As economics drive more and more people to urban centers, particularly in the developing world, overpopulation and lack of housing are becoming more pressing issues than ever before. And though an estimated two-thirds of the world’s population are expected to live in cities by 2030, few organizations, public or private, are tackling the issue of social housing, the lack of which leaves many people living in dangerous, ad hoc slums.
This is precisely why the architecture world celebrated the selection of Alejandro Aravena, of Chilean “Do Tank” firm Elemental, for the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2016. Rather than designing shiny museums or residential towers, Aravena practices a more grounded form of architecture—one that shares values with open-source computing and balances private commissions with people-focused social projects.
Among Elemental’s most innovative work is the firm’s approach to incremental housing. Unfinished, but fully functional houses offer people the opportunity to develop over time, as money allows and as needs dictate. Further democratizing the concept, Aravena has shared the architectural plans for four such concepts—completely for free, as with open-source software—on the Elemental website so that anyone can use them.
“What we architects model is not bricks or stones or steel or wood, but life itself,” Aravena said at the Pritzker ceremony at the United Nations this past April. “Architecture is about giving form to the places where people live. It is not more complicated than that but also not simpler than that.”