Plans for Lo Barnechea

Alejandro Aravena, the recipient of this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize, has released a collection of his low-cost housing plans online as an open-source resource — an attempt to help tackle the growing global housing shortage. The Chilean architect made the announcement yesterday while speaking on a Pritzker Laureates panel discussion at the UN, noting that such material needs to be placed in the hands of the public, as developers and government bodies often see innovative social housing as risky or “too expensive” for investment, according to Dezeen.

Four designs are now available for download on the website of his firm, Elemental. They exemplify Aravena’s strategic and award-winning approach of “incremental housing,” which places low-cost projects on expensive and well-located sites, and leaves enough space open for possible expansion into middle-class homes. Three of the designs are for developments already realized in Chile: Quinta Monroy, a 93-house complex completed in 2004; the larger Lo Barnechea, finished in 2012; and Villa Verde, which housed 484 families when construction wrapped in 2013. The fourth design is for the smallest complex, Mexico City’s 70-unit Monterrey, built in 2010. The files, which can be opened in such programs as A360 Viewer, contain 2D and 3D views of models as well as sectional and elevation plans.

3D view of Monterrey (click to enlarge)

“From now on they are public knowledge, an open source that we hope will be able to rule out one more excuse for why markets and governments don’t move in this direction to tackle the challenge of massive rapid urbanization,” says the Elemental website. “These designs may require to be adjusted to comply with local regulations and structural codes, follow local realities, and use pertinent building materials. But they are knowledge that we have tested, that has proved to be beneficial to communities and that have been implemented accepting very pressing budget and policy constraints.”

Open-source architecture is not unheard of: WikiHouse lets you customize, download, and construct sustainable designs, some of which are relatively low cost; Paperhouses works similarly, although it features designs executed by a number of well-known architects, including Tatiana Bilbao and Derek Dellekamp, so the options are pricier. Aravena’s newly released designs differ from those efforts by providing access specifically to affordable social housing, which consists of projects of a much larger scale. According to Elemental, by 2030, 40% of the billions of city-dwellers in the world will be living below the international poverty line, which means developers would need to build “a 1 million people city per week with 10,000 dollars per family” to keep everyone housed. In the face of such numbers, Aravena suggests, the only solution may be to involve the public in large-scale building processes rather than relying strictly on government action and on the housing market.

Plans for Monterrey

Plans for Quinta Monroy

2D view of Villa Verde

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

One reply on “Pritzker Prize–Winning Architect Makes Low-Cost Housing Plans Open Source and Free”

  1. Feel good projects like this play on widespread ignorance. The main driver of housing costs in the west are land costs (forced up by restrictive zoning) and regulatory costs, not lack of designs.

    In developing nations, corruption and unclear property rights are the big problem. Its absurd and insulting to think people couldn’t provide their own housing, if allowed basic property and legal rights.

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