Educational Architecture for the Community: Exploring the Works of Plan:b Architects in Colombia

Founded by architects Felipe Mesa and Federico Mesa, the Plan:b arquitectos studio is located in the city of Medellín, Colombia, bringing together building design, participation in academic activities, and the construction of concepts capable of connecting architecture with the urgent realities of everyday life. Understanding the architectural project as a provisional pact, permeable configuration, and positive expression of eco-social constraints, they have constructed a large number of buildings of various scales and programs since 2000, ranging from public, educational, and sports spaces to housing, offices, hotels, and installations.

Plan:b arquitectos’ approach considers architecture as an amplification of concrete situations in the world. As seen in their Orquideorama project, they like to think there is no difference between the natural and the artificial, reflecting on a living architecture where the connection of energy to matter or materials introduces the realm of life, processes, and becoming. From residential projects like Amaluna House or the House in Río Cedro to larger-scale projects like the Hotel Click Clack Medellín or Escenarios Deportivos, the firm engages with various materials, whether metal structures, wood-based, or exposed concrete, while simultaneously intervening in environments with different climatic and geographical conditions.

Simultaneous architecture, then, is nothing more than our stance towards architecture. It is the attempt to define a personal way of acting, open and under construction. – Plan:b arquitectos

Both graduates of the Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB) in Colombia, the Mesa brothers are part of “Archipiélago de Arquitectura,” a Colombian group of architects that explores the connections between design and new ways of living in Latin America. This group has published three books through Mesaestandar: Archipiélago de Arquitectura I, Archipiélago de Arquitectura II (Theory of the Set), and Archipiélago de Arquitectura III (Architecture is Not What It Seems / Architecture is a Habit). Regarding the practice and teaching of architecture, their projects and research have also been published by Mesaestandar in Partial Agreements (2005), Architecture on Hold (2007), Permeability (2013), Architecture in Reverse (2017); and by AR+D Publishing in 12 Projects in 120 Constraints (2021). Currently, Felipe is an assistant professor at The Design School (Architecture Program) at Arizona State University, while Federico is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Design at the Pontifical Bolivarian University (UPB) in Medellín.

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The architecture of Plan:b arises from a very realistic work that reveals a precise effort from within limitations: architecture of probable geometries that breaks the condition of frontality, where the exterior and interior spaces are articulated in osmosis, and the interior material extends to the exterior without breaking the architectural figure. Dihedral projects that demonstrate a fierce struggle for the essential, working with simple, fundamental materials, bringing them to a finished state. If that material were removed, the project, whatever it may be, would collapse. Buildings that show sensitivity to the sparse situations of life: getting the scale of a school’s canopy right or preserving the backyard of an industrial warehouse. All the projects seem to proceed with this general attitude. – Andrés Perea Ortega. Bogotá, March 2006.

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With a broad architectural portfolio developed, they have worked with various professionals such as Giancarlo Mazzanti, JPRCR Arquitectos, Ctrl G, and others. In a tour of their educational architecture works, explore some of the many projects the office has developed in Colombia in dialogue with local communities.

Environmental Classroom UES / Plan:b arquitectos

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Commissioned by the Civil Association TAGMA, which is dedicated to educational, participatory, and sustainable projects in Latin America and develops a participatory design process together with technical teams and communities, the UES Environmental Classroom at the El Rincón Educational Institution in the municipality of San Jerónimo, Antioquia, is intended for theoretical and practical environmental education with sustainable strategies that are integrated, visible, and form part of the educational experience.

Miguel Valencia Educational Institution / Plan:b arquitectos

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The Miguel Valencia educational institution is positioned on the site of previous buildings that were in poor condition. On low-resistance soil, the buildings were constructed on the most stable strips of land while maintaining the existing sports courts. From a distance, these buildings serve as landmarks in the coffee-growing landscape.

Siete Vueltas Rural Educational Institution / Plan:b arquitectos

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As a unique landmark in the landscape, the rural educational institution Siete Vueltas was built to replace previous buildings in poor condition on the semi-arid landscape and nearly flat terrain of the San Juan de Urabá municipality. These modular buildings form a polygonal perimeter with corridors on the inside and quiet facades facing the exterior.

Chaparral Rural School / Plan:b arquitectos

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The rural school Chaparral replaced an educational institution in poor condition with a new building on the same plot in the Chaparral village of the municipality of San Vicente Ferrer. Being a rural school attended by the children of local farmers, economical, durable, and low-maintenance materials similar to those used in the region were used, contrasting with the color of the vegetation and crops.

Mi Yuma Educational Park / Plan:b arquitectos

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The Mi Yuma Educational Park is part of a new network of small-format public buildings planned by the Government of Antioquia, which allows for collaborative work between a group of municipal representatives, the Government, and the architects, where the community can express their needs through texts and drawings. For this regular and compact building, the community expressed their desire for flexible classrooms and spacious, cool, and low-maintenance areas.

Embera Atrato Medio School / Plan:b arquitectos

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In the Municipality of Vigía del Fuerte, which is part of the Department of Antioquia in Colombia, the Embera Atrato Medio educational institution plans to welcome indigenous communities for short and regular periods throughout the year, allowing them to live, sleep, eat, and receive education without having to permanently leave their villages. The proposal involves a permeable architecture regarding use and materials, which aligns with the climate and rural context.

San Vicente Ferrer Community Center / Plan:b arquitectos

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The San Vicente Ferrer Educational Park is part of a new network of public buildings planned by the Government of Antioquia in coordination with municipal communities, aiming to provide quality education to various regions of the Department. As part of a collaborative effort, the community expressed their desire to have a building with a central courtyard and the possibility of an outdoor theater, aspects that were incorporated with the site’s topographical features along with the educational program defined by the Government.

Explore more of Plan:b architects’ built projects by entering here.

This article is part of an ArchDaily series titled Get to know the works of, where we look at the built portfolio of a studio, explore their creative process and highlight their approach. As always, at ArchDaily, we greatly appreciate the contributions of our readers. If you think we should highlight a particular architectural firm, send us your suggestions.

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