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.

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

Forthcoming Exhibition to Examine 'Creation From Catastrophe'

04:00 - 5 January, 2016
Photomural: 'Reruined Hiroshima' by Arata Isozaki. Image © MOMA
Photomural: 'Reruined Hiroshima' by Arata Isozaki. Image © MOMA

A new exhibition, opening later this month in London, aims to examine the varying ways that cities and communities have been re-imagined in the aftermath of natural, or man-made, disasters. Including work by Yasmeen Lari, ELEMENTAL, OMA, Shigeru Ban, NLÉ, Toyo Ito, Metabolism (Kenzo Tange and Kurokawa Kisho) and Sir Christopher Wren, who redesigned London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666, the exhibition will primarily explore contemporary responses to earthquakes and tsunamis. Posing questions about the fragility of architecture, our relationship to nature, and the power of architects to instigate change, it will ask whether we are facing a paradigm shift in the way that cities and communities recover from destruction.

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.”

MARK Magazine #53

00:00 - 27 December, 2014
Courtesy of MARK Magazine
Courtesy of MARK Magazine

MARK #53  surveys American low-income housing from coast to coast. Michael Webb provides the historical and cultural context for some recent success stories in affordable development and presents three buildings in California designed by Kevin Daly Architects, OJK Architects and Planners, and Rob Wellington Quigley.

Larger low-income developments in New York and Los Angeles, by David Adjaye and Michael Maltzan respectively, speak to overcoming the challenge of aesthetic innovation on a tight budget. In the southern and western states, we find the Rural Studio at Auburn University and Design Build Bluff at the Universities of Utah and Colorado tackling the low-income housing issue outside the city, realizing rural homes for less than €20,000 each.

Then, it’s time for dinner and a show. Tour MVRDV’s mixed-use Markthal, a food paradise for casual grazers and sit-down diners alike, before talking with Jan Versweyveld, who designed the scenography for a stage adaptation of The Fountainhead.

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.

Elemental, Arup, and Studio Tamassociati Win Zumtobel Awards for Innovation

00:00 - 23 September, 2014
Courtesy of Massimo Grimaldi and Emergency ngo
Courtesy of Massimo Grimaldi and Emergency ngo

Jury chairman Winy Maas has announced three projects by Arup, Studio Tamassociati and Elemental as winners of the 2014 Zumtobel Group Awards. With a goal to promote innovations for sustainability and humanity in the built environment, the awards represent three categories: Applied Innovations, Buildings and Urban Developments & Initiatives. This year’s winners were selected from 15 nominees, shortlisted from a competitive pool of 356 submissions. 

The winning projects are marked by their innovative and ground-breaking character: “The voting to find the number one project was very close in all three categories, because in each case we were able to choose from among a large number of heterogeneous projects of high quality," Described Maas. "One key criterion for the jury this year was the innovation factor, both in a technical sense and with a view to planning and participation processes as well as ecological and social challenges.”

See the winning projects, after the break.

Innovation Center UC - Anacleto Angelini / Alejandro Aravena | ELEMENTAL

00:00 - 22 September, 2014
© Nico Saieh
© Nico Saieh
  • Architects

  • Location

    Vicuña Mackenna 4860, Macul, Santiago Metropolitan Region, Chile
  • Project Team

    Alejandro Aravena, Juan Cerda
  • Collaborators

    Samuel Gonçalves, Cristián Irarrázaval, Álvaro Ascoz, Natalie Ramirez, Christian Lavista, Suyin Chia, Pedro Hoffmann
  • Area

    8176.0 sqm
  • Project Year

    2014
  • Photographs

    Nico Saieh · Photographer Profile, ELEMENTAL | Nina Vidic

© ELEMENTAL | Nina Vidic © Nico Saieh © Nico Saieh © Nico Saieh +22

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.  

MCHAP Shortlists the 36 Most “Outstanding Projects” in the Americas

01:00 - 24 June, 2014

Wiel Arets, Dean of the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and Dirk Denison, Director of the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP), have announced the inaugural MCHAP shortlist – 36 “Outstanding Projects” selected from the 225 MCHAP nominees.

“The rich diversity of these built works is a testament to the creative energy at work in the Americas today,” said Arets. “When viewed alongside the innovative work by the MCHAP.emerge finalists and winner, Poli House by Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen which we honored in May, we see the evolution of a distinctly American conversation about creating livable space.” See all 36 winners 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

ELEMENTAL Proposes Pedestrian Path To Connect Districts of Santiago

00:00 - 23 April, 2014
© ELEMENTAL
© ELEMENTAL

ELEMENTAL has given us details on a proposed 14.5 km pedestrian and bike path within Santiago, Chile that will run along the base of San Cristobal Hill and connect the city's many distinct communities. According to ELEMENTAL, the proposal - named "Metropolitan Promenade" - seeks to facilitate the use and quality of the city's public spaces.

The total project will cost about $16 million USD and will be constructed in two stages. The first is expected for March 2015 and will deal with 7.2 kilometers in the western sector of the park. The second stage, which should be ready in September 2015, will complete the following 7.3 kilometers in the eastern sector of the park.

Read the full architect's description, after the break.

© ELEMENTAL © ELEMENTAL © ELEMENTAL © Guy Wenborne. Image © ELEMENTAL +12

Common Sense in Sustainable Architecture

00:00 - 23 January, 2014
Elemental ultimately developed a system in which half of each building would be constructed in a first phase – and the other half in a later second phase: allowing residents to incrementally invest in their own homes, made possible through public funding. Photo: Elemental.
Elemental ultimately developed a system in which half of each building would be constructed in a first phase – and the other half in a later second phase: allowing residents to incrementally invest in their own homes, made possible through public funding. Photo: Elemental.

There are very few sceptics who would question the importance of increasing sustainability in architecture. The enhanced social value through better living conditions, physical value in a healthier and less-polluted environment, long-term monetary value via reduced operating and maintenance costs, and ethical value through fairness to future generations are self-evident.

But despite this agreement, the inertia of decision makers in finance and politics who are preoccupied with short-term cycles has slowed the pace of change, and distracts architects and engineers from focussing upon ways to integrate greater sustainable performance into their designs and projects.

ELEMENTAL's "Half-Finished" Housing Typology: A Success in All Circumstances

00:00 - 22 November, 2013
© ELEMENTAL
© ELEMENTAL

Since they first developed the typology for their Quinta Monroy project in Iquique, Chile, the "half-finished home" has become something of a signature for ELEMENTAL: they have used the technique in multiple cities in Chile, as well as their Monterrey Housing project in Mexico. The typology began life as a way of dealing with extremely low budgets, allowing governments to provide housing to citizens at incredibly low prices, but nevertheless creating homes that would provide for the needs of residents and even gain value over time. Now, they have applied the theory to their Villa Verde Housing project, published just last week on ArchDaily.

Read more about the typology, and how it has been applied at Villa Verde, after the break...