In 2003 architecture firm Elemental received a tough commission from the Chilean government: Transform Quinta Monroy, a shantytown in the desert city of Iquique, by resettling 100 families on the same 1.25-acre site they had illegally occupied for 30 years. The budget for the new housing units? About $7,500 per unit, including land, services, and construction.
In response, the self-described “Do Tank” designed a traditional row house that would provide the density the site required while allowing the residents to have both privacy and the space to expand their homes as their families grew (two perks public housing projects rarely provide). Instead of building very cheaply made homes, the team created a model that was 50-percent self-built: Elemental focused on providing the basics needed for safe inhabitation, but left it up to the residents to put on the finishing touches at their own expense. With the functional spaces already providing a much higher quality of living than they were used to, the residents could make these improvements at their own pace.
Elemental continues to refine this design and has built more than 1,000 units throughout Chile. They recently partnered with the government again to design 1,000 units that would help rebuild the city of Constitución, which was heavily damaged in the 2010 earthquake.
We’re not asked to just do a design; we’re asked to come up with the question that we need to solve.
— Alejandro Aravena