Alejandro Aravena was born on June 22, 1967, in Santiago, Chile. He graduated as an architect from the Universidad Católica de Chile in 1992. In 1994, he established his own practice, Alejandro Aravena Architects. Since 2001 he has been leading ELEMENTAL, a “Do Tank” focusing on projects of public interest and social impact, including housing, public space, infrastructure, and transportation.
ELEMENTAL has built work in Chile, The United States, Mexico, China and Switzerland. After the 2010 earthquake and tsunami that hit Chile, ELEMENTAL was called to work on the reconstruction of the city of Constitucion, Chile. Aravena’s partners in ELEMENTAL are Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó and Diego Torres.
Alejandro Aravena is the Director of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016. He was a speaker at TEDGlobal in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2014. He was a member of the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury from 2009 to 2015.
In 2010 he was named International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and identified as one of the 20 new heroes of the world by Monocle magazine. He is a Board Member of the Cities Program of the London School of Economics since 2011; Regional Advisory Board Member of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies; Board Member of the Swiss Holcim Foundation since 2013; Foundational Member of the Chilean Public Policies Society; and Leader of the Helsinki Design Lab for SITRA, the Finnish Government Innovation Fund. He was one of the 100 personalities contributing to the Rio +20 Global Summit in 2012.
Aravena was a Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (2000 and 2005); and also taught at Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia (2005), Architectural Association in London (1999), and London School of Economics. He has held the ELEMENTAL Copec Chair at Universidad Católica de Chile since 2006.
Author of Los Hechos de la Arquitectura (Architectural Facts, 1999), El Lugar de la Arquitectura (The Place in/of Architecture, 2002) and Material de Arquitectura (Architecture Matters, 2003). His work has been published in more than 50 countries, Electa published the monograph Alejandro Aravena; progettare e costruire (Milan, 2007) and Toto published Alejandro Aravena; the Forces in Architecture (Tokyo, 2011). Hatje-Cantz published the first monograph dedicated to the social housing projects of ELEMENTAL:Incremental Housing and Participatory Design Manual (Berlin, 2012) launched at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia.
- UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. Photo by Nina Vidic
Alejandro Aravena: Innovation and knowledge creation requires on the one hand, to increase the encounters among people, so openness is a desired attribute for its architecture; on the other hand, developments and inventions have to be protected, so security and ability to close and segregate are appreciated architectural conditions as well. We proposed a rather opaque construction towards the outside, which is also efficient for the Santiago weather and then have a very permeable architecture inside. Having the structure and the shafts on the perimeter of the building reverts the typical curtain wall building layout and concentrates openings in a very specific points in the form of elevated squares.
- Siamese Towers, 2005, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile, University classrooms and offices. Photo by Cristobal Palma
Alejandro Aravena: We were asked to do a glass tower. Glass is very inappropriate for Santiago’s climate, because it generates green house effect, even though it’s a nice material to resist rain, pollution and aging. So we thought of using glass for what it’s good, on the outside, then do another building inside with efficient energy performance and allow air to flow in between the two. Convection of hot air creates a vertical wind which is accelerated by the “waists” of the building by Venturi effect, eliminating undesired heat gains before they reach the second building inside.
- Quinta Monroy Housing, 2004, Iquique, Chile. Photos by Cristobal Palma
Top: Middle-class standard achieved by the residents themselves. Bottom: “Half of a good house” financed with public money.
- Quinta Monroy Housing, 2004, Iquique, Chile. Top photo by Ludovic Dusuzean. Bottom photo by Tadeuz Jalocha
Top: Interior of a “good house” financed with public money. Bottom: Middle-class standard achieved by the residents themselves.
- St. Edward’s University Dorms, 2008, Austin, Texas, USA. Photo by Cristobal Palma
Alejandro Aravena: We needed to accommodate 300 beds, some social areas and some services for the whole campus in a narrow lot. We thought of creating a plinth with the more public facilities to activate the ground floor, then the social areas carving the volume’s core and finally articulate the perimeter of the building as much as possible, increasing the linear meters of façade in order to guarantee views and natural light to each room. To be able to resist a tough environment we opted for a sequence of skins that are hard and rough in the outer layer and become softer and more delicate while moving towards the core.
- Bicentennial Children’s Park, 2012, Santiago, Chile. Photo by Cristobal Palma
Alejandro Aravena: A four-hectare Children’s Park on a hillside, part of a program to celebrate the bicentennial of Chile.
- Villa Verde Housing, 2013, Constitución, Chile. Photos by ELEMENTAL
Alejandro Aravena: Arauco Forest Company asked us to develop a plan to support their employees and contractors so they could have access to home ownership, in the context of Chilean housing policies. This allowed us to work for the first time with the high end of housing policy. Given the greater availability of resources, instead of taking one of our less expensive housing units and delivering it more finished, we applied again the same principle of incremental housing, but with an initial and final growth scenario of a higher standard: these houses begin with an initial area of 57 m2 and can grow up to 85 m2.
- Novartis Office Building, 2015 (under construction), Shanghai, China. Photo by ELEMENTAL
Alejandro Aravena: The office building in the Novartis Campus Shanghai seeks to provide spaces that encourage knowledge creation. The office spaces are designed to accommodate the different modes of work — individual, collective, formal and informal — and foster interaction between the users. Around a forest of Metasequoias, the ground floor accommodates the Fitness and Be Healthy Center which are part of the campus public level where users from the different buildings meet. The outside of the building responds to the local climate with a solid facade of reclaimed brick facing south, east and west. On the north facade, the building is open to let indirect light get inside the open office spaces.
- Ocho Quebradas House, 2013 – ongoing, Los Vilos, Chile. Rendering by ELEMENTAL
Alejandro Aravena: A weekend house is ultimately a kind of retreat where people allow themselves to suspend the conventions of life and go back to more essential living. … As architects, we have been trying to be as primitive as possible lately; in an era where the hunger for novelty is threatening architecture to become immediately obsolete, we are looking for timelessness. … We expect these pieces to age as a stone, acquiring some of the brutality of the place but still being gentle for people to enjoy nature and life in general.