Chilean architect wins prestigious Pritzker Prize

Alejandro Aravena has won the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The Chilean architect is best known for his innovative and successful social housing designs.

As the Globe and Mail writes, the choice of Alejandro Aravena – a 48-year-old architect whose projects are almost exclusively in his native Chile – reflects “a new set of values that the Pritzker began to signal” when it chose Japanese architect Shigeru Ban in 2014: that architects must address rapid urbanisation and design for the global masses, not just the elite.

In awarding this year’s laureate, Tom Pritzker, chairman and president of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize, emphasised Aravena’s social engagement:

“His built work gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space. Innovating and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.”

Between 1999 and 2014, Aravena designed a number of energy-efficient buildings at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago that respond to the local climate with efficient facades and floor plans.

Since 2001, he has worked with Elemental, a Santiago-based “Do Tank” (as opposed to think tank), to design more than 2,500 low-cost social housing units using an approach called “half of a good house” in which he leaves room for the residents to complete the house themselves, thus “raising themselves up to a middle-class standard of living.”

After the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, Aravena and Elemental designed a riverfront park in the city of Constitución that also serves as a tsunami buffer.

The Pritzker jury says that the younger generation of architects and designs looking for opportunities to affect change “can learn from the way Alejandro Aravena takes on multiple roles”, an approach that “gives the profession of architect a new dimension, which is necessary to respond to present demands and meet future challenges of the field.”


Image credit: Cristobal Palma / The Pritzker Architecture Prize

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