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Chilean architect finds a gap in the market

Matthew Turner Building Design Online
Chilean architect finds a gap in the market - Chile - Housing

Alejandro Araven of Elemental presented some inspiring ideas about social housing at a recent London School of Economics lecture

Now the good times have ended, I am one of those finding it hard to see any positives. But out there, it turns out some are trying.

Alejandro Aravena’s inspiring presentation of social housing projects by his practice Elemental was all about solutions. Put on by Urban Age, the event was a spin-off from this programme’s dizzyingly cosmopolitan run round global cities in search of answers to the issues thrown up by our growing addiction to living in mega-cities.

While the Chilean practice’s work was specific to issues of South American middle income homebuyers, its wider relevance wouldn’t have been lost on anyone in the audience. As Ricky Burdett summed up in the discussion afterwards, the talk reminded us that the core quandaries of housing (or wider city making) are “achieving resilience, density and not being over-deterministic” — in other words, making buildings that deal with real life (ie economics), efficiently employ resources, and seriously address how on earth we can have a snowball’s chance in hell of adapting to change.

Aravena’s “half” houses in Chile.Of course, talk of sustainability can be heard the world over, and too often veers into empty mantra. What makes you sit up and listen here is that not only is the argument cogent and the examples real, but Aravena places architects central to change. He communicates in a way that would win over even those most cynical about what architects can contribute beyond aesthetic arbitration.

Aravena’s presentation centred on the Quinta Monroy housing development in Iquique, northern Chile. Starting from the economic realities of government subsidies for low to middle income housing, the architect’s task was described as a simple one: achieving as much as you could for the meagre amount available. Showing the norm (a grim 25sq m house in the middle of a moderately sized plot), the architect identified the main problem as the fact that the box is soon mobbed by a chaos of extensions, irrevocably giving the area the appearance (and reputation) of a shanty town.



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