“Our plan is not to have a plan, face the uncertain, be open to the unexpected.” – Alejandro Aravena.
Alejandro Aravena, a 48-year-old architect based in Santiago, Chile is the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.
Aravena has won some of the most prestigious architecture prizes in the world. This time he takes home the prestigious Pritzker Prize.
Since 2001, Aravena has been executive director of the Santiago-based ELEMENTAL, a “Do Tank,” as opposed to a think tank, whose partners are Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó, and Diego Torres.
ELEMENTAL has designed more than 2,500 units of low-cost social housing. Aravena’s social housing projects combine innovative architectural design with a social framework that encourages personal investment on the part of the inhabitants. It is a design that leaves space for the residents to complete their houses themselves and thus raise themselves up to a middle-class standard of living.
Aravena didn’t always have this faith. Shortly after graduating in the early 1990s, following a succession of “shitty clients … restaurants, bars, shops”, he got so disillusioned that he quit architecture and opened a bar. “I lived by night, waking up at 5pm and going to bed at 10am,” he says. When he eventually decided to resume his career, he got lucky. A sculptor asked him to design her house, and this was when he learned the lesson that perhaps makes him so intolerant of what’s on offer at the biennale. “I wanted to have that kind of freedom,” he recalls, “so I said, ‘Don’t pay me, but allow me to do whatever I want.’ I think I was rigorous enough, but it was still a completely stupid thing.”
“He understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels.”, 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury.
The 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury Citation states in part, “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…. ”
The thinking behind the ELEMENTAL project to improve social housing is based in 2 principles:
- For poor people, location is even more important than is usually the case. The key question is – “Where is social housing located.”
- A house should gain in value. Social housing should be an investment, not a social expense.
Aravena’s work reminds us that architecture is not just a cultural act but a social one.
You can watch Aravena’s TED talk – My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process – here: