Cristobal Palma/ELEMENTAL

Alejandro Aravena is known for building designs that consider social and environmental impact.

The socially-minded architect Alejandro Aravena has become the first Chilean to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Known for building designs that consider social and environmental impact, the 48-year old architect was praised by jurors of the 2016 prize for pioneering “a collaborative practice that produces powerful works of architecture and also addresses key challenges of the 21st century.”

Tom Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, led the jury that determined the winner, who receives a $100,000 check. First awarded in 1979 to influential post-modernist Philip Johnson, the Pritzker is considered by many to be architecture’s most prestigious award. It was established to honor living architects who have “produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.”

Arevena’s high profile projects include several energy-efficient buildings at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, including the aptly named Siamese Towers, which house the school’s computer department.

The jurors cited Aravena’s work in ELEMENTAL, his Santiago-based, so-called “Do Tank,” which tries to address emergent social problems through design and navigate the labyrinths of Chilean government policies to build well-appointed houses for lower-income communities. “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 in the official announcement. “Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.”

Like many art and design awards, the Pritzker Prize has not been without its controversies. In 1991, the jury awarded the prize to American architect Robert Venturi, only briefly mentioning the contributions of Denise Scott Brown, his wife and design partner of 22 years. She requested inclusion in the prize in 2013, but Pritzker declined to revisit or discuss its decision, to the ire of architects, designers and feminists around the world.

Aravena is the first winner of the prize from Chile and only the fourth from Latin America after Luis Barragán, Oscar Niemeyer, and Paulo Mendes da Rocha. He served as a juror for the Pritzker Prize from 2009 to 2015.

Aravena is currently spearheading plans for the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale and said he sees the high-profile honor as an opportunity to help expand his social change-oriented practice. “The prestige, the reach, the gravitas of the prize is such that we hope to use its momentum to explore new territories, face new challenges, and walk into new fields of action,” he said in a statement.

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

More from Quartz:

Politics aren’t more partisan today—we’re just fighting about more issues

“You are too bossy”: Women in tech reveal what it’s really like

A two-year search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has turned up two ancient shipwrecks

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A photo of a Family Mart convenience store in Japan.
    Life

    The Language Debate Inside Japan's Convenience Stores

    Throughout Japan, store clerks and other service industry workers are trained to use the elaborate honorific speech called “manual keigo.” But change is coming.

  2. Design

    Will Copenhagen’s Eco-Friendly Man-Made Islands Pay Off?

    The Danish capital is expanding its land mass and creating climate resiliency. But is it sustainable?

  3. Two men plant a young tree in a lot in Detroit.
    Environment

    Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting

    Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.

  4. Equity

    Why America’s Largest Migrant Youth Detention Center Closed

    Over a period of seven months, a vast temporary facility built to hold migrant children emerged in the Texas border town of Tornillo. And now, it’s almost gone.

  5. Chauncey Moran, vice chairman of the Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve and a volunteer stream monitor for Yellow Dog River
    Perspective

    How Rural America Is Saving Itself

    The New York Times is the latest outlet to ask “can rural America be saved?” They’re asking the wrong question.