Elemental and incremental: Alejandro Aravena’s urban approach

Jorge Silvetti (professor of architecture) presented the keynote speech at a celebration to launch the Elemental/Incremental Housing and Participatory Design Manual, in Santiago, Chile, on November 26. The book by architect Alejandro Aravena (design critic ‘00-04) and engineer Andrew Iacobelli details 12 years of extraordinary success engaging local communities in a novel program of social housing for the most disenfranchised sectors of the population. Silvetti was an initial promoter and member of the organizing group that created the Elemental system with the sponsorship of the GSD and Catholic University of Santiago. Thus he was especially pleased to join housing residents and major government, private sector and academic figures for the festivities.
During his time at the GSD, Aravena – with the input of students and other faculty – developed the basis for the program that has since been adopted by the Chilean government. Students in Aravena’s studios traveled to sites in Chile, tested ideas and developed standards that were eventually incorporated in the Elemental manual. Silvetti, then the chair of the department of architecture and member of the executive committee of the Harvard David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, supported the effort by organizing international symposia, conferences, field trips and seminars in Cambridge and Santiago. He was also the organizer, together with Pablo Allard (MAUD ’99, DDes ‘03) of the international competition that garnered more than 500 entries and chose 7 winners to officially launch the program in 2004.  Since then Elemental has been one of the very few settlement programs to be widely tested and demonstrate widespread success. 
View ArchDaily’s interview with Alejandro Aravena at the Venice Biennale.