Photography: Cristobal Palma

Alejandro Aravena has scooped the 2016 Pritzker Prize, architecture’s most prestigious international award.

The 48-year-old Chilean is best known as the executive director of Elemental, an architectural group that has designed more than 2,500 units of low cost, social housing around Latin America.

Alejandro Aravena Monterrey Housing
Monterrey Housing, Monterrey, Mexico.
Photography: Ramiro Ramirez

Led by Aravena, the organisation collaborates with residents and follows a self-imposed ‘half of a good house’ policy, whereby it leaves space for them to complete the design themselves.

‘Alejandro Aravena has pioneered a collaborative practice that produces powerful works of architecture and also addresses key challenges of the 21st century,’ said Tom Pritzker, chairman and president of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize.

‘His built work gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space.’

UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile Photo by Nina Vidic
UC Innovation Center, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
Photography: Nina Vidic

Aravena, the first Chilean architect to receive the award, has also designed buildings for his alma mater – the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago. He recently conceived an office building in Shanghai – currently under construction – for pharmaceutical company Novartis.

The eight-person jury, which includes previous winners Richard Rogers and Glen Murcutt, said: ‘Few have risen to the demands of practising architecture as an artful endeavour, as well as meeting today’s social and economic challenges. Aravena, from his native Chile, has achieved both, and in doing so has meaningfully expanded the role of the architect.’

Novartis Office Building, 2015 (under construction), Shanghai, China Photo by ELEMENTAL
Novartis Office Building, Shanghai, China
Photography: Elemental

The newly crowned Pritzker laureate receives a $100,000 grant and will be officially presented as the 2016 prize winner at the UN Headquarters in New York on 4 April.

Aravena said: ‘The prestige, the reach, the gravitas of the prize is such that we hope to use its momentum to explore new territories, face new challenges, and walk into new fields of action.’

Mathematics School, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile Photography: Tadeuz Jalocha
Mathematics School, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
Photography: Tadeuz Jalocha


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