Thursday, November 13, 2008


In a recent post I mentioned Alejandro Aravena’s group ELEMENTAL and their project for social housing in Chile.  Dezeen just posted a series of images of the project on their website.


Along with the images is a nice short text, outlining Aravena’s concept of ELEMENTAL as a “DO-TANK”, rather than the typical “think-tank” that has become so popular in recent years (also known as LABs in some architecture schools).  Of course architecture will needs more of both do-tanks and think-tanks and I think we will see a growing interest in self-initiated design and research projects in the coming years.


Here are Elemental’s three points (quoted from Dezeen):

  1. To think, design and build better neighborhoods, housing and the necessary urban infrastructure to promote social development and overcome the circle of poverty and inequity of our cities;
  2. In order to trigger a relevant qualitative leap-forward, our projects must be built under the same market and policy conditions than any other, working to achieve “more with the same”.
  3. By quality we understand projects whose design guarantees incremental value and returns on investment over time, in order to stop considering it a mere “social expense”.


I think I mentioned before, but just in case I left it out, what I find fascinating about this project is the combination of top-down and bottom-up design systems.  The Elemental housing initially builds a kind of existenz minimum series of row houses which create a framework that can be filled in as the inhabitants obtain the material and financial means to do so.  The initial construction sets up an urban spatial framework as well as a solid material foundation for the expansion of the homes.  This strategy seeks to counteract two of the main problems of traditional slum settlements—problems of super high density and over crowding, and faulty construction which leads to unsafe structures (easily collapsible and flammable).

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