This article comprehensively covers details about Villa Verde, a Chilean incremental housing project which helped Alejandro Aravena win The Pritzker in 2016. This article also talks about the Pritzker laureate’s inspirational vision, design theory and approach with which he responds to the present scenario while considering future challenges.

Alejandro Arvaena is a Chilean architect who runs an architectural practice called Elemental in Chile. Like its founder, Elemental’s design philosophy believes in and values the participatory design approach and design power of synthesis. Aravena through his projects, Ted talks, interviews, etc. tries to inspire architects looking for opportunities to effect change. His goal is to solve housing shortage challenges all across the globe with help from other professionals in the field. 

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Portrait of Alejandro Aravena photographed  in 2016_©Luigi Costantini/AP Images

Villa Verde is a result of the desire by Arauco Forest Company to support its employees and contractors by providing them with home ownership. Greater availability of resources and funds from the forestry company allowed Elemental to work on their first project based on a high-end social housing policy. 

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Photograph of Villa Verde before its handover to users_©Suyin Chia

Following are the specifications/details of the project

Location: Constitución, Chile
Client: Arauco Forest Company
Project Typology: Housing
Size of Each Unit: 57 m² (initially, each unit can be constructed further to a total area of 85 m²)
Architectural style: Modern

Team

Architect: Elemental
General Contractor: Icafal
Structural Engineer: Patricio Bertholet
Civil and Plumbing Engineer: Fernando Montoya
Electrical Engineer: Ramón Prado

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Quinta monroy designed by Aravena in Inquique, Chile provided a structure with basic structure (on left) which allowed users to fill in the gap (on right)_©Cristobal Palma

Villa Verde is a project where Aravena applied his successfully implemented design philosophy which benefited the stakeholders of the previous three social housing projects, namely Quinta Monroy, Lo Barnechea and Monterrey. All four housing projects done by Aravena follow the same principles and goals. The availability of larger funds helped Elemental deliver 484 incremental housing units, which were designed by the stakeholder participatory design process. Each housing unit had high-quality interior finishes and relatively luxurious fittings such as a solar water heater, both tub and shower in the bathroom and a dishwasher for the kitchen. Architects also accounted for the context of the project while designing and hence delivered aseismic units which were thermally and acoustically insulated. 

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Photograph of Villa Verde just after its possession_©Cristian Martinez

Following is an image released by Elemental on their website. The text description in the image explains a simple and practical design ideology. All housing projects by Elemental, including Villa Verde, were conceived with the help of the same following philosophy. 

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Image consisting of text description about ArvaenaÔÇÖs design philosophy_© Elemental

One of the constraints of this project was the availability of land, a particular area of land was provided to the architects with a demand to house a fixed number of families. Aravena and his team cancelled out the options of detached and row housing as these would not accommodate the required number of families. A simple solution to this problem was the option of vertical housing. But during the participatory design process, users rejected the proposal due to the limitations of vertical housing. After brainstorming and considering different constraints of the project, Aravena and his team came up with an innovative option. This innovative option was an incremental duplex structure. 

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Image showcasing the ÔÇÿa half of good houseÔÇÖ. It shows the structural framework which was provided by the architects for future expansion_© Suyin Chia

Aravena and his Elemental team proposed row houses with two floors, made with a vernacular wooden framework. Each delivered incremental housing unit was said to be ‘a half of good house’, which meant that users would receive a half-built house with basic living necessities. The vision of Aravena was to provide a basic but dignified housing unit which later could be expanded by users themselves. These minimalist units with an initial built-up area of 57 m² came with a fully functioning kitchen, bathroom and living room on the ground floor. And two bedrooms, where four people can sleep comfortably on the first floor. Additionally, each unit also had a front and back yard. Each half-built unit provided users with an opportunity to expand their habitable spaces at and according to their comfort. Inhabitants could extend/increase/expand their housing unit up to 85 m². The extension can easily accommodate a relatively large living space on the ground floor and two additional rooms on the first floor. Therefore, after extension, each housing unit would accommodate eight users at once.

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Wooden framework of Villa Verde_©Cristian Martinez
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Villa VerdeÔÇÖs ground floor, first floor and roof plan, elevations and construction details_©Elemental
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Villa VerdeÔÇÖs elevations and sections_©Elemental
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Drawings of the possible layout option for future expansion of the housing unit_©Elemental

Each housing unit had a completed pitched roof and beams for the first-floor slab. Hence, users only had to build two walls and slabs by themselves during the extension process. The provision of the almost complete structure not only proved to be economical but also inspirational for the users. To make the extension more feasible for the users, Elemental conducted workshops to explain the extension project and provided possible plan layouts for the extension. And just a few weeks after the site handover, users started expanding their housing units.  

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Team Elemental explaining the details about extension to the users_©Elemental

Practical and simple architectural design elements make Villa Verde, a flexible, socially acceptable and financially feasible project. This ideal model of incremental housing is inspirational because of numerous reasons. The most integral reason is that a byproduct of basic design principles easily accommodates eight users in 85 m² in the most cost-efficient way. Now almost every unit at Villa Verde has been expanded. And each unit is distinct, telling a story about its users, unlike its initial stage.

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Image consisting of housing units after expansion, each unit is different from other_©www.holcimfoundation.org
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Construction and joinery detail drawing of Villa Verde_©Elemental
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Blown up drawings of construction and joinery detail drawing of Villa Verde_©Elemental
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Second set of blown up drawings of construction and joinery detail drawing of Villa Verde_©Elemental
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Sectional drawings of Villa Verde with their respective key plans_©Elemental
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Drawings of staircase at Villa Verde_©Elemental
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Construction drawings of  Villa Verde_©Elemental

References:  

  1. Rowan Moore (2018). Alejandro Aravena: the shape of things to come. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/apr/10/architect-alejandro-aravena-pritzker-prize-elemental-housing-iquique-constitucion-tsunami-defences.
  2. ‌Architectmagazine.com. (2021). [online] Available at: https://www.architectmagazine.com/project-gallery/villa-verde_o.
  3. www.pritzkerprize.com. (n.d.). Ale­jan­dro Ara­ve­na | The Pritzker Architecture Prize. [online] Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/ale-jan-dro-ara-ve-na.
  4. Arquitectura Viva (2018). Villa Verde housing, Constitución – Alejandro Aravena  ELEMENTAL. [online] Arquitectura Viva. Available at: https://arquitecturaviva.com/works/viviendas-villa-verde-10.  
  5. Alejandro Aravena: My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process. (2014). YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0I0Poe3qlg.
Author

Ujjwal is a design enthusiast who is currently studying to be an architect. He is passionate about researching, exploring, documenting and writing about various fields of art, architecture and design.

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