NEW YORK (AFP).- Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena won the prestigious 2016 Pritzker Prize Wednesday, earning praise for "powerful" designs that address key social and economic challenges of the 21st century.
"Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people's lives," said Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which awards the prize.
The 48-year-old Aravena, who is based in Santiago, will receive the $100,000 award and bronze medallion at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on April 4.
He is the 41st Pritzker laureate, and only the fourth from Latin America.
The Pritzker jury highlighted Aravena's work at ELEMENTAL, a Santiago architectural group that focuses on projects of public interest and social impact.
The group calls itself a "do tank," as opposed to a "think tank."
It has produced more than 2,500 units of affordable housing, including an innovative "half a good house" that allows residents to complete the work themselves, thereby incrementally raising their living standards.
After Chile's 2010 earthquake, ELEMENTAL was enlisted to help rebuild the hard-hit city of Constitucion; the firm drew up a master plan and designed a cultural center and an "incremental" housing project known as Villa Verde.
Aravena also was cited for his buildings at the Universidad Catolica de Chile in Santiago, where he studied and now teaches after a five-year stint at Harvard; they include its schools of architecture, medicine, mathematics and most recently the UC Innovation Center - Anacleto Angelini.
His design for an office building for health care company Novartis is under construction in Shanghai, China. Its office spaces are designed to accommodate different forms of work -- individual, collective, formal and informal.
"His built work gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption and provides welcoming public space," Pritzker said.
Jurors 'stunned and overwhelmed'
Lord Peter Palumbo, the chair of the jury, said jurors were "captivated, stunned and overwhelmed" by what they saw when they visited Aravena's work.
"He understands materials and construction, but also the importance of poetry and the power of architecture to communicate on many levels," the jury citation read.
Most of Aravena's work has been in Chile, but he has also designed projects in Mexico, Germany, Switzerland and the United States.
Aravena, who is director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, said he was "deeply thankful" for the prize -- "just overwhelmed, ecstatic, happy."
"Architecture is a collective discipline. So we think, with gratitude, of all the people who contributed to give form to a huge diversity of forces at play," he said in an emailed response to his selection as the Pritzker laureate.
He said he would use the prize "to explore new territories, face new challenges and walk into new fields of action."
"After such a peak, the path is unwritten. So our plan is not to have a plan, face the uncertain, be open to the unexpected," he said.
In Chile, colleagues cheered Aravena and the award, the country's first.
"Alejandro Aravena is the first architect at the international level to be so strongly concerned with social housing in Chile," said the president of the Chilean College of Architects, Pilar Urrejola.
"He had the vision and the sensibility to realize that social housing in Chile could be thought of in new ways," she told AFP.
The dean of the architecture school at Universidad del Desarrollo, Pablo Allard, said Aravena would be remembered for his "conviction of the transformative role of architecture."
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