Alejandro Aravena took home the top prize in architecture this week, but those not involved in architecture might not recognize the name of this socially conscious Chilean architect. That’s most likely because the 41st Pritzker Prize laureate doesn’t pride his work on being flashy—his projects are modest, practical, and prioritizes process and long-term viability over an eye-catching facade. The best example can be seen in his practice of “incremental design,” a process where he and his team create half-finished social housing structures to give residents the chance to complete the rest to their own needs. To get you better acquainted with Aravena’s pioneering work, we’ve rounded up 12 of his top projects, from social housing to private buildings.
UC Innovation Center in Santiago
Recently awarded “Design of the Year” by London’s Design Museum, the UC Innovation Center is a striking sculptural triumph in Santiago. Rather than sheathe the building in glass, like most architects would, Aravena instead created the building from concrete and carved site-specific openings, including a hollow-out atrium, out of its monolithic mass. The concrete exterior and carefully placed openings help prevent overheating, reduce energy consumption, and avoid the greenhouse effect common to all-glass buildings.
Quinta Monroy Housing project in Iquique
The Quinta Monroy Housing project is Aravena’s first example of “incremental design.” Faced with the task of resettling 100 families, Aravena built rows of affordable social housing structures that were only “half-built.” The completed structures included all the necessities and difficult parts of the home that a normal family would never be able to build on their own, such as the plumbing, kitchen, and bathrooms. The families, who had the freedom to tailor it to their own needs, finished the second half of the structure.
Villa Verde Housing project in Constitución
The Villa Verde Housing project in the Chilean seaside town of Constitución is a more recent example of Aravena’s “half-finished” houses completed as part of an Elemental project. The post-disaster structures helped locals rebuild their lives following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami.
Constitución Seaside Promenade in Constitución
To help boost tourism in Constitución, Aravena was commissioned to develop minimal coastal lookout points along the rocky seaside.
Siamese Towers at the San Joaquín Campus
Like their name suggests, the Siamese Towers comprise a pair of conjoined buildings, one housing classrooms and the other comprising office space. The project was one of many Aravena completed for the Universidad Católica de Chile.
Children’s Bicentennial Park in Santiago
Aravena brought a much-needed spot of green to Santiago with the four-hectare Children’s Bicentennial Park, an interactive landscape build on the hillside. The park includes sculptures, jungle gyms, and long walking paths. The park was built as part of a program to celebrate Chile’s bicentennial.
Las Cruces Pilgrim Lookout Point in Jalisco
Completed in 2010, this 148-square-meter concrete lookout point is located along the annual pilgrimage route that traverses the mountain range of Jalisco, Mexico. Located on the highest point of the trail, the kinked structure overlooks beautiful panoramic views of the valley and offers a place of rest.
Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan of Constitución
On February 27, 2010, Chile was ravaged by an 8.8 earthquake and tsunami. Aravena created a master plan to rebuild the city of Constitución. He and his team at Elemental completed the plan in 100 days, which includes improved access to public space and was created with the help of the public. The masterplan is currently still in progress.
St. Edward’s University Dorms in Austin
Aravena fit 300 dorm beds and social areas for the St. Edward’s campus on a narrow lot. Arranged like a cloister, the concrete building, which looks plain from the exterior, encloses a central gathering space surrounded by bright red glass facade.
Novartis Office Building in Shanghai
The Novartis Office Building, currently under construction, was created to “encourage knowledge creation…and foster interaction between the users.” The site-sensitive building responds to the local climate and is built with passive solar principles. The structure is clad in reclaimed brick, while the north facade features openings to let indirect light seep into the offices.
Writer’s Cabin, 2015, Jan Michalski Foundation in Switzerland
Completed in 2015, this elevated writer’s cabin was built for the Jan Michalski Foundation in Montricher, Switzerland. A sculptural canopy tops the building.
Ocho Quebradas House in Los Vilos, Chile
A weekend retreat that’s currently in progress, the Ocho Quebradas House is described as a “retreat where people allow themselves to suspend the conventions of life and go back to more essential living.”
Images © ELEMENTAL