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January 14, 2016

"Half of a Good House": Alejandro Aravena Honoured for Contributions to Social Housing

This year's Pritzker Prize winner, Alejandro Aravena, has demonstrated how the social housing problem can be addressed. This New York Times article explains:

 

"... Mr. Aravena’s work “gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space,” Tom Pritzker, chairman and president of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize, said in a statement...

 

“Sometimes the solution to the forces at play is an economic building; sometimes you need to focus people’s imagination with architecture,” he said, adding that the challenge is “to analyze in a coldblooded way what particular equation is required.”

 

Mr. Arevena’s Santiago-based firm, Elemental, has spearheaded a participatory design-build process it calls “half of a good house,” which allows residents to complete the work themselves later and play an active role in raising their own standard of living.

 

“We transform the lack of resources into a principle of incrementality,” Mr. Aravena said. “Let’s do now what is more difficult. Let families take care of the rest through their own means.”

 

The firm developed this approach in northern Chile in 2003, building housing for 100 families with just $7,500 per family in government subsidies to cover the land and construction. For inspiration, Mr. Aravena drew on favelas and slums, building small housing units that can be easily expanded, while working closely with local residents.

 

He applied this same strategy in 2010, when, after Chile’s earthquake and tsunami, Elemental was given 100 days to come up with a master plan for the city of Constitución — including infrastructure, public space and buildings — by working with the population on solutions.

 

“We asked the community to identify not the answer, but what was the question,” Mr. Aravena said. This, it turned out, was how to manage rainfall, so the firm designed a forest that could help prevent flooding...

 

Mr. Aravena said. “Social housing is a difficult question and it deserves professional quality, not professional charity.”..."

 

Watch him explain his approach:

 

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