In an exclusive half-hour interview with Alejandro Aravena, Monocle's Josh Fehnert questions the recent Pritzker Prize-laureate on Chilean architecture and urbanism, why he considers simple design as the key to alleviating the world's biggest woes, and the conception and ultimate result of his 15th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.
The XV International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale opened its doors last month. Under the directorship of Chilean Pritzker Prize-winner Alejandro Aravena, “Reporting the front” asked architects to go beyond “business as usual” and investigate concealed built environments – conflict zones and urban slums, as well as locations suffering from housing shortage, migrations and environmental disasters. Clearly, the aim of this Biennale is to open the profession to new fields of engagement and share knowledge on how to improve people’s quality of life.
This stance that has been highly criticized by Patrik Schumacher, director of Zaha Hadid Architects, who believes that architects “are not equipped to [address these issues]. It’s not the best value for our expertise.” But is this a view shared by the rest of the design world and its critics? What are the limits and benefits of this “humanitarian architecture”? Read on to find out critics’ comments.
As founder of the “Do Tank” firm ELEMENTAL, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena (born on June 22, 1967) is perhaps the most socially engaged architect to receive the Pritzker Prize. Far from the usual aesthetic-driven approach, Aravena explains that “We don’t think of ourselves as artists. Architects like to build things that are unique. But if something is unique it can’t be repeated, so in terms of it serving many people in many places, the value is close to zero.”  For Aravena, the architect’s primary goal is to improve people's way of life by assessing both social needs and human desires, as well as political, economic and environmental issues.
The Center for Architecture, in collaboration with CONSTRUCTO, will present the exhibition EXTRA-ORDINARY: New Practices in Chilean Architecture, opening on Wednesday, June 22 at 5:30 pm, curated by CONSTRUCTO foundersJeannette Plaut and Marcelo Sarovic. The opening will begin with a roundtable discussion between Plaut, Sarovic and MoMA Director Glenn Lowry and will be followed by a presentation by architect Smiljan Radic.
Aravena's "Reporting From The Front" Is Nothing Like Koolhaas' 2014 Biennale—But It's Equally as Good
As director of the 2016 Venice Biennale, Alejandro Aravena has sought to shift the very grounds of architecture. Rather than an inward-looking interrogation of the profession's shortcomings, as Rem Koolhaas undertook in 2014, the Chilean Pritzker Prize-winner asks us to gaze in the opposite direction—to the vast swathes of the built horizon that traditionally lay beyond the profession's purview: urban slums, denatured megacities, conflict zones, environmentally compromised ports, rural villages far off the grid.
"We believe that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life," states Aravena in his introduction to event. In other words, his biennale does not ask what architecture ought, yet often fails, to be, but rather what it could, yet often forgets, to do.
In early March, at the Presidential Palace in Chile, a never before seen event took place for Chilean architecture. Architects, government officials as well as the media gathered for the first Venice Biennale press conference to be held in Spanish.
As the first South American selected to curate the Biennale, Alejandro Aravena was excited as he delivered the latest news on “Reporting from the Front,” the XV International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, which opened its doors to the public on May 28:
“The Biennale, the invited architects, as well as the curators, did not intend to do anything other than open a debate in which architecture can be used to improve quality of life through the sharing of knowledge. This debate holds more significance since we are speaking at the Presidential Palace because it conveys the message that these issues are important. Thank you so much for the opportunity and the chance to be here.”
The President’s presence at an event like this is a symbol that consolidates a chapter of progress and achievements in Chilean architecture. In the last two decades, Chilean architecture has positioned itself in the world as a force to be recognized, and Chilean architects are now obtaining international recognition, which would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
"Scrutinizing the horizon and looking for a new perspective" is what Alejandro Aravena has encouraged in the 2016 Venice Biennale, Reporting From the Front. "[He] has staged one of the most socially charged Biennales," Gillian Dobias reports, by "exploring the different ways that design can add value." In this, the first of two film reportages from the Biennale, Monocle talks to Aravena about his hopes for stimulating the debate on improving quality of life in the built environment, and tour the Central Pavilion and the Arsenale to uncover what's on show.
There is an enormous intensity of information, knowledge and ideas on display at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale, Reporting From the Front. With all the Executive Editors and Editors-in-Chief of ArchDaily's platforms in English, Spanish and (Brazilian) Portuguese in Venice for the opening of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale—plus co-founder David Basulto and European Editor-at-Large James Taylor-Foster, who curated this year's Nordic Pavilion—we've pooled together twelve of our initial favourite exhibitions and must-see shows.
Earlier this year, we reported that 2016 Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena announced that his practice, ELEMENTAL, released four of their social housing designs available to the public for open source use. A recent article published by Urbanisms in beta discusses what exactly “open source use” means to the architecture world, and how we may see these designs applied to projects in the future.
