Speaker Spotlight: The Pritzker Prize winner and social housing hero Alejandro Aravena


A school or public housing project operates in a more complex space where everything becomes negotiable, which I think is more creative, more difficult, more challenging for an architect and more rewarding

Alejandro Aravena, 2016 Pritzker Prize winner and social housing hero states “the more monotonous, dry, tough, the better, given that people will construct homes for themselves anyhow, this architecture gives order to their interventions” regarding his firm, ELEMENTAL’s approach to their social architecture projects. “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”.

A native Chilean, Aravena was trained as an architect at the Universidad Católica de Santiago in 1992, then stepping over the pond landing in Venice where he “really began to study architecture”, feeling he was “on a completely different planet” continuing his studies in theory and art history. After moving back to Chile, briefly “quitting architecture” and opening a bar, Aravena finally got the chance to get his hands in a project he could connect with; creating a new building for the Universidad Católica de Santiagos’ San Joaquin campus.

Moving on to become a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in both 2000 and 2005, Aravena also taught at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, the Architectural Association in London and the London School of Economics. In 2001, he became principal director of ELEMENTAL, a “do tank” which concentrates on social needs and housing, public space and infrastructure. Returning to his past in 2016, Aravena spearheaded the Venice Biennale, which he titled, Reporting From The Front, noted for its use of 90 tons of recycled waste produced by the 2015 event in its entrance galleries.


One of his most well-known projects was the savior-like reconstruction of the town of Constitución (Chile) after the shattering earthquake and tsunami of 2010. Villa Verde, tucked away in the forest, overlooking the sea was created by ELEMENTAL to house the displaced victims of the disaster. ELEMENTALS’ proposal: provide “half a good house”. The “incremental” housing proposal gave the residents a foundation to work with, defining streets and public spaces. In creating these neighborhoods, Aravena says the uniformity of his projects creates “the cadence of a silent rhythm” with the goal of bringing the community together. With government putting in money towards the basic infrastructure and the “half house” structures (2-story, 2-bedroom abodes with kitchen and bath) left to the residents to complete on their own, the truly collaborative essence of the project shines through.


“An ELEMENTAL project should be something where you can’t change the design without removing something essential, scarcity of means requires from the architect an abundance of meaning. The power of architecture is the power of synthesis, to say what you want in two words instead of three, to achieve a solution in as few moves as possible”

Congress Dates: Oct 16th-20th 2017

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