My latest for the New Republic examines the social housing approach of Pritzker prizewinner, Alejandro Aravena, in the context of both Chile and social housing around the world. While Aravena and his ‘do tank’ Elemental received praise for releasing his social housing designs as open source files, I wondered – is design the major obstacle to housing the world’s urban residents and urban poor? What social, political and economic conditions enable Aravena’s housing prototypes, and can they (or should they) be reproduced in other contexts?
More here at New Republic. An excerpt below:
From the cable car threading its way up the mountains surrounding the Colombian city of Medellín, one can see the towers rising behind the peaks. The telltale signs of social housing—the monotony of the high-rises, the plain concrete facades, and, most noticeably, the lack of visible street life—stand in stark contrast to the sprawling landscape of shacks below, where commerce, construction, traffic, and domestic life all seem to be unfolding at once.
The cable car doesn’t actually stop anywhere near the social housing complex. It is natural to wonder how residents survive in such an isolated locale. This situation reflects the conundrum that bedevils social housing around the world. What is meant to be a boon to low-income residents becomes a burden—a house that never becomes a home.
Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, along with his architecture collective Elemental, tried a different approach in 2004 when designing Quinta Monroy, a social housing project in Iquique, Chile. Elemental, which Aravena calls a ‘do tank,’ is not a typical architecture firm, but rather an equal partnership between five architects, the Universidad Católica de Santiago, and the Chilean oil firm, COPEC. With a tight budget limited by the state housing subsidy of $7,500 per house, Elemental spent most of the funds on purchasing the land where the residents already lived, in an informal settlement within city boundaries. The remainder of the budget was spent on the housing itself.
Along with looking at the designs themselves, I also interviewed Latin American housing scholars Alan Gilbert, Ann Varley, Edward Murphy, about their research on housing, UN Habitat, Slum Dwellers International, and the Mumbai and Goa-based research collective URBZ about their views on what questions we should be asking about social housing and housing low-income groups around the world.
Read the article in full here.