The 2016 Pritzker prize, architecture's highest accolade, has been awarded to Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, best known for his pioneering social housing projects in Latin America and is the curator of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale.
Aravena, 48, is well-known for projects that reinvent low-cost housing and engage residents in the design of their own homes. Aravena’s work "gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space," said Tom Pritzker, whose father founded the prize in 1979. "He shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives."
In 2004, Aravena had to design homes to rehouse 100 families who had been squatting illegally on half a hectare of land in the centre of Iquique in northern Chile. The government’s housing subsidy of US$7,500 per family was nowhere near enough to buy the land and build new homes, particularity on such a valuable site. Instead of relocating them to the outer suburbs, away from employment opportunities and family and friends, Aravena came up with another idea.
"If there wasn’t the money to build everyone a good house, we thought: why not build everyone half a good house – and let them finish the rest themselves," he told The Guardian.
The value of the properties has since increased five-fold, while the model has been rolled out in different forms on other sites in Chile and Mexico.