The Chilean architect’s pioneering collaborative practice and innovative social housing gets honoured by architecture’s most coveted lifetime achievement award

The most important figures in architecture will come together at the United Nations headquarters in New York to celebrate the work of Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena – this year’s laureate of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. This significant honour, awarded on April 4th this year, celebrates the powerful designs that his work has become associated with for the last 20 years.

“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,” says chairman and president of the Hyatt Foundation (who sponsor the prize), Thomas Pritzker. “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’s work at Elemental, a Santiago architectural group that focuses on projects of public interest and social impact, calls itself a “do tank”, as opposed to a “think tank”. It has produced more than 2,500 units of affordable housing, including an innovative “half a good house” that allows residents to complete the work themselves, thereby incrementally raising their living standards.

Aravena was also cited for his buildings at the Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santiago, where he studied and now teaches after a five-year stint at Harvard; they include its schools of architecture, medicine, mathematics and, most recently, the UC Innovation Centre, Anacleto Angelini – an opaque concrete structure with a light-filled glass atrium inside.“A powerful structure from a distance, it is remarkably humane and inviting,” the jury said, noting that the unique design ensures that energy consumption is minimal. The design also includes “many spaces for spontaneous encounters and transparency that enables viewing activity throughout,” it said.

Aravena who has also been appointed the director of the upcoming 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale – the world’s oldest and largest exhibition of architecture, said he is “deeply thankful” for the prize – “just overwhelmed, ecstatic, happy.”

“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,” he said in an e-mailed response to his selection as the Pritzker laureate. He said he would use the prize “to explore new territories, face new challenges and walk into new fields of action”.

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