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Public childcare
Bahia, 1987

By changing from a flat to a vaulted-ceiling cross section, Lelé provided the childcare with a new visual and spatial identity.

João Filgueiras Lima, popularly known as Lelé (1932-2014), was a Brazilian architect who made his reputation by engaging in prefabricated architecture. Using ferrocement (introduced in Brazil as argamassa armada) as main construction material, Lelé came to build factories and several public buildings in cities like Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and Salvador. (1)

Construction details emerge early on Lelé’s conceptual process, which from the beginning is thought through a combination of functional, aesthetic and technical concerns. Even in his first sketches, we can immediately identify the strict rationalization of the built space, the manufacturing process and the assembly of precast components.

This article aims to illustrate both Lelé’s broad understanding of the tectonic dimension of architecture and the conceptual rigor of his proposals, through the analysis of the public childcare designed by the architect in 1987 and mass-produced in the following years by the state-owned factory FAEC, in Salvador, Bahia.

Part of the Social Integrated Action Movement of Bahia (Movimento de Ação Integrada Social da Bahia, MAIS), a public program led by the then First Lady Yolanda Pires (1987-89), the prefabricated crèches were intended to be more than an urban landmark settled in the outskirts of Salvador. They were designed to combat the conditions of child poverty in the area where one third of local population of children was impoverished, undernourished and poorly educated. (2)

By changing from a flat to a vaulted-ceiling cross section – to differ from the prefabricated schools of the ongoing educational program – Lelé provided the kindergarten with a new visual and spatial identity. However, instead of simply changing the shape of the roof components, he transformed the succession of juxtaposed double-layered ferrocement shells into a true barrel vault, and therefore suppressed the heavy beams used in the school system.

For the crèches realized in Salvador, Lelé adopted a structural solution that may have drawn conceptually from the prestressed brick dome roofs of Eladio Dieste, (3) of whom Lelé was a great admirer. We notice this in the monolithic design Lelé gave to the junction of slender arched structures, by creating two in-situ grouting lines between the roof components at the lower and at the upper part of the domes.

When combined the ferrocement shells create a 3 cm deep channel for reinforced steel and in situ poured mortar. Apart from enabling a more flexible layout – as the disposition of columns on the ground plan can allow for a new spatial pattern – the crèche roof resolves the tensile stresses of the system at the apex of the vault, while the compression is resolved by the grouting of the channel. In addition, metal rods buried in the mortar ensure the necessary equilibrium between successive different cord arches.

Thus, the non-traditional manner of solidifying precast elements, either with ceramic bricks in the case of Dieste or ferrocement shells in the case of Lelé, shows that the beauty of innovative construction techniques does not depend on scale, but rather on the ingeniousness of the solution.


In 2010, Giancarlo Latorraca (Museu da Casa Brasileira, MCB) and Max Risselada (TU Delft) edited the updated version of Lelé’s œuvre complète (Risselada and Latorraca 2010). The book was followed by a homonymous exhibition held in São Paulo A arquitetura de Lelé: fábrica e invenção (The architecture of Lelé: factory and invention) and later renamed and presented in Rotterdam (2012), Cologne and Hamburg (2015) as “Lelé: a culture of materials and the art of production”.


For a complete picture of the social situation, see: Lívia Pedreira. “Estética da Repetição.” Arquitetura e Urbanismo 4, no. 20 (1988): 30–38.


Eladio Dieste (1917-2000) was an Uruguayan engineer who developed his work based on the innovative use of thin-shell structures for roofs in single-layer brick vaults. For further information, see: Stanford Anderson. Eladio Dieste: Innovation in Structural Art. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

22.Feb.2018 4439 views
Adalberto Vilela Adalberto Vilela

Adalberto Vilela is currently a PhD candidate at the gta Institute of History and Theory of Architecture, ETHZ. He holds a bachelor and master’s degree from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Brasília. His research is focused on the development of industrialized architecture in Brazil, with special emphasis on the work of the architect João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé. Ongoing investigations include the production process of prefabricated buildings using ferrocement as main material. In 2017, he published his master thesis “A casa na obra de João Filgueiras Lima, Lelé” (EdUnB, Brasília).

22.Feb.2018 4439 views
Fábio Savastano Fábio Savastano

Fábio Savastano is an architect and urbanist graduated in 1978 from the University of Brasília. He collaborated with Lelé from 1979 to 2014, becoming a member of his team. Among the most significant professional activities, he participated as a designer and construction manager in Lelé’s precast factories in Salvador (Renurb, FAEC and CTRS), and he has taught building design and construction techniques at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Southern Brazil. Nowadays he works in his architecture office in Brasília.

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