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Braamcamp Freire High School, Portugal

October 16, 2015

Clever rejuvenation of institutional school architecture in Lisbon, Portugal

In the heart of historical neighbourhood Pontinha, on the edge of metropolitan Lisbon, Portugal-based studio CVDB Arquitectos have revitalised a high school with bold Corbusier-inspired flair.

By Rachel Ang

Braamcamp Freire High School was originally built in 1986 with a certain brutalist rigour, and typically of its time, consisted of 5 standardized prefabricated classroom buildings – a central one with a single storey and four two storey pavilions. These were configured along an east-west axis, and connected by covered walkways. The existing school included a gym and playground which were alienated from the other buildings.


The rehabilitation of the school buildings is part of a greater initiative in Portugal, the “Modernization of Secondary Schools Programme”, which has been implemented since 2007. The Programme aims to reorganise school spaces, redefine their various functional zones, and make their spaces accessible to their local communities.


The architect’s primary strategy has been to restructure the dispersed pavilion typology into one single building, connecting the existing blocks with internal circulation spaces which they see as a continuous path weaving throughout the different buildings and levels. The circulation spaces are articulated to accommodate various existing and new programs, informal learning and social spaces. This “learning street” encircles a large open courtyard, which connects to the school’s playground and carves out a space as their outdoor social and play space.


Perhaps the “learning street” is most clearly manifest in the space which flows beneath the classroom building, which is supported by a series of punctured concrete walls. The curved voids in these walls are all different – some archways, some more like large irregular windows – allowing all kinds of ways for students to use and inhabit the space. It’s a clever take on the traditional school corridor – adapting the structure to speak playfully, creating spaces for students to sit, talk and play.

The new built form takes many of its stylistic cues from modernist giant Corbusier, particularly the period in which Unite d’Habitation was realised in Marseille. The exteriors are constructed from insitu and prefabricated grey concrete, with massive splayed sill windows, expressive use of concrete’s sculptural qualities, and bold primary colours accenting particular moments. Perhaps the most joyful moments are when these act together – the sensual curve of a bright yellow spiral stair, the striking blue wall of acoustic panels, or the golden folded canopy and skylight, channeling the sun down a flight of stairs.

Braamcamp Freire High School, PortugalCVDB Architects


School:  Rua Dr. Gama Barros 1697-002, PONTINHA, Portugal
Architects: R. das Chagas 17, 1200 Lisboa, Portugal
Photographs are by Invisible Gentleman.

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