It was while serving on a prize-giving jury that the principals of São Paulo architectural firms Rosenbaum and Aleph Zero realized they share a dedication to socially committed architecture.

That discovery has now led to being jointly awarded the prestigious RIBA International Prize 2018 for their first project together—new living quarters for over 500 disadvantaged children attending a boarding school at the edge of the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil.

Comprising almost 270,000 square feet, twin residential blocks (one each for boys and girls) are centered around three courtyards shaded from the tropical sun by a large, overhanging wood canopy. Bedrooms are located on the ground floor, with a series of multiuse communal areas for study, play, and relaxation located above.

The design team sought to create a “dialogue” between the ancestral values of the region’s inhabitants and a vision for the future, according to Rosenbaum’s Adriana Benguela. The team’s study of local indigenous building materials and techniques led to the decision to use unfired mud bricks in perforated walls to maximize ventilation. As a result, says Benguela, the interiors can be more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than outdoor temperatures in the hot climate.

The architects also sought to create an environment that prepared students for their roles as involved citizens. “Our starting point was to transform what had been lodgings into a home,” notes Benguela. Previously, the school’s dormitories slept up to 40 children together. Now they share rooms designed for no more than six, with great attention paid to creating a rich mix of public and private spaces throughout the building. “This coexistence between the public and private can give the child a vision of future citizenship,” says Benguela.