Alejandro Aravena of Chile Receives the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Pritzker Architecture Press / Danica Maricic, Editor-in-Chief

January 27, 2016


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.  


Siamese Towers, 2005, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, University classrooms and offices / Photo by Cristobal Palma

Alejandro Aravena of Chile has been selected as the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate, Tom Pritzker announced. 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.


Siamese Towers, 2005, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, University classrooms and offices / Photo by Cristobal Palma

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).


Architecture School, 2004, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Martín Bravo


Mathematics School, 1999, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Tadeuz Jalocha

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.”


Mathematics School, 1999, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Tadeuz Jalocha


Medical School, 2004, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Roland Halbe

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).



UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Nina Vidic

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.


UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile / Sketch by ELEMENTAL (Alejandro Aravena)

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.


Novartis Office Building, 2015 (under construction), Shanghai, China / Photo by ELEMENTAL

In the United States, Aravena has built St. Edward’s University Dorms (2008) in Austin, Texas.


St. Edward’s University Dorms, 2008, Austin, Texas, USA / Photo by Cristobal Palma

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, 2013, Santiago, Chile / Photo by ELEMENTAL

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.  


Quinta Monroy Housing, 2004, Iquique, Chile / Photos by Cristobal Palma — Left: “Half of a good house” financed with public money. Right: Middle-class standard achieved by the residents themselves.


Quinta Monroy Housing, 2004, Iquique, Chile / Top: Photo by Ludovic Dusuzean — Interior of a “good house” financed with public money. Bottom: Photo by Tadeuz Jalocha — Middle-class standard achieved by the residents themselves.

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.”


Bicentennial Children’s Park, 2012, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Cristobal Palma

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.”


Bicentennial Children’s Park, 2012, Santiago, Chile / Photo by Cristobal Palma

Aravena and ELEMENTAL have designed the Metropolitan Promenade (1997 – ongoing) and Bicentennial Children’s Park (2012), both in Santiago.


Constitución Seaside Promenade, 2014, Constitución, Chile / Photo by Felipe Diaz

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).


Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan of Constitución, 2010 – ongoing, Constitución, Chile / Photo by Felipe Diaz


Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan of Constitución, 2010 – ongoing, Constitución, Chile / Images by ELEMENTAL

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.


Calama PLUS, 2012 – ongoing, Masterplan, Calama, Chile / Rendering by ELEMENTAL

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.”


Parque Museo “Humano”, 2014 – ongoing, Santiago, Chile / Rendering by ELEMENTAL

2016 Award Ceremony at United Nations Headquarters in New York

Each year the award ceremony is held at a culturally or historically significant venue around the world. The award ceremony for Alejandro Aravena will be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 4, 2016. The location has particular significance as one of its lead designers was 1988 Pritzker Prize Laureate, Oscar Niemeyer. This marks the third time the ceremony will be in New York.

Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury

The distinguished jury that selected the 2016 Pritzker Laureate consists of its chairman, The Lord Palumbo, architectural patron, Chairman Emeritus of the Trustees, Serpentine Galleries, former Chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, London, United Kingdom; and alphabetically: Stephen Breyer, U .S . Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D .C ., USA; Yung Ho Chang, architect and educator, Beijing, The People’s Republic of China; Kristin Feireiss, architecture curator, writer, and editor, Berlin, Germany; Glenn Murcutt, architect and 2002 Pritzker Laureate, Sydney, Australia; Richard Rogers, architect and 2007 Pritzker Laureate, London, United Kingdom; Benedetta Tagliabue, architect and director of EMBT Miralles Tagliabue, Barcelona, Spain; and Ratan N . Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, Mumbai, India . The Executive Director of the Pritzker Prize is Martha Thorne, Dean, IE School of Architecture & Design, Madrid, Spain.


Las Cruces Pilgrim Lookout Point, 2010, Jalisco, Mexico / Photo by Iwan Baan

About the Pritzker Architecture Prize 

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A . Pritzker and his wife, Cindy. Its purpose is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. The laureates receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.

The bronze medallion awarded to each Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is based on designs of Louis Sullivan, famed Chicago architect generally acknowledged as the father of the skyscraper. On one side is the name of the prize. On the reverse, three words are inscribed, “firmness, commodity and delight.” These are the three conditions referred to by Henry Wotton in his 1624 treatise, The Elements of Architecture, which was a translation of thoughts originally set down nearly 2000 years ago by Marcus Vitruvius in his Ten Books on Architecture, dedicated to the Roman Emperor Augustus. Wotton, who did the translation when he was England’s first ambassador to Venice, used the complete quote as: “The end is to build well. Well-building hath three conditions: commodity, firmness and delight.”


Chairless, 2010, Design for Vitra / Photo by Nicole Bachmann

The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world, and because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes. The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.


Writer’s Cabin, 2015, Jan Michalski Foundation, Montricher, Switzerland / Photo by +2 Architectes

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