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2016 Pritzker Prize Goes To Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena

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2016 Pritzker Prize Goes To Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena

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2016 Pritzker Prize Goes To Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena

2016 Pritzker Prize Goes To Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena

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  • Alejandro Aravena, winner of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, "understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels," the jury citation states. (Above) Aravena's 2005 Siamese Towers, which he designed for his alma mater, Universidad Católica de Chile.
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    Alejandro Aravena, winner of this year's Pritzker Architecture Prize, "understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels," the jury citation states. (Above) Aravena's 2005 Siamese Towers, which he designed for his alma mater, Universidad Católica de Chile.
    Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL
  • Bicentennial Children's Park, Santiago, Chile, 2012: Built into a hillside, this 10-acre park was designed in celebration of Chile's bicentennial.
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    Bicentennial Children's Park, Santiago, Chile, 2012: Built into a hillside, this 10-acre park was designed in celebration of Chile's bicentennial.
    Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL
  • Mathematics School, Universidad Católica de Chile, 1999: "We identified the corridor as a design opportunity — as the moment where you see other people before they disappear into the isolated retreat of the individual working unit," Aravena says.
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    Mathematics School, Universidad Católica de Chile, 1999: "We identified the corridor as a design opportunity — as the moment where you see other people before they disappear into the isolated retreat of the individual working unit," Aravena says.
    Tadeuz Jalocha/ELEMENTAL
  • Medical School, Universidad Católica de Chile, 2004: "We were asked to do all kinds of classrooms, from seminars to auditoriums, in a very dense context," says Aravena. "The only way out, was to go high."
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    Medical School, Universidad Católica de Chile, 2004: "We were asked to do all kinds of classrooms, from seminars to auditoriums, in a very dense context," says Aravena. "The only way out, was to go high."
    Roland Halbe/ELEMENTAL
  • Monterrey Housing, Monterrey, Mexico, 2010: "In the Mexican housing market, the cheapest solution that is offered is about $30,000. So the poor are not being reached," Aravena says. His Monterrey houses have an initial cost of $20,000, and additions can increase their value.
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    Monterrey Housing, Monterrey, Mexico, 2010: "In the Mexican housing market, the cheapest solution that is offered is about $30,000. So the poor are not being reached," Aravena says. His Monterrey houses have an initial cost of $20,000, and additions can increase their value.
    Ramiro Ramirez/ELEMENTAL
  • Writer's Cabin, Montricher, Switzerland, 2015: "This suspended cabin had to balance comfort and compactness," Aravena says, adding that "the length of the cabin [allows] the writers to transit through different situations: cooking, eating and sharing."
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    Writer's Cabin, Montricher, Switzerland, 2015: "This suspended cabin had to balance comfort and compactness," Aravena says, adding that "the length of the cabin [allows] the writers to transit through different situations: cooking, eating and sharing."
    +2 Architectes/ELEMENTAL
  • UC Innovation Center, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, 2014: "We proposed a rather opaque construction toward the outside, which is also efficient for the Santiago weather, and then have a very permeable architecture inside," Aravena says.
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    UC Innovation Center, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, 2014: "We proposed a rather opaque construction toward the outside, which is also efficient for the Santiago weather, and then have a very permeable architecture inside," Aravena says.
    Nina Vidic/ELEMENTAL
  • View from inside the UC Innovation Center.
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    View from inside the UC Innovation Center.
    Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL
  • Another view from the inside of the UC Innovation Center. "A powerful structure from a distance, it is remarkably humane and inviting," the jury citation reads. "Through a reversal of convention, the building is an opaque concrete structure on the exterior and has a light filled glass atrium inside."
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    Another view from the inside of the UC Innovation Center. "A powerful structure from a distance, it is remarkably humane and inviting," the jury citation reads. "Through a reversal of convention, the building is an opaque concrete structure on the exterior and has a light filled glass atrium inside."
    James Florio/ELEMENTAL
  • Seaside Promenade, Constitución, Chile 2014: "Developed in the context of the Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan (PRES) ... the project consists of a series of coastal lookout points," Aravena explains. The lookouts "reinforce and highlight the natural heritage embodied by the huge rocks of this landscape."
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    Seaside Promenade, Constitución, Chile 2014: "Developed in the context of the Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan (PRES) ... the project consists of a series of coastal lookout points," Aravena explains. The lookouts "reinforce and highlight the natural heritage embodied by the huge rocks of this landscape."
    Felipe Diaz/ELEMENTAL
  • Aravena says he was overwhelmed by emotion when he learned the news of the prize. "More than the weight of responsibility, our feeling is that of freedom," he says — now, he no longer has to prove anything to anybody.
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    Aravena says he was overwhelmed by emotion when he learned the news of the prize. "More than the weight of responsibility, our feeling is that of freedom," he says — now, he no longer has to prove anything to anybody.
    Felipe Diaz/ELEMENTAL

