Complex problems, simple solutions: Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena—who was just awarded architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Prize—spread the message of his community-based design practice to a global audience in Rio two years ago for TED Talks. During his talk, he sketches out a mathematical equation that projects the growing numbers of impoverished populations living in cities, and proposes a solution that is right in front of our faces. Here's a breakdown of Aravena's philosophy and problem-solving strategies.
Engage in Participatory Design
When it comes to social housing or infrastructure projects, top-down solutions tend to look past many of the real issues and miss solutions that would become apparent to anybody living or working on site. Aravena has done extensive work on urban design, and the scale, speed and scarcity of means that are required to accommodate the billions moving into cities in the next few decades mean we need to engage new arrivals, and look at favelas and slums themselves for ideas.
Rephrase the Problem
When Aravena and his team began to look at how to create affordable housing on a budget, they realized they would have to innovate their way out of a serious problem. They didn't have enough money on hand to build homes with suitable space for middle class families. The solution—build part of a home, and channel the owner's own building capacity to expand and customize the structure themselves with a bit of sweat equity—all came from looking at the issue in a different way. Instead of cutting corners, they simply used what budget they had and decided to build half a good house, instead of all of a bad house.
Use People's Own Power for Building
Giving owner in the city of Iquique, Chile, innovative housing that could expand with their families empowered them and let them control their own financial destiny. The results were striking: according to research, families sank an average of $750 into their homes, raising the value by $20,000 while doubling the square footage.
Sustainability Is Nothing More Than the Rigorous Use of Common Sense
While working on an entry for the Anacleto Angelini Innovation Center in Santiago, Aravena and his team wanted to figure out how to reinvent the standard model for such structures—glass skin, solid core, stratified floors and disconnected coworkers—and make it more energy efficient and communal. Aravena simply flipped the script. Design a building with an open atrium to allow users and tenants to see each other and interact, and wrap it all in concrete walls that avoids the greenhouse effect of glass walls. None of it, as he said, was "rocket science," it was just "archaic common sense." The results speak for themselves: energy use was cut by two-thirds.
There's Nothing Worse Than Answering the Wrong Question
Tasked with redeveloping part of the city of Constitución after a massive earthquake, Aravena opened the question up to the city, asking residents about what bothered them. The resulting dialogue, which revealed that many locals wanted more parkland and better access to the river, informed a redesign scheme that accomplished both goals. If Aravena had simply solved the immediate problem in front of him—better resilience for natural disasters—he would have spent money on reinforcing many of the city's big problems. By listening before diving into a big construction project, he made the most of a crisis, and positioned the city's solution as a catalyst to reinvent the city.
· Alejandro Aravena [TED Talks]
· Pritzker Prize Winner for 2016 is Alejandro Aravena, the Chilean Architect Behind the World's Most Innovative Affordable Housing [Curbed]
· Pritzker Prize 2016 Predictions: Who Could (And Should) Win? [Curbed]