Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena Wins This Year's Pritzker Prize

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By Aileen Kwun / Published by Dwell
We revisit the remarkable, socially engaged work of Alejandro Aravena on the occasion of the announcement of his Pritzker Prize, the profession's highest honor awarded internationally.

This morning, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena was named winner of the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor bestowed annually to a single practicing architect and firm internationally.

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St. Edward's University Dorms in Austin, Texas (2008)

Tasked with accommodating 300 beds and social areas within a narrow lot, ELEMENTAL designed a structure in which various parts of the building are carved out or raised on plinths, opening up the ground floor to various meeting spaces and plazas.

"The most simple verbs—sitting, standing, meeting, eating, resting—in the end, make our lives. And those verbs happen in places, in nouns: offices, schools, houses, parks," says 48-year-old Aravena in an announcement video. "Architecture just tries to give the best possible form for those nouns where those verbs take place. The main character is life itself, part of a cultural heritage of mankind."

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St. Edward's University Dorms, Austin, Texas (2008)

By aligning the residential units along the structure's perimeter, the design also maximizes natural sunlight.

Through his work at ELEMENTAL, an architecture firm and "Do Tank" which he's led as executive director since 2001, Aravena has focused on some of today’s most pressing issues. The firm's mix of private and public commissions address a wide range of concerns, from affordable and social housing, to sustainability and natural disasters, public accessibility, and the belief of architecture as an embodiment of humanity.

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Villa Verde Housing in Constitución, Chile (2013)

In creating housing for the employees and contractors of the Arauco Forest Company, the firm drew upon the principle of "incremental housing," in which affordable housing is built on more expensive land with flexible, stage-based development that gives residents a stake in its outcome. Above, public funds financed construction of the half-empty structures; in the below image, residents have customized the structures using their own means.

Based in Santiago, Chile, Aravena is the country’s first Pritzker Laureate, and joins former awardees Luis Barragan (1980), Oscar Niemeyer (1988), and Paulo Mendes da Rocha (2006) as the fourth laureate from Latin America. A former member of the Pritzker Prize jury, Aravena is also director of "Reporting from the Front," this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, opening in May. He will be honored with the award at a formal ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 4.

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Ayelén School in Rancagua, Chile (2015)

At the center of this structure is a large, circular courtyard, inviting communal interaction and play.

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Calama PLUS, a master plan for Calama, Chile (2012–ongoing)

A response to the negative environmental impact that mining has had on the city of Calama, Chile, the firm is currently designing an intensive master plan that includes 23 projects to improve urban life in the city. These include the addition of urban parks, public spaces, schools, and proposals on how to use scarce water resources more efficiently.

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Novartis Office Building in Shanghai, China (currently under construction)

With a distinctive exterior of reclaimed brick, this seemingly opaque office building—Aravena's first project in China—is sited to maximize light, with an open, north-facing facade that allow indirect light into its interior.

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Bicentennial Children's Park in Santiago, Chile (2012)

On the occasion of Chile's bicentennial, the firm designed a four-hectare park for children. Among the playground structures are a circular swing set, with seats that face inward, fostering a sense of communal play.

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Chairless, designed for Vitra, 2010

Rather than designing a chair as a conventionally, as a place to recline or sit, this playful piece interacts with the user to offer relaxation through the gravity of his own weight. The user can relax his legs by leaning them against the restriction of the simple band.

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Monterrey Housing in Monterrey, Mexico (2010)

Priced at $20,000 per unit, this housing development was designed to be significantly more affordable for low-income communities in Monterrey, Mexico, where the most inexpensive options range at about $30,000 each.

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UC Innovation Center, Anacleto Angelini, in Santiago, Chile (2014)

Balancing openness with a sense of privacy and protection, this structure juxtaposes large, deep voids with an opaque, Brutalist facade.

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Alejandro Aravena, 48, is the first architect from Chile to be honored with the Pritzker Prize. Born in Santiago, he has served as executive director of the firm and "Do Tank" ELEMENTAL since 2001.

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