ELEMENTAL- Innovative Designs in Social Housing (2005-2007)

ELEMENTAL is an innovative housing initiative in Chile that fuses architecture, technology, urban design, and community development for the purpose of designing and building low-cost housing for those who cannot afford a mortgage. The goal is to create quality communities that are sustainable in the long-term, with individual housing units that can be easily expanded.

The ELEMENTAL project began as an international design competition in 2003, with the support of the DRCLAS Regional Office and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. The competition, affiliated with the School of Architecture at the Universidad Católica, created an opportunity for seven architects to design and build seven communities in Chile ranging from 200-600 units each. 70% of the participants came from outside of Chile, making it a truly international contest. The government of Chile, grants from FONDEF as well as a DRCLAS Research Grant and CONICYT, help finance the initiative. Professor Jorge Silvetti and former Visiting Scholar Alejandro Aravena, have led the initiative, and through collaboration with the Regional Office, the project has grown substantially that now is its own organization associated with COPEC.

Additionally, DRCLAS awarded another grant to ELEMENTAL to host an additional international competition in Cambridge. The first housing community was completed in 2005, and now the homes are worth double than what they cost to create. In 2008, housing for more than 400 families was created and 800 ELEMENTAL houses are to be created by the end of 2008.

Former Visiting Scholar Alejandro Aravena was named as one of the most influential people in Chile during 2008 for his efforts with the ELEMENTAL “do tank.” As ELEMENTAL begins to expand to other areas of Latin America such as Mexico, it has received other accolades and has been cited by several international architectural magazines as one of the most impressive design projects in modern architecture. Alejandro Aravena of Chile was selected the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. The formal award ceremony for what has come to be known internationally as architecture’s highest honor was at United Nations Headquarters in New York on April 4, 2016. He became the 41st laureate of the Pritzker Prize, the first Pritzker Laureate from Chile, and the fourth from Latin America, after Luis Barragán (1980), Oscar Niemeyer (1988), and Paulo Mendes da Rocha (2006). Alejandro Aravena has pioneered a collaborative practice that produces powerful works of architecture by improving people´s lives and also addresses key challenges of the 21st century.

Participating Harvard faculty: Jorge Silvetti, Professor of Architecture and Chair, Department of Architecture, HGSD; Alejandro Aravena, former Visiting Lecturer and Design Critic in Architecture