Why this ‘shack’ in Brazil’s favela was named house of the year

Key points
  • The house of Kdu dos Anjos is small in size, but received a great reward.
  • It was designed by the Levante architectural team and built for less than $50,000.
  • The award-winning home is located in the bustling Brazilian favela Agglomerado da Serra.

At first glance, this is a house similar to dozens of others in a crowded . But this seemingly modest 66-square-meter dwelling with bare brick walls has just been voted “house of the year” in an international architecture competition.

The house, featured by architecture site ArchDaily, belongs to Cdu dos Anjos, a 32-year-old artist who lives in the bustling Agglomerado da Serra favela, at the foot of a hill on the outskirts of the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

The two-story structure won over several more impressive bidders from India, Mexico, Vietnam and Germany.

“I am very proud that my house received this award, because most of the news about the favelas is about violence and houses destroyed by landslides,” said dos Anjos.

“Today my home is on top of the world!”

“Pure Magic”

Built on a small plot bought by Mr. dos Anjos in 2017, the house is well ventilated and has abundant natural light; It has horizontal casement windows and a large terrace.

“The design of the home is a constructive model that uses common slum materials, with adequate implementation and attention to lighting and ventilation, resulting in a space with excellent environmental quality,” ArchDaily wrote on its website.

For mr. dos Anjos, who founded a cultural center in his community, this award is of particular importance.

“I know my house isn’t the poshest in the world, but it’s a well-built shack,” he said with a smirk.

Mr dos Anjos has been living there since 2020 along with two dogs, a cat and over 60 plants.

“What the architects have done is pure magic,” he said. “We hardly have 66 square meters, but I have hosted parties here with about 200 people.”

Childhood dream come true

The project was designed by the Levante Architectural Collective, which does free or low-cost favela work.

From the outside, the house looks like its neighbors, but it includes several features that make it more durable and more environmentally friendly, especially in its “attention to lighting and ventilation,” said architect Fernando Maculan, project leader.

The obvious difference from nearby houses is the arrangement of bricks, which are stacked horizontally rather than vertically and staggered, which adds strength and improves thermal insulation.

The project took eight months – and a lot of work.

“The masons were furious because they thought laying bricks in this way was very time consuming,” Mr. Maculan said.

“And we had a lot of problems getting materials up the stairs — it’s the last house on the alley and I had to pay a lot of workers to carry it,” he said.

The narrow, winding roads in the favelas are difficult for vehicles to navigate.

Favela Agglomerado da Serra in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte.

Favela Agglomerado da Serra in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte. Credit: Cecilia Alvarenga/Getty Images

The entire work cost 150,000 reais ($43,000) and the investment paid off in more than one way: not only did the architecture award bring international recognition, the house helped Mr. dos Anjos fulfill a childhood dream.

“When I was a boy, I lived in a very modest room with poor insulation. I even got stung by a scorpion – my sister too,” he said.

“Winning this prize after I’ve experienced architecture-related challenges represents a big win for me.”

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