connect the older pieces. What has emerged out of this process is a nexus of covered walkways that box the central courtyard, the ‘learning space’.
The expansive area has been transformed into a large, fashionable warehouse with colourful masts. The façade is dominated by the incomplete-looking aura of exposed concrete. This roughness of hue and form is splattered with pockets of bright shades of red, yellow, and blue.
The central open area is a superbly generous space where the students can glide along during class recesses; sit around wondering at the beauty of the sky; and mix meals with ideas. The walkways perform the essential function of connecting the older blocks and making the place look cohesive. In the process, though, they couldn’t resist the idea of unleashing glimpses of eccentricity. Some parts of this concrete acreage are prefabricated pieces, and the shapes they take on form the crux of the surprise in this project.
Wall divisions shaped like wonky paper clips replace the need for boring columns, affording the children quirky seats to sit on and read. These shapes also create arches that open into each other, forming a maze.
In the midst of it all, a brilliant blue wall, looking like a collage of detergent soap bars, comes up. Also in this scheme are cavities filled with sunshine (read yellow paint).
A mighty sea snake of a staircase zig-zags across one part of the walkway, its walls lit up by pale yellow tones. The magical quality of these colours is that they take on a supernatural aura when neon light passes through them.
The buildings have been suffused with seemingly unending swathes of floor space with very few stumbling blocks. This builds the opportunity for the students to come in and move around freely, and establish a more fluid character to the school. The imposing columns and tiled walls, and all the grim symmetry around provide a sense of belonging to a highly modernist set up.
The seating areas are all sober and pared-down, with emphasis on efficiency of space and shapes, and not prop exhibitionism.The multi-purpose hall has been fitted with timber studs and acoustic panelling, while all the pillars and colours set up a filtered viewing gallery.
The fulcrum of all the refurbishments of the Braamcamp Freire Secondary School is the idea of building “informal learning spaces”. These come up in the walkways, intertwined as they are with the social areas, blurring the demarcations between learning through text books and learning through conversations.
The approximately 17,380 sq mt expanse of the school now is a unified behemoth with a deceptive cutting-edge sheen to it. Deceptive because it all has been achieved through the intelligent use of low-maintenance materials, designed to suit conditions of weather and ideas.
Text By Shruti Nambiar