“Alejandro Aravena is leading a new generation of architects that has a holistic understanding of the built environment and has clearly demonstrated the ability to connect social responsibility, economic demands, design of human habitat and the city” stated the Pritzker Architecture Prize jury in 2016. In the special issue of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui (AA) covering the Holcim Awards competition, he explains the value of focusing on ‘why’ someone is celebrated instead of ‘who’ is a winner.
Alejandro Aravena – “Prizes serve a double purpose: the first and most obvious one is to celebrate excellence. Producing quality work in any field should be a matter of shared joy given we all win when somebody does their job well. The second one is to send a message about what excellence is: an example to follow. Creative work is a mix between looking inwards and being nurtured by a surrounding critical mass.
Prizes may inform about what the value is that society is expecting from a given author. One first shift would be to go from ‘who’ to ‘why’. Creative work has obviously a personal dimension; even if big challenges are the result of collaborative efforts, the tipping points tend to be the result of talent, ingenuity, vision, effort, and perseverance done by somebody. But at the same time, such work must make sense to society at large. The more prizes focus on ‘why’ someone is celebrated instead of ‘who’ is a winner, the more society at large will be getting the benefits of that personal effort.
It is important to teach the next generation of architects and designers about paying attention to issues and questions that matter to a majority of people, to problems and challenges that may improve the common good. The way it normally works is that young students go through a training where they are taught the specific knowledge of the discipline, with a specific jargon and a specific set of problems. Such specificity carries the risk of being disconnected from what interests society.
So, the first thing would be to prepare architects and designers to speak the language of those broader, non-specific fields: economics, politics, the environment, social forces so they can listen and understand. Only then, the way to enter the conversation will be by using the specific knowledge (and language) of architecture in which they were trained. So you have to find a balance between becoming an expert in your field and remaining an informed citizen.
To be able to inhabit overlapping fields of knowledge is maybe the greatest strength of this next generation. Architecture, at its core, has a very powerful tool: the project. It’s synthetic and it organizes information in a proposal key. These two aspects are crucial to address complex questions. Such questions don’t have defined boundaries; they are at the crossroads of many disciplines. To synthesize and propose in unexplored territories, intuition (being able to move ahead only with partial certainties) will be key. Younger generations may be strong in these non-compartmentalized fields.”
Alejandro Aravena is Partner Architect & Executive Director of Elemental, Chile; a member of the Board of the Holcim Foundation (2013–); and Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2016).
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