Alejandro Aravena Wins 2016 Pritzker Prize

John Hill
13. January 2016
Photo: Screenshot from Pritzker 2016 Announcement Video

The announcement of 48-year-old Aravena as the 41st laureate of the Pritzker Prize starts with the statement that "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."

Foundation chairman Thomas Pritzker said in the announcement: 

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.

With commissions that range from high-budget educational and institutional buildings to post-tsunami reconstruction and low-income housing, Aravena's portfolio echoes that of 2014 Pritzker Prize laureate Shigeru Ban. These poles are evident in Aravena's practice, ELEMENTAL, which he founded in 2000 and describes as a "Do tank," as opposed to a think tank.

The jury's appreciation of Aravena's social engagement is echoed also in his role as director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, opening in May. In September last year he defined the exhibition's theme as Reporting from the Front, which is about "what is it like to improve the quality of life while working on the margins, under tough circumstances, facing pressing challenges."

Based in Santiago, Aravena is the first Pritzker recipient from Chile and the fourth from Latin America, following Luis Barragán (Mexico, 1980), Oscar Niemeyer (Brazil, 1988), and Paulo Mendes da Rocha (Brazil, 2006).

On learning of being named the 2016 Pritzker laureate, Aravena sent an email to the Foundation:

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 formal award ceremony for the 2016 Pritzker Prize will be at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 4 April 2016.

Below is a selection of Aravena/ELEMENTAL's projects. World-Architects will have more coverage on the 2016 Pritzker Prize in the coming days.

UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile (Photo: Nina Vidic)
Siamese Towers, 2005, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, University classrooms and offices. (Photo: Cristobal Palma)
Monterrey Housing, 2010, Monterrey, Mexico (Photo: Ramiro Ramirez)
Villa Verde Housing, 2013, Constitución, Chile. Top: “Half of a good house” development, financed with public money; Bottom: Middle-class standard achieved by the residents themselves (Photos: ELEMENTAL)
Bicentennial Children’s Park, 2012, Santiago, Chile (Photo: Cristobal Palma)
St. Edward’s University Dorms, 2008, Austin, Texas, USA (Photo: Cristobal Palma)
Mathematics School, 1999, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile (Photo: Tadeuz Jalocha)
Constitución Seaside Promenade, 2014, Constitución, Chile (Photo: Felipe Diaz)
Post-Tsunami Sustainable Reconstruction Plan of Constitución, 2010 - ongoing, Constitución, Chile (Photo: Felipe Diaz)

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