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The Pritzker Architecture Prize is often called the Nobel for architects, and this year's winner is 48-year-old Chilean designer Alejandro Aravena. His prestige projects include the headquarters of a pharmaceutical company in China and a dormitory at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.

But Aravena is known for socially conscious, sustainable design, often executed at staggering speed and on minuscule budgets.

He pays careful attention to residents of the places where he builds. Aravena gave a TED Talk last year about redesigning the Chilean port city of Constitución — in just three months — after a devastating 2010 earthquake. It includes video footage of fraught town hall meetings, with upset people loudly yelling about their concerns.

Watch Alejandro Aravena's TED Talk

YouTube

"Participatory design is not a hippy, romantic, 'let's all drink together about the future of the city' kind of thing," Aravena says in the talk, with a slight whiff of weariness.

Participatory design and the future of cities are two of Aravena's favorite topics. More than 2 billion new people will move into the world's cities in the next 15 years, Aravena said, and that means getting serious about sustainability.

"Sustainability is nothing but the rigorous use of common sense," he says from his office in Santiago. "If you are rigorous with common sense and a reasonable approach, almost every single architecture would be sustainable."

Quinta Monroy Housing, Iquique, Chile, 2004: "The challenge of this project was to accommodate 100 families living in a 30-year-old slum," Aravena says. "We provided the families with the 'half a house' [top photo] that would be difficult for them to build for themselves and we gave them space to 'complete the house' as their means allowed [bottom photo]." Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL hide caption

toggle caption Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL

Quinta Monroy Housing, Iquique, Chile, 2004: "The challenge of this project was to accommodate 100 families living in a 30-year-old slum," Aravena says. "We provided the families with the 'half a house' [top photo] that would be difficult for them to build for themselves and we gave them space to 'complete the house' as their means allowed [bottom photo]."

Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL

Aravena's common sense inspired his much-celebrated method of designing houses for 100 Chilean families living in slums. He had enough money to buy land or build houses. Aravena's solution? Buying the land and putting together frames with just a few livable rooms.

"He builds half a good house rather than building a whole, prepackaged crummy house," says Richard Sennett, approvingly. Sennett teaches urban studies and design at the London School of Economics and at New York University. He pointed out that Aravena's incremental houses gave people a chance to build out their frames according to their needs, and add extra rooms for lodgers or relatives. The two-story structures are basic and made of concrete.

"They're not beautiful," Sennett says. "It's a different kind of aesthetic than that. They're clean. There's no dramatic beauty in them. But when I look at the size of those rooms, I think — God, this is exactly right. It's not decorator beauty. It's deep beauty."

For his part, Aravena says Chile is short on beautiful, inspiring architecture. It didn't have an ancient empire like the Incas in Peru, he says, and the colonial Spanish did not leave sophisticated buildings behind. At least none that survived.

"We were always at war for more than 300 years," Aravena says. "And then, finally, nature, earthquakes have made their work, too. Almost every single old thing has disappeared."

Clearly, this is not an architect terribly sentimental about the art of building. Sennett says Aravena's selection as this year's Pritzker winner signals a generational shift.

"It's really a wonderful choice," Sennett says, adding that he hopes it will inspire other architects to address pressing new design challenges, such as climate change.

"Architects are mostly out of it, which is terrible. This is the big environmental story of our time, and we need to get young architects as leaders."

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