Alejando Aravena will make his architectural plans free for all to use

by Liz Terry | 05 Apr 2016

Alejando Aravena, who was awarded the 2016 Pritker Prize in New York City on 4 April, has released open-source drawings for his practice's successful social housing designs.

Aravena used his appearance at the Pritzker Conversation at the UN on 5 April to announce the drawings from four projects he deems to have been successful are now available to download from the website of his studio, Elemental.

Aravena wants the documents to be used by government agencies and developers who argue that investment in well-designed social housing costs too much, despite the pressing need for more homes in an era of rapid urbanisation and continued poverty.

In making the announcement, he expressed his frustration at a world where people wait for others to innovate to avoid liability, saying: "Everyone's waiting for somebody else to do something different from 'business as usual'. But if you invest in creating new knowledge, you can't protect it with a patent, as you can in many other industries.

"This means if you succeed you get copied immediately and if you fail you have to swallow your losses alone. We've found since the beginning that in the built environment, all the incentives are on the second mover."

Aravena and Elemental, which is based in Chile, have developed a reputation for innovative social housing in which aid is channeled into core elements of homes, with space left for additional facilities which can then be filled in by the occupants to customise the home to their requirements and build in quality of life and value.

The philosophy has seen some basic aid-funded dwellings which are built for US$7,500 increasing in value to US$65,000 – an achievement previously unheard of in social housing which is typically not a driver of wealth or value.

The projects Elemental are releasing information for are for three such developments in Chile – Quinta Monroy, Lo Barnechea and Villa Verde, completed in 2013 and 2014 – and Monterrey in Mexico City, which was finished in 2010.

Aravena expressed frustration with naysayers who repeatedly find reasons to reject change, citing his own work as evidence. "The first project we designed was a statement of our belief that it was possible to create a better way," he said, "but the response from experts and governments was 'We all want a better world, but the reality is that it's impossible'."

Aravena continued: "So we built the project and then the excuse was 'It's in the north of Chile – it doesn't rain there', so we went to the south of Chile and built in places where there was 1000mm of rain and proved it can be done within the same set of constraints and then they said 'yes, but that's a small city', so we built in Santiago, and then they said, 'yes, but Chile's not really a poor country.'"

"There's always a reason," he said. "The only thing some people are doing is keeping on finding reasons for not moving forward."

The decision to open source the designs is a radical solution to this challenge said Aravena: "Developers agencies, governments and the building market all say it's too expensive to invest in design which improves quality of life for the poorest people, so I say 'have the designs for free - download them and adapt them to your own reality.'

"This is the way we're trying to tackle the issue," he concluded.

Elemental said the downloadable designs provide a reference point for developers and architects, but may need to be modified to comply with local building regulations and available materials.

Aravena is curating the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, which begins in May, and will use the festival to focus on how challenges facing the built environment can be overcome. He has pledged to demonstrate “there is not only a need, but also room for action” in improving the environments where people live, work, interact and relax.

Alejando Aravena  open source  architectural plans  Pritzker prize  social housing 
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Alejando Aravena, who was awarded the 2016 Pritker Prize in New York City on 4 April, has released open-source drawings for his practice's successful social housing designs. Aravena used his appearance at the Pritzker Conversation at the UN on 5 April to announce the drawings from four projects he deems to have been successful are now available to download from the website of his studio, Elemental. Aravena wants the documents
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