On May 28th, a selection of participants of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, including Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster convened for the first of Alejandro Aravena's "Meetings on Architecture," a series of talks that will take place throughout the Biennale. Under the theme of INFRASTRUCTURE, each invited speaker was given the chance to explain stories behind their participating projects in the Biennale, and the floor was also opened up for questions from the audience.
However, as Aravena explains about the talks, “we have organized them around themes, but architecture by nature always integrates more than one dimension. These Meetings will thus be a way to get from the authors themselves the richness and complexity of the built environment, and what it takes to get things done.” While highlighting unique projects, topics at the first Meeting converged around the focus on shaping the urbanization of emerging economies and the socio-political process and effect of realizing each project. The rest of the speaking panel was comprised by Joan Clos, Andrew Makin and Grupo EPM.
"Architecture is about giving form to the places where we live. It is not more complicated than that, but also not easier than that." - Alejandro Aravena
On the first day of the vernissage 15th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, ArchDaily is pleased to show you a preview of the exhibitions and installations that were hand selected by Alejandro Aravena and his firm Elemental. Separate from (but in dialogue with) the National Pavilions, "Reporting From the Front" celebrates work that "address[es] a problem that matters and for which quality architecture made a difference."
In an exhibition whose aim is to share the "success stories" where architecture is making a difference, Alejandro Aravena has convened offices and practitioners from across the globe to show—"in the simplest possible terms (without trivializing)"—projects that demonstrate innovation, resolve and quality problem-solving abilities.
On the eve of the Venice Biennale, The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman sits down with Alejandro Aravena in an intimate profile for T Magazine’s Beauty Issue. Visiting a number of projects by the architect and his office, Elemental, Kimmelman experiences socially minded architecture in an age of informal growth, income inequality, and mounting threats linked to climate change, all while learning about Aravena’s own path and growth as a practitioner. Although told by colleagues that he might be standoffish, Kimmelman finds Aravena to be “earnest, open, a little nerdy –– and deadly serious.”
The Board of Directors of La Biennale di Venezia, upon recommendation from Alejandro Aravena, have announced the jury for the forthcoming Venice Biennale who will award the Golden Lion for Best National Participation, the Golden Lion for Best Participant in the International Exhibition Reporting From the Front, and the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Participant in the International Exhibition Reporting From the Front. They will also have the opportunity to award one special mention to National Participations and two special mentions to the participants in the International Exhibition.
The Board of Directors of La Biennale di Venezia, upon recommendation from Alejandro Aravena, have announced the Brazilian Pritzker Prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha as the recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, Reporting From the Front. Citing the "timelessness" of his work "both physically and stylistically" as "the most striking attribute of his architecture," the board have also stated that "this astonishing consistency may be the consequence of his ideological integrity and structural genius."
When Alejandro Aravena was awarded the Pritzker Prize earlier this month, he made a remarkable and significant announcement: he had published the plans of four of his social housing projects on his website, for anyone and everyone to study and use.
Through the work of his firm Elemental, Aravena is known for his interest in incremental, participatory housing design: a common-sense way of working within financial restraints and a cornerstone of Elemental’s studio work. The motto—focus first on what is most difficult to achieve, what cannot be done individually, and what will guarantee the common good in the future—resulted in a “half a house.” First introduced over a decade ago, the model consists of an expandable 40 square-meter (431 square-feet) container with basic infrastructure (partitions, structural and firewalls, bathroom, kitchen, stairs, a roof) built-in and added to over time. It is not only an achievement from a conceptual and project management standpoint, but also an aesthetically open and diverse project. From this one idea stemmed 100 variations.
ArchDaily is pleased to share, with the permission of The Hyatt Foundation and The Pritzker Architecture Prize, a transcript of Alejandro Aravena's acceptance speech at the April 4, 2016 award ceremony for the 2016 Pritzker Prize presented at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Responding to curator Alejandro Aravena's theme "Reporting from the front," the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo has selected Washington Fajardo to present an exhibition titled “JUNTOS.” The project for the Brazilian pavilion will highlight stories of people who have fought to achieve changes in institutional passivity in Brazil's big cities. They have created architecture within slow processes, bringing stable solutions in a politically tumultuous territory. According to the curator, “the exhibition is a composition of these pathways and partnerships, where activism meets architects and architecture, becoming a magnet in the preparation of a new space.”
The 2016 Pritzker laureate Alejandro Aravena has announced that his firm, ELEMENTAL, has chosen to release four of their social housing designs to the public for open source use. Speaking in a panel discussion held by the Pritzker Prize earlier tonight titled Challenges Ahead for the Built Environment, Aravena stressed the need to work together to tackle the challenge of rapid migration that is taking place all around the globe, a message closely tied to the theme of the upcoming Venice Biennale which Aravena is directing. In this spirit, DWGs of these four designs - which offer the basic elements of a house at a low budget and encourage the residents to expand into an adjacent space as they find the money to do so - will be available for architects worldwide to learn from.