It’s Elementary (Not): On the Architecture of Alejandro Aravena

09:30 - 25 January, 2016
Siamese Towers. Image © Cristobal Palma
Siamese Towers. Image © Cristobal Palma

When reading about the work of Alejandro Aravena, it can sometimes seem like two distinct discussions: one about his widely praised social housing innovations, and another about his impressive (albeit more conventional in scope) buildings for universities and municipalities. In this post originally shared on his Facebook page Hashim Sarkis, the Dean of the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, connects the two apparently separate threads of Aravena's architecture, discovering the underlying beliefs that guide this year's Pritzker Prize winner.

Much of the work of Alejandro Aravena, whether designed alone or with the group ELEMENTAL, embodies a eureka moment, a moment where after a careful interrogation of the program with the client, the architect comes up with a counterintuitive but simple response to the charge. (For the computer center at the Catholic University, the labs have to be both dark and well-lit. For the social housing in Iquique, instead of a full good house that you cannot afford, you get a half good house that you can). In turn, these simple equations are embodied in buildings that usually acquire similarly simple forms. The clients and occupants repeat the “aha” with Aravena’s same tone and realization. “If I cannot convincingly convey the design idea over the phone, then I know it is a bad idea,” he says.

Las Cruces Lookout Point. Image © Iwan Baan Design for Casa OchoQuebradas. Image Courtesy of ELEMENTAL Innovation Center UC - Anacleto Angelini. Image © Nico Saieh Quinta Monroy housing. Image Courtesy of ELEMENTAL +11

AD Round-Up: The Best of Contemporary Chilean Architecture

06:00 - 22 January, 2016
Innovation Center UC / Elemental. Image © Nico Saieh
Innovation Center UC / Elemental. Image © Nico Saieh

Chilean architecture, having long stood in the shadow of more established design traditions in Europe and North America, has been catapulted to the forefront of global attention with the news that architect Alejandro Aravena has been named the 41st Pritzker Prize Laureate – the first Chilean to receive the award. He is also the director of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, which focuses on the role of architects in improving the living conditions of people across the globe, especially in cases where scarce resources and the “inertia of reality” stand in the way of progress.

2016 Pritzker Prize Winner Alejandro Aravena's Work in 15 Images

14:00 - 20 January, 2016
© Cristobal Palma / Estudio Palma
© Cristobal Palma / Estudio Palma

Alejandro Aravena is the first Chilean architect to ever receive a Pritzker Prize. Praised for reviving the socially engaged architect, the 48-year-old architect and executive director of ELEMENTAL has proved architecture's ability to solve pressing global issues through his diverse portfolio. Read on to see 15 projects that exemplify Aravena's contribution to architecture so far. 

Three Years in Villa Verde, ELEMENTAL’s Incremental Housing Project in Constitución, Chile

14:00 - 18 January, 2016

Where were you when it happened? On February 27, 2010 an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Chile, causing destruction across the country. Ask any Chilean what they were doing at the time, and they will have a story to tell.

Oriana Pinochet Villagra and her family were in Constitución when the ground started to shake. A town centered around the forestry industry, Constitución is surrounded by green mountains, and situated where the Maule river meets the Pacific Ocean.

It was one of the cities most affected by the earthquake in 2010. The ocean water flooded the river, wrecking everything that the earthquake hadn’t already destroyed. Those that lived along the riverbank were left in the street with mud burying their houses -- Oriana's family lost 30 years of memories.

Almost six years after the natural disaster, we visited Constitución where Oriana Pinochet showed us one of the major reconstruction projects in the city: Villa Verde Housing, a residential neighborhood for 484 of the affected families. With partial financing from housing subsidies and based on the idea of incremental housing, the project is designed by ELEMENTAL, the “Do Tank” of 2016 Pritzker Prize laureate, Alejandro Aravena

Alejandro Aravena Wins 2016 Pritzker Prize

09:10 - 13 January, 2016

Alejandro Aravena has been named as the winner of the 2016 Pritzker Prize. Highlighting his dedication to improve urban environments and to address the global housing crisis, the Pritzker Prize jury praised the way in which the Chilean architect has "risen to the demands of practicing architecture as an artful endeavor, as well as meeting today's social and economic challenges." Aravena is the 41st Pritzker Prize laureate and the first Chilean to receive the award.

At 48 years of age, Aravena has a large portfolio of private, public and educational projects in Chile, the USA, Mexico, China and Switzerland. But perhaps more notably, through his “Do Tank” firm ELEMENTAL he has managed to build 2,500 units of social housing, engaging in the public housing policies of governments where he works and taking an opportunistic approach to market forces to generate a powerful impact on lower-income communities.

"Alejandro Aravena epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect, especially in his long-term commitment to tackling the global housing crisis and fighting for a better urban environment for all,” explained the Jury in their citation. “He has a deep understanding of both architecture and civil society, as is reflected in his writing, his activism and his designs. The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge."

UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile. Santiago, Chile 2014. Image © Nina Vidic Monterrey Housing. Monterrey, Mexico 2010. Image © Ramiro Ramirez Medical School, Universidad Católica de Chile. Santiago, Chile 2004. Image © Roland Halbe Siamese Towers, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile. Santiago, Chile 2005. Image © Cristobal Palma +23

Alejandro Aravena on a "Time of Shifting Paradigms"

04:00 - 27 November, 2015
© ELEMENTAL
© ELEMENTAL

Writing for Guardian Cities Alejandro Aravena, director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, discusses what he perceives as the social reality of contemporary architects, the power of design in mobilising people to act, and "how architecture can introduce a broader notion of gain" in the face of ever greedier and evermore powerful development companies the world over. 

Any attempt to go beyond business as usual encounters huge resistance in the inertia of reality. Any effort to tackle relevant issues has to overcome the increasing complexity of the world. [...] It's time to rethink the entire role and language of architecture.

Aravena's Venice Biennale Theme Offers Hope for the Future of the Profession

09:30 - 2 September, 2015
Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

On Monday, the Venice Biennale announced the theme of their 2016 event, to be directed by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. The provocative title chosen by Aravena is "Reporting From the Front," a title loaded with implications of a battle against what he refers to as the "inertia of reality."

"More and more people in the planet are in search for a decent place to live and the conditions to achieve it are becoming tougher and tougher by the hour," explains his curatorial statement. "But unlike military wars where nobody wins and there is a prevailing sense of defeat, on the frontlines of the built environment, there is a sense of vitality because architecture is about looking at reality in a proposal key."

Aravena will have big shoes to fill. The previous Biennale, Rem Koolhaas' 2014 event, was extremely successful and highly praised by many critics. It was also widely regarded as the most anticipated event in the Biennale's history, after the Biennale had courted Koolhaas for years. But if Koolhaas' Biennale was the event that people looked forward to, I believe - or rather I hope - that Aravena's Biennale will be the one that people look back on in decades to come.

Venice Biennale Announces Theme for 2016 Event: "Reporting From the Front"

08:50 - 31 August, 2015
Alejandro Aravena. Image Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
Alejandro Aravena. Image Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

The Venice Biennale has announced the theme selected by 2016 Biennale director Alejandro Aravena. Titled "Reporting From the Front," next year's Biennale will be an investigation into the role of architects in the battle to improve the living conditions for people all over the world. The theme aims to focus on architecture which works within the constraints presented by a lack of resources, and those designs which subvert the status quo to produce architecture for the common good - no matter how small the success.

Alejandro Aravena Appointed Director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale

08:45 - 18 July, 2015
Alejandro Aravena. Image © Cristóbal Palma, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
Alejandro Aravena. Image © Cristóbal Palma, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia

Today, in Venice, the Board of la Biennale di Venezia named Chilean architect and Pritzker jury member Alejandro Aravena as the Director of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition. Held bi-annually in the capital city of Italy's Veneto region, the 2016 edition of the Biennale will take place from May 28 - November 27, 2016.

Citing the increasing popularity and success of the previous Architecture Biennales, chairman Paolo Baratta confirmed, "after many years in which the Architecture Biennale has continued to grow, we may now consolidate the decision to make it last six months, given the steady increment in the attendance of architecture schools from all over the world who come to participate in the Biennale Sessions project, and have made the Architecture Biennale a pilgrimage destination for students and teachers from the universities of many countries, from the United States to China.”

TED Talk: My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process / Alejandro Aravena

00:00 - 6 November, 2014

“If there is any power in design, that’s the power of synthesis.”

In this TED Talk Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, the founder of ELEMENTAL, speaks about some of the design challenges he has faced in Chile and his innovative approaches to solving them. Emphasizing the need for simplicity in design, Aravena talks about three of his projects: the Quinta Monroy social housing project, through which he developed the “half-finished home” typology for governments to provide quality homes at incredibly low-prices; his “inside-out” design for the Pontifical Catholic University’s Innovation Center UC – Anacelto Angelini, which reduced energy costs by two-thirds; and lastly his masterplan for rebuilding a resilient coastline in Constitución Chile after the city was hit by the 2010 earthquake.

Aravena also emphasized the importance of community participation in his projects, saying: “We won’t ever solve the problem unless we use people’s own capacity to build.” Watch Aravena’s full talk above and take a peek at some of his key projects below. 

TED Talk: My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process / Alejandro Aravena TED Talk: My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process / Alejandro Aravena TED Talk: My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process / Alejandro Aravena TED Talk: My Architectural Philosophy? Bring the Community Into the Process / Alejandro Aravena +11

Video: Alejandro Aravena on PRES Constitución and Rebuilding After Disaster

00:00 - 11 October, 2014

Santiago-based architect Alejandro Aravena of Elemental discusses the sustainable reconstruction of Constitución in Chile following a devastating earthquake in 2010. Given just 100 days to design a resilient masterplan, capable of protecting the city against future natural disasters, Elemental implemented a natural solution: planting a forest that would protect the city from future floods. The design has since receive international recognition, most recently being awarded first prize in the Zumtobel Group Award’s Urban Development & Initiatives category.

