News Brief

Sustainable Development through Open-Source, Participatory Design

Alejandro Aravena wins Gothenburg Award for offering revolutionary strategies for social housing.

A view of the Quinta Monroy housing project in Iquique, Chile, before and after the families have moved in and expanded their homes. 

Photo: Tadeuz Jalocha
The Gothenburg Award for Sustainable Development—based in Gothenburg, Sweden—recognizes organizations and individuals that contribute toward a sustainable future through work that conserves resources, develops greater global justice, or leads to systematic change.

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena—who has suggested that “sustainability is nothing but the rigorous use of common sense”—is the first architect to receive the Gothenburg award. He is recognized for his simple, synthesized solutions for affordable social housing—identified by the jury as both an urgent contemporary issue and something that is crucial for sustainable cities.

Aravena’s firm, Elemental, has become known for executing on the idea that building occupants should be actively involved in the design process rather than be perceived as a problem to be solved. In an attempt to address the economic challenges of providing quality housing for all, the firm has developed a concept of incremental, participatory design. Families move into a fully constructed “half” of a house that provides all the basic necessities of a dwelling—along with the foundation and framework for the building’s other “half.”  With information and guidance from the architect, the homeowners build the remainder of their home themselves—as needed and as fits their financial situation.

This inclusive process empowers people and can help foster trust between citizens, business, and government—just one way in which Aravena and his colleagues are experimenting with architecture as a tool for solving social and political issues.

The firm has also made the plans for four of their social housing projects available for download as an “open-source” tool for others to study. By sharing the drawings for these projects, the firm is trying to foster collaboration, and shift the ways markets and governments address the rapid urbanization happening at a massive scale around the world.

For more information:

The Gothenburg Award

Published May 30, 2017

Wilson, J. (2017, May 30). Sustainable Development through Open-Source, Participatory Design. Retrieved from

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