Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, just 48 years of age has been named as the 2016 recipient of the Pritzker, architecture's equivalent to the Nobel prize, ahead of curating this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.
Alejandro Aravena of Chile has been selected as the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate, Tom Pritzker announced today. Mr. Pritzker is Chairman and President of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize. The formal award ceremony for what has come to be known internationally as architecture’s highest honor will be at United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 4, 2016. The 48-year-old Aravena is an architect based in Santiago, Chile. He becomes the 41st laureate of the Pritzker Prize, the first Pritzker Laureate from Chile, and the fourth from Latin America, after Luis Barragán (1980), Oscar Niemeyer (1988), and Paulo Mendes da Rocha (2006).
Mr. Pritzker said, “The jury has selected an architect who deepens our understanding of what is truly great design. Alejandro Aravena has pioneered a collaborative practice that produces powerful works of architecture and also addresses key challenges of the 21st century. His 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.”
Aravena has completed remarkable buildings at the esteemed Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, including the UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini (2014), the Siamese Towers (2005), Medical School (2004), School of Architecture (2004), and the Mathematics School (1999). These energy-efficient buildings respond to the local climate with innovative, efficient facades and floor plans and offer the users natural light and convivial meeting places. Currently under construction in Shanghai, China, is an office building for healthcare company Novartis, with office spaces designed to accommodate different modes of work — individual, collective, formal and informal. In the United States, Aravena has built St. Edward’s University Dorms (2008) in Austin, Texas.
Since 2001, Aravena has been executive director of the Santiago-based ELEMENTAL, a “Do Tank,” as opposed to a think tank, whose partners are Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó, and Diego Torres. ELEMENTAL focuses on projects of public interest and social impact, including housing, public space, infrastructure, and transportation. ELEMENTAL has designed more than 2,500 units of low-cost social housing. A hallmark of the firm is a participatory design process in which the architects work closely with the public and end users. ELEMENTAL is also known for designing social housing that they call “half of a good house,” in which the design leaves space for the residents to complete their houses themselves and thus raise themselves up to a middle-class standard of living. This innovative approach, called “incremental housing,” allows for social housing to be built on more expensive land closer to economic opportunity and gives residents a sense of accomplishment and personal investment.
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.”
The 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury Citation states in part, “Alejandro Aravena has delivered works of architectural excellence in the fields of private, public and educational commissions both in his home country and abroad…. 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.”
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 is the Director of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016, titled “Reporting from the Front,” set to open in May 2016.
The Chair of the Jury of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, Lord Peter Palumbo, said that, as the jury visited Aravena’s projects, they felt a sense of wonder and revelation; they understood that his is an innovative way of creating great architecture, with the best yet to come. Referencing John Keats’ poem “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” Lord Palumbo said, "Stout Cortez stared at the Pacific with eagle eyes, whilst the Pritzker jury felt like some watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken: And although not silent upon a peak in Darien, they looked at each other with a wild surmise, captivated, stunned, and overwhelmed by the work of Alejandro Aravena and the promise of a golden future.”