Exclusive Video: Innovation Center UC - Anacleto Angelini / Alejandro Aravena | ELEMENTAL

00:00 - 15 September, 2014

Chile is recognized internationally for the quality of its architecture, even though its most lauded projects are not often found in urban areas. At a time when the true potential of Chilean architecture seems absent from the South American country's cities, Alejandro Aravena | ELEMENTAL has designed a conceptually - and physically - dense project in Santiago.  

Japanese and Chilean Architects Collaborate to Design Houses for the Ochoalcubo Project

01:00 - 26 August, 2014
Kengo Kuma's proposal. Image Courtesy of Ochoalcubo
Kengo Kuma's proposal. Image Courtesy of Ochoalcubo

Ochoalcubo (Eight-Cubed) is a pioneering project in Chile that seeks to unite leading Chilean and Japanese practices with ground-breaking architecture. The collaborative enterprise was started by Eduardo Godoy, a design impresario who began working in Chile in the 1980s and who has always been a strong advocate for innovative design and architecture in the country. For a nation that boasts more than forty individual schools of architecture, the ever growing number of professionals seems to have had a relatively small impact on Chilean cities. Faced with the seemingly infinite landscape of 'cookie-cutter housing' in the suburbs, Godoy implemented Ochoalcubo in order to provide opportunities for young professionals, alongside fostering a new kind of appreciation for the profession itself. With a large number of architects having taken part in the first stage, including Smiljan Radic (designer of the 2014 Serpentine Pavilion), the third and fourth stage of what is certainly one of the world's largest active architectural laboratories will be launched in the coming days.

See images from all sixteen proposals from third and fourth stages of the Ochoalcubo project, including those by SANAASou FujimotoKengo KumaAlejandro Aravena and Atelier Bow Wow, after the break.

Holcim Foundation Announces Jury for 2015 Global Award

00:00 - 12 June, 2014
Courtesy of Holcim Foundation
Courtesy of Holcim Foundation

The Holcim Foundation has announced the global jury for the 2015 Holcim Awards, its triennial prize which encourages architects, planners, engineers, project owners and students to share their projects and visions that "go beyond conventional notions of sustainable construction."

The 2015 prize is the Holcim Foundation's fourth cycle, and this year will feature a total prize fund of $2 million - a significant increase on their 2012 prize fund of $300,000. To oversee the awards, they have recruited independent experts of international stature, including the Deans of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and ETH Zurich, and Alejandro Aravena of Chilean practice Elemental.

Read on after the break for the full list of jurors and more on the prize

Pritzker Juror Alejandro Aravena on Shigeru Ban: Virtuousity in Service of Our Most Urgent Challenges

00:00 - 25 March, 2014

The following is Alejandro Aravena's response to the Shigeru Ban's Pritzker winAravena is the executive director of the firm ELEMENTAL S.A and a member of the Pritzker Jury who selected Ban as this year's Pritzker Laureate.

Shigeru Ban has expanded the field of architecture in unexpected ways. He has proved that the inspired artist and the skilled designer is not inevitably condemned to work for a privileged elite, but that innovation can take place while working for the majority, particularly those historically underserved, forgotten or neglected. In order to do that, he redefined the approach to deal with difficult, urgent and relevant challenges, replacing professional charity by professional quality. Ban has shown that no matter how tough the circumstances or scarce the means, good design far from being an extra cost carries the added value of sharp efficiency, power of synthesis and an uplifting feeling.

Why Sustainability Has Nothing to Do with Architecture and Everything to Do with Integrity: A Lecture by Alejandro Aravena

00:00 - 30 July, 2013

At a lecture he delivered in April this year at the 4th Holcim Forum 2013 in Mumbai, Pritzker Jury member and Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena approached sustainability from an unconventional angle. The key to achieving the "Economy of Sustainable Construction" (the title of this year's Holcim Forum), Aravena claims, requires two things: "in this generation, more psychiatrists; in the next generations, more breasts."

ArchDaily App Guide: Sketchfab

00:00 - 8 July, 2013

ArchDaily’s Architecture App Guide will introduce you to web and mobile apps that can help you as an architect: productivity, inspiration, drafting, and more.

3D computer modeling has become a ubiquitous tool in architecture and design, but - even now - there’s no real solution to the problem of easily displaying or sharing models. An exciting new tool, however, might just change this. It’s called Sketchfab, and it displays 3D models natively in the browser - no plugins necessary, and no need to download to your desktop. A resource like this allows any viewer or reader to glimpse into the future of publishing and communicating architecture online.

Users sign up for Sketchfab and upload models directly in 27 native 3D formats (including .3ds, .stl, .kmz, .dwf, .lwo and others); these models can then be embedded anywhere. Not only will this allow architects to showcase finalized projects, but designs can be followed as they evolve and change. It will be particularly valuable in the remote review process that occurs between the architect and 3D visualizers. And Sketchfab’s platform has an integrated comment and like system to foster discussion and critique.

AD Interviews: Alejandro Aravena / ELEMENTAL, Venice Biennale

12:02 - 4 September, 2012

Alejandro Aravena, Executive Director of ELEMENTAL, tells us more about The Magnet and The Bomb, their exhibit at the Venice Biennale. You can learn more about the projects presented at this installation: PRES Constitución and Calama PLUS.