Alejandro Aravena of ELEMENTAL is having a banner year. The Chilean architect—and director of the upcoming 2016 Venice Biennale—has been named the winner of the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize. He is best known for his socially-minded approach to architecture—namely housing and disaster relief. Aravena has a number of completed projects that range from “chairs” for sitting on the ground (commissioned by Vitra) to a master plan for Santiago, Chile in the aftermath of a 2010 magnitude 8.8 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
ELEMENTAL’s work with social housing includes a series of “half-finished homes,” a new model for housing designed for the poorest members of society. By leaving the units spaced, the architects allow future users to add-on and personalize their housing, which makes social housing an investment rather than simply a front-end cost. It was first tested at Quinta Monroy (completed 2003) in Iquique, Tarapacá, Chile, and was then replicated at Villa Verde (2010) in Constitución, Maule Region, Chile and their Monterrey Housing (2010) in Monterrey, Mexico.
In June 2011, in an interview with AN West Coast Editor Mimi Zeiger, Aravena said:
“Social housing is a question with intellectual merit. It is a tough question—a challenge, a professional challenge. We had to acccept the constraints in the market. Follow all the constraints, then your solution may be replicated. Prove the point that you can do better, then the market can imitate you. It is not about building one unit, but about building 100, because the market operates at that scale. We went for the real thing. Once you decompose the constraints—that is the good thing about being an outsider—you ask the stupid questions. When you are in a given field you are overwhelmed by the problem.”
Aravena’s 2016 Biennale opens in May and will be themed “Reporting From the Front.” It aims to explore how architecture is battling in the real world to confronting the social and political issues that we are faced with today. It should pick up—to some extent— where the Chicago Biennial left off last fall.
According to the Pritzker committee:
Alejandro Aravena has delivered works of architectural excellence in the fields of private, public and educational commissions both in his home country and abroad…. He has undertaken projects of different scales from single-family houses to large institutional buildings…. He understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels.”