Housing activist wins Pritzker Prize

11 March 2016

The Chilean Alejandro Aravena has been named the winner of the 2016 Pritzker Prize.

The 48-year-old Aravena gained international attention for the first time in northern Chile. A meager budget made it impossible to buy land and also provide good housing. In Aravena’s own words: “If there’s no money to build a good house for everyone, we reasoned, let’s build half of good a house for everyone.” The project provided a concrete structure with a kitchen, bathroom and roof to each of the families. The families could then complete their houses according to their own needs and capacity. According to The Guardian, the value of these properties has increased five-fold since 2004 and the model has already been repeated in Chile and used in Mexico, with about 2,500 homes built according to this method.

In Iquique, Chile, Aravena provided a concrete frame, with kitchen, bathroom and a roof (left), which were designed to allow families to fill in the gaps (right). Photograph: Cristobal Palma

In Iquique, Chile, Aravena provided a concrete frame, with kitchen, bathroom and a roof (left), which were designed to allow families to fill in the gaps (right). Photograph: Cristobal Palma

Elemental, Aravena’s practice, has also been approached for a sustainable reconstruction plan for the Chilean city of Constitucion following the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2010. Their first step was to set up a space in the city centre where residents could pop in and freely share their dreams and needs. Topping the ultimate list was the desire for public space and democratic access to the river.

According to the jury for the Pritzker Prize, Aravena leads a “new generation of architecs who entertain a holistic understanding of the built environment and have clearly shown the ability to link social responsibility, economic requirements, design of the human environment and the city. Few have managed to tackle the practice of architecture as an artistic enterprise while also meeting today’s social and economic needs.”

Aravena has previously designed a series of buildings at his alma mater, the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, including a medical school, school of architecture and an innovation centre. He has also done work in the US, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Iran, Russia, Mexico, Colombia and the Easter Islands.

He is the director of the Venice Architecture Biennale for 2016. The Plitzker Prize will be awarded to him at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

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