The life touching works of Alejandro Aravena

Ar. Alejandro Aravena

While it is a dream of most of the architects to design a unique creation, the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena disregards the notion and follows the path of his own. For him, architecture is about improving lives of the people. He feels that if the architecture is unique, it means it cannot be replicated and hence it cannot reach a larger number of people. He looks at architecture as a way of finding/creating solutions to the challenges faced by the society.

He and his “Do Team” at Elemental aim at creating projects that make a difference in the lives of people. Be it the various social housing projects that were created through their unique philosophy of ‘incremental design’ or be it public places ideated through understanding the core function of the building, each one of the following projects clearly shows why Alejandro Aravena deserved the Pritzker prize he won in 2016.

While we Indians have a fascination for everything western, Ar. Alejandro’s work can actually be a very different inspiration for a country like India, which has a lot more similar challenges in comparison with Chile, than with countries like the USA or UK. Most of his design is a direct response to the extreme climate of Chile as well as the adverse economic conditions that he has to face while working out a design solution.

1. Siamese Towers, Santiago, Chile

Built on Campus San Joaquín at the Catholic University of Chile, the building host Centre for Technological Innovation of the University. The client wanted a building with a glass facade that would make it stand out as an iconic structure on the campus. Since glass isn’t a very viable option for facade in the climatic conditions of Santiago, Alejandro Aravena took a novel approach, treated the glass facade as outer skin and constructed the building inside it. This heightened the durability of the structure while providing a ventilated air chamber that acts as insulation against the outside heat.

2. UC Innovation Center, Santiago, Chile

This uniquely developed 14 storeyed building was aimed to be a place that would a mutual growth of researchers and enterprises through collaboration. Alejandro, in order to use material more suitable for the desert environment of Santiago, decided to turn the building inside out; concrete is used to block the scalding sun-rays while the glass was used on the inside, around the atrium to promote interaction through an open environment. The building is constructed using stacked concrete blocks and the large windows in the structure are actually gaps as tall as 3 storeys.

3. Quinta Monroy Housing project, Iquique, Chile

Conceptualised in 2001, this is one of the most significant social housing projects created by Elemental with their signature philosophy of ‘incremental design’. The rehousing project aimed at providing better houses to 93 families on an impossibly tight budget. When the conventional approach seemed futile, Alejandro came up with a radical notion of providing a half of the entire house with a provision to expand in the future. Tenants of the houses later on expanded their houses as per their convenience and personal tastes, giving a unique feel to each of residences.

4. The Villa Verde, Constitución, Chile

This was one of the larger social housing projects that came to Elemental after the success of the Quinta Monroy housing project. Arauco, a forestry company wanted to build homes for its contractors and employees. With lesser constraints related to the resources, the philosophy of incremental design was applied to deliver 484 housing units with the initial size of 57 sq.m. With a preconstructed roof over the houses, Ar. Aravena has successfully created a controlled empty space that can be used for future expansion of up to 85 sq.m. without stifling the original layout plan.

5. Ayélen School, Rancagua, Chile

In an attempt to contribute to the efforts of ‘Fundación Impulsa’, an organisation that strives to provide free access to quality education, Aravena came up with a design for the school that has an external lobby to share its space with outside community around the school. This allows the citizens around to access facilities such as gymnasium, playground of the school. The classrooms and spaces that require shaded area are located around the courtyard to promote open and close to nature environment.

6. Las Cruces Lookout point, Jalisco, Mexico

This piece of architecture was designed to provide a lookout with a great vantage point to look at the panoramic view of the annual pilgrimage route spread around the mountain range of Jalisco, Mexico. The facade was conceptualised to be a hollowed stone that would offer cross-ventilation and would blend with nature around. The structure is made of concrete and provides a place to rest and experience the peaceful surroundings.

7. Touristic Promenade, Constitución, Chile

In 2010, Chile was struck a terrible earthquake followed by a tsunami, which resulted in a lot of infrastructural destruction. Ar. Aravena and Elemental have come forth and have helped in the sustainable reconstruction project of Constitución. These touristic promenades are created as a part of that project. Strategically placed to offer spellbinding scenic views, they highlight the rich natural heritage of Chile and are constructed with the use of reinforced concrete and wood.

8. Children’s Bicentennial Park, Santiago, Chile

Despite the fast-paced growth of the city of Santiago, it had fallen behind on developing the elements that enhance the quality of life of its citizens. Alejandro Aravena, efficiently utilising the unutilised terrain of the hillside, created a children’s playground, spread over 1800 sq.m. The playground consists of several elements such as toboggans, tree houses, a forest of water spheres and swings with a harness. Furthermore, the fence to mark the perimeter of the park is converted into play area as well, adding another 310 meters of space to the park.

9. St. Edward’s University Campus, Austin, Texas

This project of designing a dorm of 300 beds and a few other facilities was the first project outside Chile for Elemental.For the team understanding a culture of a place defined the architectural solution. Texas was a case study for the team, where they had to study the design language of the University and its philosophy, to come with an architectural design solution that would match Alejandro’s own design standards. The core of the structure was made hollow and the ground floor was planned to be used for common facilities for increased interaction among students. The dorm building was created to surround facility area. In conscious efforts to let as much sunlight and ventilation in the dorms and making the building durable towards harsh weather conditions, the outward facing building exteriors were made of hard, long lasting materials while the inner facade was made of softer materials.

10. Cultural Center of Constitución, Constitución, Chile

Designed and built as a part of the ‘Sustainable Reconstruction Plan’ after 2010 disaster, the project is built with an aim to provide space to the community for enhancing their quality of life. It offers separated and adaptive spaces in order to be utilised for varying purposes and demands of the people. Constructed primarily out of wood, the structure flaunts elegance achieved through minimalistic approach.

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