Quinta Monroy by Alejandro Aravena



Photographer Cristobal Palma has sent us these images of Quinta Monroy residential development, designed by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena of Elemental. Update: this project is included in Dezeen Book of Ideas, which is on sale now for £12.


Aravena was awarded the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Architect in the International Exhibition at the Venice architecture biennale this year for his work with Elemental. See all our stories from the biennale.


Situated in Iquique, Chile, and completed in 2004, the development includes 93 houses and was the first built project by Aravena/Elemental.


The following is from Elemental:


ELEMENTAL is a Do Tank affiliated to the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and COPEC, its focus is the design and implementation of urban projects of social interest and public impact. ELEMENTAL is based in three principles:


A. To think, design and build better neighborhoods, housing and the necessary urban infrastructure to promote social development and overcome the circle of poverty and inequity of our cities;


B. In order to trigger a relevant qualitative leap-forward, our projects must be built under the same market and policy conditions than any other, working to achieve “more with the same”.


C. By quality we understand projects whose design guarantees incremental value and returns on investment over time, in order to stop considering it a mere “social expense”.


In this spirit, ELEMENTAL contributes to improve the quality of life in Chilean cities, providing state of the art architecture and engineering, understanding the city as an unlimited resource to build social equity.









Posted on Wednesday November 12th 2008 at 2:10 pm by Matylda Krzykowski. Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Morais

    Fantástico !!!
    The world needs a lot of ELEMENTALS.
    Keep the good work…

  • me gusta como se apropia la gente de los edificio, los vuelven suyos.

  • d a v i d e

    THIS is the way we have to go.
    enough with fancy shapes generated with rhino. we must me responsible.
    we don’t build for ourself, but for the people that is going to live the building. these kind of building give more to people than anything else.

    Chandigarh or Dhaka?

    I made my decision.

  • This is so interesting. What a wonderful way to raise awareness around issues of poverty and humanity. I’m inspired. –Cheryl Janis, author of Planet Pink n Green – http://www.planetpinkngreen.com

  • A.S.

    Social housing Tijuana style…

  • tiago

    i love this project.. he’s got other project like this, i forgot the name now, but is as good as this one.

  • This is really great. Love that you wrote more than 1-2 sentences about that, keep up the good work :)

  • roadkill

    it is great that the project lived to its aspirations and has now taken a life of its own. Simple design with a sound head on its shoulders.

  • Fantastic! He’s obviously been influenced by the empty warehouse / slum aesthetic, but it’s modern, clean. Just looks lived-in and … well, Chilean. I want to live here :)

  • windbag

    you must be kiddin’.

  • now_to

    The buildings were given a soul!

  • Richie

    I love the basic idea of allowing the owners to ‘fill in the gaps’ as they desire but maybe there should be some kind of overall co-ordination \ limits on what is added on to stop it turning into a bit of a mess.

  • SillyBug

    One could not condust a better experiment in order to compare the extends of a public housing project and wether it really meets people’s needs. Perfect portrayal of human factors in design.

  • er

    are you kidding me ? this looks like a slum

  • Most comments here border on patronizing. The ‘slum aesthetic’ is not to praise in the project, it is the details that are hardly mentioned: while decreasing costs, Elemental was able to DOUBLE the amount of potential housing it was able to provide. The architect decided to spend the state’s money building units as infrastructure so that the stasis of population and spacial constraints that normally plague mass housing projects are alleviated.

    This project successfully invents a hybrid that is between public housing project and subsidized owner-built dwellings. This could be a model for governments to assert themselves (as they should) on the built environments of places that poverty prevents conventional construction, and indeed have a tradition of ‘slum’ construction.

  • antonius

    like a slum he? I like that. Thats a good idea.

  • Morais

    Hey windbag… Hey er
    Welcome to the REAL WORLD !!!!

  • Yaya

    good work. Socially responsible, architecturally sensible and appropiate. A pretty decent framework for the development of poor suburbs in developing countries.

  • Yaya

    To all the people who criticize this project – it is clear you have never been or lived in a so-called ‘third world country’.

  • gaque

    thank you andrew! i appreciate your comments.

  • windbag

    what do you mean Morais, that the fate of poor people is to live in junkyards and architects can do nothing about it?
    I think the less fortunate have the same right to good architecture
    as anyone else.

