The Real Deal New York

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena wins Pritzker Prize

Head of Santiago-based Elemental recognized for pioneering work in low-cost housing

January 13, 2016 02:58PM

Incremental housing in Monterrey

Incremental housing in Monterrey, Mexico (inset: Alejandro Aravena)

Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect known as a champion of social housing, is the winner of architecture’s highest honor — the Pritzker Prize.

Aravena, head of the Santiago-based firm Elemental and the director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, is the first Chilean Pritzker laureate.

“His built 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 to the New York Times. “Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.”

Aravana, 48, told the Times that in his designs, utility trumps aesthetics. His firm pioneered what it calls “incremental housing,” where the firm designs “half of a good house” and leave room for residents to complete the homes themselves, according to a release from the Hyatt Foundation. Aravena’s firm was also tasked with creating a new master plan for the city of Constitución after an earthquake and tsunami in Chile in 2010.

The firm has designed various building for the Universidad Católica de Chile, including a mathematics school, medical school, a renovation of the architecture school, Siamese Towers and the U.C. Innovation Center.

The 2014 winner, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, was also recognized for his role in constructing low-cost housing. [NYT]Kathryn Brenzel