When Venezuelan architects Rodrigo Armas and Julio Kowalenko of Atelier Caracas were commissioned to transform the canteen of a local school into a flexible dining area that could also host small theatrical productions and art shows, they viewed it as an opportunity to revamp the entire building which was in a dire condition—not least because of the socioeconomic crisis that is currently ravaging the country. Faced with budget constraints, the team came up with a simple yet demanding solution inspired by the physiology of parasites. Yes, you read that correctly: just like a parasite living off its host alters its environment without changing the host’s DNA, the architects re-used the building’s existing materials in new and innovative ways in order to alter the school’s spatial configuration and overall ambience.
Faced with growing classes and limited resources, the administration of El Ávila, a preschool to secondary school in Caracas, decided to accommodate a much needed space for creative purposes in the facility’s dining hall. The architects’ decision to re-use the building’s crumbling infrastructure to create brand new spaces not only made financial and environmental sense, it is also a source of inspiration for students and society at large, fostering creativity by demonstrating how beauty is a product of imagination rather than resources.
As Kowalenko explains, “we wanted to rescue local materials that have been traditionally labelled as ugly or ordinary due to poor implementation”. Traditional slabs of white granite and humble terracotta tiles have been used to create bold curves on the floor; non-descript concrete blocks are animated by metallic door-frames and benches in bright yellow, while old blackboards find new life away from the classrooms as doors. Grounded on a playful aesthetic of graphical boldness, the school’s resourceful renovation not only draws attention to the importance of education but also functions as a design paradigm in a country experiencing severe shortages.