Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena wins Pritzker Prize

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Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, known for his pioneering social housing projects in Latin America, has been named as the winner of the 2016 Pritzker prize, the highest accolade in architecture. 

Aravena has been honoured with Pritzker Prize in recognition of his work that gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption and provides welcoming public space.

He has focused his career on building low-cost social housing and reconstructing cities after natural disasters and tries to improve people’s lives lives through innovative and inspiring architecture.

"Half of a good house" that changed the life of millions of slum dwellers :

Aravena and his architecture firm, Elemental, first came to international attention in 2004 with a project that redefined the economics of social housing. The challenge was to rehouse 100 families who had been living illegally on half a hectare of land in the centre of Iquique in northern Chile.

The government’s housing subsidy of USD 7,500 per family was nowhere near enough to buy the land and build new homes, particularity on such a valuable site. The usual solution would have been to relocate the residents to the outer suburbs, cutting them off from their families, friends and jobs.

Aravena came out with a plan and suggested to build half good house for everyone and later the residents would complete the rest themselves. His firm provided a basic concrete frame, complete with kitchen, bathroom and a roof, allowing families to start living and later build the complete house by themselves. 

The incremental housing approach, as it is known, allows for building on more expensive land that is closer to economic opportunities and gives residents a personal stake in the outcome.

About Alejandro Aravena :

Aravena graduated from the Universidad Catolica de Chile in 1992 and established Alejandro Aravena Architects in 1994. Aravena’s first project was a new mathematics faculty for his alma mater, built in 1998.

In 2006 he became the executive director of ELEMENTAL a company working on infrastructure, transportation, public space and housing projects. Elemental is an partnership between a group of architects, a university and the country’s national oil company, Copec – which provided the initial funding.

He is the director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale and a former member of the Pritzker Prize jury. He was also a speaker at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro, in 2014.

About Pritzker Prize :

The Pritzker Architecture Prize founded in 1979 by Jay A. Pritzker and his wife Cindy is awarded annually "to honor a living architect or architects whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

The award is funded by the Pritzker family and sponsored by the Hyatt Foundation and is considered to be one of the world's premier architecture prizes. It is often referred to as the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Award carries : The recipients receive US$100,000, a citation certificate, and since 1987, a bronze medall.

Designs on the medal :  The designs on the medal are inspired by the work of  American architect  Louis Sullivan (father of skyscrapers), while the Latin inspired inscription on the reverse of the medallion—firmitas, utilitas, venustas (English: firmness, commodity and delight)—is from Ancient Roman architect Vitruvius.

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