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The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is an international group of architects, developers, and urban planners. Every year ULI awards the J.C. Nichols Prize to an individual who has made a distinguished contribution to community building and whose commitment to creating the highest quality built environment has led to the betterment of our society. The Urban Land Institute hired us to visit Santiago, Chile and create a short film about the 2019 winner Alejandro Aravena. Over the course of just a few days we met with Alejandro, toured several of his projects, and interviewed individuals who have been impacted by his work. Deliverables from this projects included photos at each location and one 6-8 minute film about Alejandro, his work with Incremental Housing, and why ULI chose him as the 2019 recipient of the J.C. Nichols Prize. 

Our first stop was the Innovation Center at the Universidad Catolica de Chile, designed by Alejandro and his team at Elemental. Alejandro explained that most buildings are designed using a glass exterior with a concrete center, causing them to heat up quickly on summer days. This design inverts the typical approach to help regulate the building’s temperature and decrease energy consumption. 

Next we visited Bicentennial Park- a children’s park in downtown Santiago. The city had a vacant plot of land alongside one of the major roads, but the steep incline made the location difficult to use. They hired Alejandro and his team to design a public playground on the plot of land. Alejandro’s design embraces the incline. The park’s most notable feature is a series slides built into the hillside. 

We met with Alejandro and his team at their office in downtown Santiago. As we arrived, the team was sharing wine and home-cooked lunch over a large conference table. They invited us to pull up a chair, and Alejandro turned the conversation towards their work with Incremental Housing. He explained that unlike most real estate investments, government subsidized housing projects typically decrease in value over time.

After a devastating earthquake in Santiago, Alejandro and his team were challenged with creating a social housing project that would appreciate in value over time. 

Their solution was Incremental Housing. They used their resources to finish the most difficult aspects of the build and give the homes a solid foundation, while leaving the less important aspects like paint up to the residents to complete. This allowed the money and resources to be utilized in a much more efficient way. The concept worked extremely well. Elemental ultimately made the designs open-source and published them for free download on their website. Since then, incremental housing communities have been popping up all over the world.

After meeting Alejandro, we visited a few of the Incremental Housing communities located around Santiago. Despite the identical design, each house looked unique. Some had brightly painted walls and others had custom decks and balconies. The residents were friendly and a few invited us inside to see their homes. One gentleman explained that none of the walls were painted when his family first moved in, but over the years they’ve painted the entire house. In general the residents were friendly and the houses were well maintained. 

The short film we created debuted at the ULI’s 2019 Fall Meeting in Washington, DC with Alejandro in the crowd. 

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