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Magazine Architecture | 10 May 2018

“The Pritzker gave us the power to be irresponsible and free”.


We must detain on Juan Cerda´s words, the partner of Alejandro Aravena, Gonzalo Arteaga, Victor Oddó and Diego Torres. In an interview to ROOF Magazine, the architect, who is the most involved in ELEMENTAL`s first architectural project in Portugal, tells us how they have found in people, places, cities, the answer to the questions they ask in each project they start. Alejandro Aravena, founder of ELEMENTAL, is the most known face of the Chilean studio and who received the Pritzker in 2016 however, it is as a team they seek to combine all the forces of architecture, assuming themselves free to address the real problems without the fear of being wrong.


How should architecture take care of life?

The way we define architecture is related to the places where people live. It is not more complicated than that, but it is not simpler either, and it has to do with the capacity to synthesize, as architecture has to show, in one single way, many forces in stake. Forces that come from the fifth world, from people, from the place, from construction. The power of synthesis in architecture is the great tool that we, architects, have to be able to answer the necessities that arise in society. Therefore, more than a responsibility with the public´s welfare, we always enjoyed using drawings to solve great challenges and for us, the first one we came across was that of social housing, the extent of economic and social constraints, forced us to realize that there was not enough knowledge to solve the challenges associated with it. As we did not have this knowledge, we began to change the boundaries of this discipline, creating a way to solve this problem. In the case of community housing, what we did was to draw a good half house and you, with your other half, make your family complete it. Therefore, the strength at stake had not only to do with the budget available, but also with the family´s capacity to build with its own means. 

Can we therefore find the citizen´s conscience as taking part in the work...

Completely. Self-construction and informality have been seen as a problem. We consider they are the driving-force with which we must use and produce synergies to respond to the urbanization demands that the planet is living. 

How much time do you get involved in figuring out what ground you are going to step in?

It`s different for each project, but the most important is to always use ignorance in our favour. We are not experts in anything in particular, this is why we describe ourselves as a Do Tank more than a Think Tank because we learn to do things and the solution is in the project, specifically, and not in research, or in studying. The way we approach a project is fast. You can see the reconstruction plan of Constitución´s city. It was a plan we did in 100 days, where we responded to all the needs of a city that was 70% destroyed. Infrastructure, public space, tsunamisprotection, social housing, economic development, everything was answered in 100 days. Professional intuition is the most powerful weapon, and when we get to a place, we try to evaluate all the problems and quickly ask a question. A question must be articulated with the community. There is nothing worse than answering well the wrong question.

Featured in ROOF 14


AMILL, Qatar

Centro Innovación UC, Chile

Centro Cultural, Constitución

Villa Verde

Quinta Monroy

Centro Innovación UC, Chile

Alejandro Aravena, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó, Gonzalo Arteaga, Diego Torres


Text: Cátia Fernandes


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