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Chilean architect Samuel Bravo wins 2017 Wheelwright Prize

The Harvard University Graduate School of Design is pleased to name Chilean architect Samuel Bravo the winner of the 2017 Wheelwright Prize, a $100,000 grant to support investigative approaches to contemporary design. His research proposal, Projectless: Architecture of Informal Settlements, focuses on traditional architectures and informal settlements, revisiting the subject of “architecture without architects” as articulated by architect and social historian Bernard Rudofsky in the landmark 1964 Museum of Modern Art exhibition. Bravo plans to visit dozens of sites in South America, Asia, and Africa, with the goal of developing strategies to integrate vernacular, collective practices with the modern architectural project.

Bravo was one of four finalists selected this year from more than 200 applicants in over 45 countries. A graduate of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (BArch 2009), he leads his own practice and has realized a variety of projects in South America. His past work includes organizing community-based rebuilding in earthquake-damaged Tarapacá, Chile; designing and building a lodge/shamanic center and school for the Shipibo people of the Amazonian rain forest in Peru (a collaboration with architect Sandra Iturriaga); and several private residential commissions.

Bravo’s Wheelwright proposal Projectless begins by acknowledging that formal architecture addresses a minority of the world’s population, while the vast majority live in informally built dwellings. Rudofsky characterized the projects in his 1964 exhibition as “not produced by the specialist but by the spontaneous and continuing activity of a whole people with a common heritage, acting under a community of experience.” Bravo extends this notion to his study of the traditions and methods that enable formal architecture to operate “within the paradigm of projectless environments,” sensitive to the potential “cultural frictions” associated with restructuring problematic settlements.

Bravo’s travels will begin in the Amazon basin, home to 400 ethnic groups including some still-isolated tribes, and continue to the Amazon flatlands, where he will visit dozens of settlements, large and small, from Peru to Colombia to Brazil. He will observe pristine settlements as well as those that are pressured by the forces of development, resource extraction, and migration. He will continue to Africa, where urban centers (such as Lagos, Nigeria) are experiencing extreme population growth. In Asia, he plans to visit Bangladesh, Nepal, and India, where he has identified a range of case studies, from traditional villages to global slums. As with past Wheelwright winners, the $100,000 prize is intended to fund two years of Bravo’s research travel.

Bravo’s work has been exhibited in the XVII and XVIII Chile Architecture Biennial in Santiago (2010) and (2012), earning a Jury Selection in the latter; and in the Chilean Pavilion at the 12th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale (2010). His projects have been published in ARQ, Casabella, Engineering + Research (Colombia), Journal CA, and other publications. Bravo was also one of the four finalists in the 2016 Wheelwright Prize cycle.

Bravo follows 2016 winner Anna Puigjaner, whose project Kitchenless City: Architectural Systems for Social Welfare has brought her to sites in Senegal, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, with Canada, Russia, Japan, Peru, and elsewhere on her forthcoming itinerary.

Now in its fifth year as an open international competition, the Wheelwright Prize supports travel-based research initiatives proposed by extraordinary early-career architects. Previous winners have circled the globe, pursuing inquiries into a broad range of social, cultural, environmental, and technological issues. The Wheelwright Prize originated in 1935 as the Arthur C. Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship. In 2013 Harvard GSD relaunched the prize as an open international competition, available to candidates who received an architecture degree in the previous 15 years.

To learn more and to see further content from Bravo's portfolio, visit the Wheelwright Prize website.