It comes as no surprise that it is the second time in three years that the jury has chosen an architect who is best-known for humanitarian design rather than statement architecture. This year, the winner is a 48 years old Chilean architect who has dedicated his work to improve urban environments and to address the global housing crisis, Alejandro Aravena . “He practices architecture as an artful endeavor in private commissions and in designs for the public realm and epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect.”  The 2014 Pritzker winner the was Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who is highly respected for the use of cardboard in disaster relief projects across the globe.

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Alejandro Aravena has been named as the 2016 recipient of the Pritzker Prize, and will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medal during a ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, on 4 April. Aravena has a large portfolio of private, public and educational projects in Chile, the USA, Mexico, China and Switzerland. But perhaps he is known more notably, through his firm “do tank” ELEMENTAL that aims to tackle poverty and eliminate slums. Elemental won international praise for its 2004 “half a house” Quinta Monroy development in Iquique, Chile. The firm has managed to build 2,500 units of social housing, engaging in the public housing policies of governments where Aravena works and taking an opportunistic approach to market forces to generate a powerful impact on lower-income communities.

According to the Pritzker announcement, Elemental also played a focal role in the rebuilding of Constitución, one of the towns that was almost destroyed by the 2010 Chilean earthquake and subsequent tsunami. “Aravena and ELEMENTAL have designed the Metropolitan Promenade (1997 – ongoing) and Bicentennial Children’s Park (2012), both in Santiago. After the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that hit Chile, ELEMENTAL was called to work on the reconstruction of the city of Constitución; their work there includes emergency relief work, a master plan, Villa Verde (incremental housing, 2013), and the Constitución Cultural Center (2014). Other works include a Montessori School (2001) in Santiago, Chile; “Chairless” furniture (2010) for Vitra in Weil am Rhein, Germany; Monterrey Housing (incremental housing, 2010) in Monterrey, Mexico; Las Cruces Pilgrim Lookout Point (2010) in Jalisco, Mexico; Calama PLUS master plan (2012 – ongoing) in Calama, Chile; Writer’s Cabin for the Jan Michalski Foundation (2015) in Montricher, Switzerland; and Ayelén School (2015) in Rancagua, Chile.”

Alejandro Aravena + ELEMENTAL Photo © Nico Saieh

Alejandro Aravena + ELEMENTAL Photo © Nico Saieh

The 2016 jury said that Aravena’s built work “gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space. Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives…. he has undertaken projects of different scales from single-family houses to large institutional buildings…. He understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels.”   

Alejandro Aravena won the Holcim Awards Silver 2011 for Sustainable post-tsunami reconstruction master plan, Constitución, Chile, a master plan developed after the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that struck Constitución, a city of 46,000 people. The project responds with “geographical answers” to the “geographical threats” of the earthquake and tsunami risk. He also won 1st Prize of the Zumtobel Global Award (Austria, 2014), the World Green Building Council Chairman’s Award (USA, 2014), the 1st Prize of the INDEX Award (Denmark, 2011) for his social housing projects. His work derives from the thought that an architecture project needs to first be tackled by finding out and confronting the social, political economic problems facing the society and then confronting them with common sense. Architects are too concerned about problems and issues that only the architecture community is associated with, and thus their vision remains restricted. It is the problems that life is facing that we must focus on. His thought process is inspiring and can be understood better through this TED talk.

In response to being named the 2016 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Mr. Aravena emailed: “Looking backwards, we feel deeply thankful. No achievement is individual. Architecture is a collective discipline. So we think, with gratitude, of all the people who contributed to give form to a huge diversity of forces at play. Looking into the future we anticipate Freedom! The prestige, the reach, the gravitas of the prize is such that we hope to use its momentum to explore new territories, face new challenges, and walk into new fields of action. After such a peak, the path is unwritten. So our plan is not to have a plan, face the uncertain, be open to the unexpected. Finally, looking at the present, we are just overwhelmed, ecstatic, happy. It’s time to celebrate and share our joy with as many people as possible.” You may find the full statement here 

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