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ALEJANDRO ARAVENA

WORSHOP LEADER

Alejandro Aravena (Santiago, Chile 1967), graduated as an architect from Catholic University of Chile in 1992. He continued his studies of Theory and Art History in IUAV in Venice. In 1994 he established his own practice, Alejandro Aravena Architects. From 2000 until 2005, he taught at Harvard University, where he founded the Do Tank ELEMENTAL with Andrés Iacobelli. In 2010 he was granted membership as an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He also curated the 15th Venice Biennale, and in 2016 he received the Pritzker Prize. Since 2001 he has remained principal director of ELEMENTAL.

Pritzker Prize 2016
Elemental
Elemental in Archdaily
Workshop leader MCH2009
Workshop leader MCH2010

Alejandro Aravena - Proyectos

Quinta Monroy

Architects: Alejandro Aravena, Elemental

Location: Iquique, Chile

Year: 2003

Images/text from: https://www.archdaily.com/office/elemental

 

By the Architects:

The Chilean Government asked us to resolve the following equation:

To settle the 100 families of the Quinta Monroy, in the same 5,000 sqm site that they have illegally occupied for the last 30 years which is located in the very center of Iquique, a city in the Chilean desert.

We had to work within the framework of the current Housing Policy, using a US$ 7,500 subsidy with which we had to pay for the land, the infrastructure and the architecture. Considering the current values in the Chilean building industry, US$ 7,500 allows for just around 30 sqm of built space.

And despite the site's price (3 times more than what social housing can normally afford) the aim was to settle the families in the same site, instead of displacing them to the periphery.

If to answer the question, one starts assuming 1 house = 1 family = 1 lot, we were able to host just 30 families in the site. The problem with isolated houses, is that they are very inefficient in terms of land use. That is why social housing tends to look for land that costs as little as possible. That land, is normally far away from the opportunities of work, education, transportation and health that cities offer. This way of operating has tended to localize social housing in an impoverished urban sprawl, creating belts of resentment, social conflict and inequity.

If to try to make a more efficient use of the land, we worked with row houses, even if we reduced the width of the lot until making it coincident with the width of the house, and furthermore, with the width of a room, we were able to host just 66 families. The problem with this type is that whenever a family wants to add a new room, it blocks access to light and ventilation of previous rooms. Moreover it compromises privacy because circulation has to be done through other rooms. What we get then, instead of efficiency, is overcrowding and promiscuity.

Finally, we could have gone for the high-rise building, which is very efficient in terms of land use, but this type blocks expansions and here we needed that every house could at least double the initial built space.

SO, WHAT TO DO?

Our first task was to find a new way of looking at the problem, shifting our mindset from the scale of the best possible US$ 7,500 object to be multiplied a 100 times, to the scale of the best possible US$ 750,000 building capable of accommodating 100 families and their expansions.

But we saw that a building blocks expansions; that is true, except on the ground and the top floor. So, we worked in a building that had just the ground and top floor.

WHAT IS OUR POINT?

We think that social housing should be seen as an investment and not as an expense. So we had to make that the initial subsidy can add value over time. All of us, when buying a house expect it to increase its value. But social housing, in an unacceptable proportion, is more similar to buy a car than to buy a house; every day, its value decreases.

It is very important to correct this, because Chile will spend 10 billion dollars in the next 20 years to overcome the housing deficit. But also at the small family scale, the housing subsidy received from the State will be, by far, the biggest aid ever. So, if that subsidy can add value over time, it could mean the key turning point to leave poverty.

We in Elemental have identified a set of design conditions through which a housing unit can increase its value over time; this without having to increase the amount of money of the current subsidy.

In first place, we had to achieve enough density, (but without overcrowding), in order to be able to pay for the site, which because of its location was very expensive. To keep the site, meant to maintain the network of opportunities that the city offered and therefore to strengthen the family economy; on the other hand, good location is the key to increase a property value.

Second, the provision a physical space for the "extensive family" to develop, has proved to be a key issue in the economical take off of a poor family. In between the private and public space, we introduced the collective space, conformed by around 20 families. The collective space (a common property with restricted access) is an intermediate level of association that allows surviving fragile social conditions.

Third, due to the fact that 50% of each unit's volume, will eventually be self-built, the building had to be porous enough to allow each unit to expand within its structure. The initial building must therefore provide a supporting, (rather than a constraining) framework in order to avoid any negative effects of self-construction on the urban environment over time, but also to facilitate the expansion process.

