Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena just won architecture’s most prestigious award - the Pritzker Prize. The jury praised the architect for his dedication to public service, and his prolific body of work that includes low-cost social housing and post-disaster architecture. The jury commended the 41st Pritzker Prize winner in a statement: “Alejandro Aravena epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect, especially in his long-term commitment to tackling the global housing crisis and fighting for a better urban environment for all.”
While Aravena might not be a household name, he has been widely involved in major architectural organizations and events: he is the Director of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016; served as a member of the Pritzker Prize jury from 2009 to 2015; taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; and currently leads his own practice, Alejandro Aravena Architects. However, the enterprising Chilean architect is perhaps best known for his “Do Tank”, Elemental, which focuses on projects of public interest and social impact, including housing, post-disaster infrastructure, public space, and transportation.
His pioneering social housing projects have appeared around the world and use a participatory design-build process that engages and teaches the community how to complete their own buildings to suit their needs. The low-cost structures are purposefully half finished to allow people to expand the units incrementally over time. “We transform the lack of resources into a principle of incrementality,” he said to the New York Times. “Let’s do now what is more difficult. Let families take care of the rest through their own means.” The designs are often constructed from local materials and feature understated shapes; even Aravena’s private sector buildings, though attractive, shy away from being flashy.
“The younger generation of architects and designers who are looking for opportunities to affect change, can learn from the way Alejandro Aravena takes on multiple roles instead of the singular position of a designer to facilitate a housing project, and by doing so, discovers that such opportunities may be created by architects themselves,” states the jury, which this year includes architects Yung Ho Change, Benedetta Tagliabue, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. “Through this approach, he gives the profession of architect a new dimension, which is necessary to respond to present demands and meet future challenges of the field.”
Aravena is the 41st Pritzker laureate, as well as the first Chilean architect to win the prestigious prize. He will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medal at a ceremony held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, on April 4.
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