Alejandro Aravena “epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect”—that’s how the announcement that he’d won the 2016 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s top honor, described the Chilean designer. At his firm, Elemental, Aravena devised “incremental housing,” a model that uses government subsidies to build partial homes—concrete frame, roof, kitchen, bathroom—that low-income residents finish themselves, gaining property value in the process. This year, as curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale, he highlighted projects that improve quality of life for those with scarce resources. If done right, Aravena told the U.N. in a recent interview, urban architecture can be a “shortcut towards equality.” (Photo courtesy of Alejandro Aravena)
In the 1990s, Aravena quit designing buildings for a few years and opened a bar.
Rowan Moore, an architecture critic at the Guardian, once compared Aravena’s spiky, graying hair to desert roadkill.