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Centro de Referência Quebradeiras de Babaçu

Estúdio Flume

Vitória do Mearim, MA, Brazil

October 2022


Noelia Monteiro de Ribeiro (Author and technical supervisor), Christian Naoyuki Teshirogi (Author and technical supervisor)


Marina Lickel (Architect designer), Ana Lúcia Hizo (lighting), Miguel Noleto Machado (builder)


Patrícia Hespanhol S. Fernandes


Maíra Acayaba


The project represents an innovation in the daily work of the group. During its development, we worked alongside the community in a series of collective design workshops to better understand their work flow, traditions, needs, and expectations, starting with group dynamics and collective drawing exercises.
The ground floor is organized in a sequence of production areas according to the workflow: Shop, office, babassu drying area, toilets, storerooms, pulp extraction area, collective babassu breaking area, kitchen, and raw material sanitizing tanks. In parallel, the self-supporting structure defines the working spaces, consisting of a sequence of covered and uncovered patios and community meeting spaces. A second independent structure to support the roof was built using local wood authorized by IBAMA (The Brazilian Institute of Natural Renewable Resources).

This double covering offers better thermal comfort conditions, ensuring permanently shaded and ventilated areas. It also provides a protected building site that ensures continuity throughout the different stages of the construction process. First the foundations were laid, then the roof was constructed, thus providing a protected area on the building site for the manufacturing of compressed earth bricks on-site during the rainy season, and finally self-supporting masonry modules. The roof includes gutters to capture rainwater as well as a sewage and greywater treatment systems, using a biodigester septic tank (for sewage) and a banana plantation circle (for greywater). All these techniques were discussed and disseminated within the community, encouraging their replicability to achieve a greater positive environmental impact that goes beyond the project itself.


The babassu palm is of great economic importance for local communities. The harvesting of its fruit is the largest non-timber vegetal extract in the country and a source of income for many families, despite its steady decline over the years. This decline is influenced mainly by territorial conflicts and the advance of cattle breeding, as well as the exploitation of the soil, rich in natural resources.

The coconut harvesters are officially recognised as one of the 28 traditional Brazilian communities. The reference center strengthens the traditions that are passed down from generation to generation, from the gathering of the coconut to the cracking and removal of the kernels. The center also allows the community to process the raw babassu into a diverse line of products that drastically increases their income.

The project defines its construction characteristics based on a re-reading of local materials and construction techniques. The region still presents many single-family dwellings made of wattle and daub. The village is located 35 km away from the nearest urban center: the city of Vitória do Mearim. Depending on the season, transportation is only possible by boat, making land transport unviable during the rainy season.

In view of the geographical conditions, the difficulty of bringing in outside construction materials, and the reading of the region's own techniques and resources, we opted for the use of a compressed earth block, produced on-site. Through this new method of earth-based construction, the maintenance of the built structure is greatly reduced in the long term.


The community of harvesters is exceptionally proud of the work that has been carried out, having participated in the entire project decision-making process, producing a spatial and temporal translation of their ancestral working techniques. The construction team incorporated much of its own knowledge during the construction process, leading to design revisions and an exchange of knowledge for all agents involved in the project.

This process allows architecture to function as a means to provide equality, freedom, and the flexibility to adapt to new demands. Since its inception, the project has acted as a space for representation before institutions and has dignified their work by adding value to the product through alternative applications. The project also provides food-safe production, enabling access to new markets. The collective meeting space for group work and organization of the community at large has improved their quality of life to such an extent that it calls for an expansion of the project to include new functions and processes.

Due to the fact that the village has few resources and no collective use equipment, the Reference Center is also functioning as a meeting place for the community. Considering that more than 40 of the women who make up part of the group of harvesters are mothers and grandmothers, the workplace also becomes a place for social mobilization and recreation for their families and neighbors. With the success of the project, the sponsors are interested in replicating the project in two more locations in the state of Maranhão.

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