10 things you must know about Pritzker laureate Alejandro Aravena

Alejandro Aravena, born on this day in 1967, believes he was lucky to have been saved from Post-modernism. STIR brings you little known facts about the Chilean architect.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Jun 22, 2020

Alejandro Aravena, the winner of 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize, was born on June 22, 1967, in Santiago, Chile. He established his practice Alejandro Aravena Architects in 1994, and later ELEMENTAL, a ‘Do Tank’ in 1994. Having graduated as an architect from the Universidad Católica de Chile in 1992, he served as a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia, Architectural Association in London and London School of Economics. Aravena was also appointed as the Director of the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, and was one of the jury members for the Pritzker Architecture Prize from 2009 to 2015.

Siamese Towers built by Alejandro Aravena in 2003 | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental | STIRworld
Siamese Towers built by Alejandro Aravena in 2003 Image Credit: Courtesy of C-Monster on Flickr

Through his studio ELEMENTAL, which is known for affordable housing solutions and socially aware design, Aravena has completed projects in places such as Chile, United States, Mexico, China and Switzerland, and was also involved in the reconstruction of Constitućion in Chile after an earthquake ravaged the entire city. Other people who form the design firm ELEMENTAL are Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó and Diego Torres.

Italian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 curated by Alejandro Aravena | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Italian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 curated by Alejandro Aravena Image Credit: Courtesy of Darrel Ronald on Flickr

“Alejandro Aravena is leading a new generation of architects that has a holistic understanding of the built environment and has clearly demonstrated the ability to connect social responsibility, economic demands, design of human habitat and the city,” the jury of the Pritzker Prize 2016 had mentioned while honouring him with the award.

Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center designed by Alejandro Aravena (2013) | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center designed by Alejandro Aravena (2013) Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As a writer, Aravena's work has been published worldwide, and some of the books authored by him are - Los Hechos de la Arquitectura (Architectural Facts, 1999), El Lugar de la Arquitectura (The Place in/of Architecture, 2002) and Material de Arquitectura (Architecture Matters, 2003)..

Today, on the occasion of his 53rd birthday, STIR lists down some of the interesting facts about Alejandro Aravena:

1. Aravena’s parents were both middle-class teachers and he gained private education in Santiago, Chile.

2. While studying at the Architecture school at Universidad Católica de Chile, international magazines were banned due to the military dictatorship of ruler Augusto Pinochet. Chilean architecture students had limited access to what was going on in the rest of the world. Aravena believes this ‘saved them from Post-modernism’.

Doric temples of Segesta, Sicily, Italy | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Doric temples of Segesta, Sicily, Italy Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

3. During his time in Venice, he was astonished with and explored the historic architecture. He spent a month drawing the Doric temples in Sicily, Italy

  • Villa Rotunda designed by Andrea Palladio | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
    Villa Rotunda designed by Andrea Palladio Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
  • Santa Maria Novella designed by Alberti in Italy | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
    Santa Maria Novella designed by Alberti in Italy Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

4. While in Italy, he visited Romanesque buildings and discovered the works of Andrea Palladio, Leon Battista Alberti and Fillipo Brunolleschi. These made him realise the impact and aspirations architecture can have.

Brunolleschi’s dome in Florence, Italy | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Brunolleschi’s dome in Florence, Italy Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

5. Aravena opened his own bar and stopped practicing architecture for a few years. This was because, after returning from Venice he was disappointed with the opportunities being offered.

6. Aravena believes architect Smiljan Radic is ‘the best in the country (Chile)’.

Constitućion incremental housing designed by ELEMENTAL | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Constitućion incremental housing designed by ELEMENTAL Image Credit: Courtesy of C-Monster on Flickr

7. Having successfully designed and executed the housing for the post-earthquake city of Constitućion in Chile, Aravena went on to design four Incremental Housing projects, which he has made available for free download on the ELEMENTAL website for use and application anywhere in the world.

One of the images from the open source files on the Elemental website for Incremental housing | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
One of the images from the open-source files on the Elemental website for Incremental housing Image Credit: Courtesy of Elemental

8. Aravena’s wife, Gica, is also an architect from Brazil. They live in Chile with their children while Aravena tries to limit his time out of the country.

Pritzker Prize laureate Alejandro Aravena | Alejandro Aravena | Elemental| STIRworld
Pritzker Prize laureate Alejandro Aravena Image Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

9. In an interview advising students and future architects, Aravena suggested students to keep circling around the idea of being free and being a nerd to break clichés in the built environment.

10. Aravena cuts his own hair.

Inputs extracted from NY Times, Louisana Channel, www.bernaskoni.com and other sources.

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