Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement

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Quinta Monroy Housing Project

Elemental. Quinta Monroy Housing Project

ALEJANDRO ARAVENA: I am Alejandro Aravena, an architect working at Elemental, and this project is the Quinta Monroy social housing project in Iquique. We were asked to provide a formal solution for an informal settlement of 100 families that for the last 30 years were occupying illegally a 5,000 square meters site in the center of this city in the Chilean desert.

Our goal was try to not break the network of jobs, of education and health care and transportation, even recreations that these families have built in the last 30 years, even though it was in an illegal way, but that network was extremely important to be maintained.

For this particular project, we had $7,500 per house to buy the land, provide the infrastructure, and build each of the houses. With the available money you can build only 30 something square meters, a small house. What we did was to think and propose, what if 30 something square meters is considered half of a good house, instead of a small house?

GLENN LOWRY: The ‘half house’ was built with an open system that allowed residents to customize and complete it, as they liked.

ALEJANDRO ARAVENA: Families decided for example, that if they had a lot of children, then what they're going to add were a lot of bedrooms. Even other families decided that they wanted to rent a room and use their own household as an income generator. Not one single unnecessary operation was done by the families, and in that sense there was a kind of shared efficiency between the group of professionals performing at the beginning, and the way the open system was completed by the families.