Finally, instead a designing a small house (in 30 sqm everything is small), we provided a middle-income house, out of which we were giving just a small part now. This meant a change in the standard: kitchens, bathrooms, stairs, partition walls and all the difficult parts of the house had to be designed for final scenario of a 72 sqm house.

In the end, when the given money is enough for just half of the house, the key question is, which half do we do. We choose to make the half that a family individually will never be able to achieve on its own, no matter how much money, energy or time they spend. That is how we expect to contribute using architectural tools, to non-architectural questions, in this case, how to overcome poverty.

Monterrey Housing

Architects: Alejandro Aravena, Elemental

Location: Monterrey, Mexico

Year: 2010

Images/text from: https://www.archdaily.com/office/elemental

 

By the Architects:

Restrictions

Santa Catarina is a city of 230,000 inhabitants, located in the state of Nuevo León, in the northwest of Mexico. This project is Elemental’s first outside of Chile.

The Government of Nuevo León, México, commissioned us to design a group of 70 homes on a site of .6 hectars in a middle class neighborhood in Santa Catarina. The required density suggested the application of the typology we developed for Iquique. However, the climate in Santa Catarina is very different from the northern dessert climate of Chile. The 600 mm of annual rainfall required us to adapt our proposal to this new question.

The commission to develop this middle class neighborhood with the financing of US$20,000 per dwelling (almost double the funds we had for the housing projects built by Elemental in Chile). However, the construction standards and building codes significantly raise the construction costs. In this case, it was pertinent to use the strategy of investing state resources to build “the difficult half” of the home, especially given the capacity do-it-yourself building observed in Mexico, ensuring a promising future for the expansions.

The Project

ELEMENTAL Monterrey consists of a three-story continuous building that in section superimposes a home (first floor) with a two-story apartment above (2nd and 3rd story). Both units are designed to technically and economically facilitate the final middle class standard of which we will hand over the “first half” (40 m2). In this sense, the difficult parts of the house (bathrooms, kitchen, stairs, and dividing walls) are designed for the expanded scenario, that is, for a home of more than 58 m2 approx. and an apartment of approximately 76 m2.

Secondly, given that almost 50% of the m2 of the complex will be self-built, this building is porous so that the growth can occur within the structure. On one hand we want to frame and give rhythm (more than control) to the spontaneous construction so as to avoid deterioration of the urban environment over time, and also make the process of expansions for each family easier. The proposed continuous roof above the volumes and voids protects the expansion zones from rain and ensures a definitive profile of the building toward the public space.

Third, experience tells us that in lower class neighborhoods the green spaces tend to be “earth spaces,” due to the scarcity of maintenance and the distance that exists between green space and the home that makes it difficult for neighbors to take care of. What we did in this case was to surround the green space with building, reducing the distance between communal space and the home to a minimum. This permitted us to define a collective space with secure Access that gives space to the social network and generates favorable conditions for maintenance and care.

All the apartments have direct Access from the public space and parking, a condition especially relevant in a country where every family can have access to an automobile.

Villa Verde Housing

Architects: Alejandro Aravena, Elemental

Location: Constitución, Chile

Year: 2010

Images/text from: https://www.archdaily.com/office/elemental

 

By the Architects:

Arauco is a forestry company that called us in 2009 to develop a plan to support their workers in the process to have access to their definitive house. We were asked to develop a set of typologies within the current housing policy for Fondo Solidario de Vivienda I (FSV I, units up to 600 UF or US$25,000 without debt) and for FSV II (units up to 1,000 UF or US$40,000 with a bank loan). These designs would be a contribution of the company to their workers, a kind of subvention, so that housing committees could use them when applying for the regular system of public funds.

The importance of this project is that on the one hand, for the first time, it allowed us to think about a design for the upper niche of the housing policy. If we developed an innovative and competitive typology, we would broaden our possible contribution to social housing. We could have taken one of our own more economic typologies and used the extra money to finish them, filling the void that families were expected to complete. But we thought of once again applying the principle of incremental construction and prioritization of the more complex components, this time with higher standards both for the initial and the final scenario.

These innovations were possible because of the direct funding of Arauco, but also because the volume of the potential demand was big enough to absorb the costs of such research. The plan estimated a total of 9,000 units in thirty different towns.

Finally, one of the most relevant points was that most of the projects were intended for towns and villages of between 10,000 and 20,000 people. In places of such scale, housing projects, for good or for bad, do have a major impact. And it is in exactly these types of towns where the worst urban standard is found, so any contribution in this niche is more than welcome.

Alejandro Aravena- At MCH

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