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Social housing, the proposal by Alejandro Aravena

Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect, has become famous for his innovative approach to social housing. The Aravena public housing works are based on the concept of an evolutionary building.

One of his most important projects is perhaps the expandable house (Casa Incremental), which consists in building only half of the house, leaving the other part to the free initiative of the tenant. As a studio director Elemental, Aravena has faced and managed several critical situations, both climatic and social.

For the Chilean architect the theme of social housing is not just a question of square meters. His projects go much further and try to resolve even the strictly qualitative aspects.

Therefore, Aravena imposes himself to work with the bare essentials, discarding all the superfluous. His thought can be summed up in a sentence: «Social housing requires professional quality work, not professional charity».

In 2016 he won the Pritzker Prize, thus acquiring international fame. Thanks to this recognition, his ideas and projects are spread social housing for the disadvantaged population.

Quality social housing

Social housing

Aravena develops the concept of “progressive housing”, as a response to the tight budget for the construction of social housing. The project involves the construction of only one half of the house.

The basic idea of ​​the project is to go beyond the normal research of social interest, with the construction of terraced houses or small single houses. The proposal consisted in the construction of half housing with good structural and spatial quality, but at the same cost.

The studio, directed by Aravena, designs a basic home, equipped with two rooms and sanitary facilities, for a total space of 40 m². Starting from this base, families will progressively build the rest of the house.

Alejandro Aravena develops his social housing projects with the intention of offering a home to those who earn little. Not only have quality housing, but also sustainable mortgages.

“When you believe in something, you must have enough courage to move forward even if the choices you make do not follow those of the flock.”

-Alejandro Aravena-

Quinta Monroy

Social housing in Quinta Monroy

The project called Quinta Monroy is the result of the need to ensure minimum housing conditions for around 100 families. In fact, they have been illegally occupying 0.5 hectares of land in the center of Iquique, Chile, for 30 years.

One of the main limitations arose when the funds were allocated. The amount allocated was rather small, about $ 7,500 per family and should have covered the costs of the value of the land, urbanization and structure.

In response to this problem, it was established that the houses would have an area of ​​36 m², or only half the house. The tenants would take charge of any future extensions, being able to reach 70 m² per house.

The basic concept is that of vertical development. The building could have grown horizontally on the first floor and vertically on the top. Starting from these premises, what was intended was achieved: the complete freedom to expand homes.

At the end of the work, 50% of the house was given to each family, which included basic services such as bathroom, kitchen, etc. In the event of future expansions, the services would have been integrated without any problems.

The project also includes the arrangement of the collective space, which is common property, but with exclusive access to residents. This space allows the consolidation of community life, including play areas for children and neighborhood meetings.

Social housing in Monterrey, Mexico

Public houses in Monterrey

The administration of Nuevo León, in Mexico, has charged Elemental of design a group of 70 homes in a middle-class neighborhood. Given the similarity in terms of funds and land, at the previous Iquique project, they decided to apply the same typology used at Quinta Monroy.

With a larger budget, which amounted to $ 20,000 per house, it was decided to apply the same strategy as Chile. State funds were used to build half the quality of the house, the most difficult one.

This half included the basic equipment of the house and the vertical connection of the floors. One of the characteristics respected by Aravena’s team focuses on self-construction, which guarantees the future expansion of the house.

The proposal consists of a continuous three-storey high building, following the same typology applied in Chile. At the section level, a horizontal house (first level) and a duplex apartment (second and third level) are superimposed.

As in the case of Quinta Monroy, at the end of the works, the first half of the house of about 40 m² is delivered. The first level home will have the possibility of being extended up to about 58 m² and the duplex to 76 m².

The community space is surrounded by the houses, thus reducing the distance between the inhabited area and the green areas. The space is designed in such a way as to guarantee the care of the areas, as well as to offer a meeting point for the neighborhood.


Aravena is a very busy architect, who believes that architecture is a tool to find solutions. Through his projects he seeks to democratize access to quality housing.

Finally, as a sign of Aravena’s social sense, he has made public his most emblematic social housing projects so that they can be used freely.

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