"I will give the floor to you, I have nothing to say."
During a press conference yesterday at the UN Secretariat Building in Manhattan, Alejandro Aravena, the recent Pritzker Laureate, started off by opening the floor to journalists. But, over the course of the next hour, he offered not merely a series of answers but a seminar on his beliefs, plans, and views on the present and future of architecture. Here are some of the lessons and ideas gleaned from listening to the Chilean architect discuss urban growth, social housing, and the future of his practice.
21st Century Urban Growth is an Unprecedented Challenge
"More than refugees, we have migrants coming to cities in this urban age, in numbers much much bigger than the refugees. For you to have an idea, people come to cities because they concentrate opportunities. It’s a concentration of opportunities, not for housing. All the research shows it’s true, access to jobs, sanitation, healthcare, and you’re better off in cities than outside. The problem is the scale, viscosity, and means in which this phenomenon is taking place has no precedence in human history. It’s the three S’s: scale, speed, and scarcity. Out of 3 billion living in cities today 1 billion is under the line of poverty. By 2030, more than 5 billion will be living in cities, and 2 billion will be under the line of poverty. That means we’ll need to build the equivalent of a 1 million person city a week with $10,000 per family. If we don’t solve this equation, it’s not that people will stop coming to cities. They’ll just come and live in terrible conditions… these issues require professional quality, not professional charity. We need the best minds trying to work to solve this problem."
Social Housing Should Be Viewed as an Investment
"In developing countries, public housing tends to be based on an ownership model. So the funding for public housing is the biggest money transfer into a family’s assets. One would like it to operate like it does for all of us, that the investment grows over time. In social housing, it’s more like buying a car. It tends to decrease in value, usually because it’s located in a place that’s underserved. If you’re able to reverse that with the right design, housing can been seen and applied not as a social expense, but as a social investment. We’ve seen that with some of our work, that the housing increases in value over time. Architecture can be seen not as an added cost, but added value."
How the Attention That Comes With The Pritzker May Change His Work
"We’ve been trying to engage in conversations that are beyond architecture, ones that citizens are interested in. There are many debates, challenges, in the built environment, and also ones that we want to contribute to, such security, equality, protecting against natural disasters, by translating solutions into proposals. We don’t want to go away from those issues. In the end, these public issues are personal. People say don’t take it personal… you should take it personal! That’s why we call ourselves a do tank. You don’t change things by sending a letter to the editor or writing a paper, you do it with projects. We want to do something with what we know how to do. The problems we want to tackle are non-specific, non-architectural. We use the language of architecture to tackle these issues."