  • runningforasthma

    This is proper architecture, providing intelligent frameworks for development of cities with a strong social mindset. Those who criticise the project for its aesthetic don’t have a clue, this architecture is 1,000,000 times more relevant than another hackneyed Hadid project. Elemental are a proper practice, we need more of their ilk in this profession.

  • Richie

    It’s natural that people are going to react to the aesthetics of the project as well as its social signifigance (which, in fairness, is only explained in a vague way in the text).

  • er

    First of all to – Yaya – I am from a third world country and the city i live in looks even worse . Second of all to – runningforasthma – I hate zaha and think her projects are ‘ inhuman’ –> they all lok the same , have no connection with the surroundings . Third of all to – runningforasthma – & – Andrew- I agree this is a very intelligent framework for development of subisdised housing but just like -windbag- wrote I dont agree with the consensus “that the fate of poor people is to live in junkyards and architects can do nothing about it? ” Ok , maybe this isnt a junkyard but its not the best of ideas to let these ‘fill-ins” be built with no aesthetic regulations whatsoever . Otherwise this is a very good concept and the way to go .

  • Richie- You’re right, the social significance of the project SHOULD be explained better in the text. That is Dezeen’s problem. I suppose this is a blog largely about aesthetics and what is hip, but this project is not about that.. This project is about creative programing that makes the most of meager government funding.

    So, why did Dezeen feature this project? The stated goal of the site is to: “Our mission is simple: to bring you news of great projects before anyone else,” but this is old news. I think that some out there value the ’empty warehouse / slum aesthetic’ (as one commenter labeled it)’ which is patronizing.

  • Joe

    Great project. It will be interesting to see how these buildings change in appearance from year to year.

  • james`

    tres homely…

  • poster

    dacca o chandigarh?? I’m wondering which you chose!!!!

  • The most interesting and significant thing in this project is how the houses are growing spotaneously day after day, following the necesseties of their inhabitants.

    The urban history was born, more or less, in this way; the historical centres of european cities, as we can see now them, are the result of a spontaneous growth like this.

    Every new settlement should bee planned to allow a growth and a modification of the originary structure, through the study of the right typologies. On the contrary the modern neighbourhoods are frozen and unable to growth because of their geometrical strict architectural formlism.
    Like Morais upon I say: Welcome to the real word!!!!

  • Hamster

    Clap clap clap, that´s brave architecture.

  • Danny

    i’m confused.
    I agree with the principles and goals But,
    i wonder if these ‘twee’ / ‘slum-chic’ are exactly what the inhabitants had dreamed of while they were seeking housing?
    For instance i love the fill the gaps idea, but how do the residents feels about this haphazard aesthtic?

  • Who cares about aesthetics?

    “Slum dwellers have no choice but concentrate on modifying themselves: adjusting their expectations from life to a minimum; surviving on a minimum of material means; learning how to deal emotionally with daily deprivations that would crush the pride and sense of self-worth of those accustomed to having even a modicum of material comfort and security. In the face of these conditions of existence, their resourcefulness is crucial….

    There is much that is admirable in the way that slum dwellers struggle against overwhelming adversity, but admiration must be tempered by the realization that they do not struggle because they choose to, out of principle, or in the service of high social or political ideals, but because of their desperation at the brutal limits of survival. It is a mistake—and a grave disservice to them—to imagine that their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and capacities for self-organization can in any way serve as models for our present global society. To believe so would be to endorse the dog-eat-dog ethics that rule their lives and, all too often, those occupying society’s more economically advantaged classes. To believe so would be to endorse the most cynical and degraded vision of the human future imaginable, a throw-back to the barbarous 19th century perversion of believing in ideas such as ‘the survival of the fittest’ and ‘the nobility of poverty,’ which justified the blatant exploitation of many by a few….

    that reform must come not by violence from the lower social strata, but from enlightened leadership from the higher, if not the highest, strata of the social and economic structure.”

    –from Lebbeus Woods (http://lebbeuswoods.wordpress.com/2008/01/18/slums-the-problem/)

  • I just returned from a trip to Lima. The housing looks the same there except for barbed wire on top of the fences. The absence of an architect or designer to make the houses more aesthetically appealing struck me immediately. Sorry, but I am an old fashioned person who thinks that providing some elements of good design makes people feel better about themselves and their lives.

  • Vince B

    Wow. I wish i’ve done that! Remember me that patchwork architecture in Hanoi where people apropriates the building, add one room or a balcony, this is awesome!

  • shadi saleh

    real architecture, architecture for community not for fame. architects have duties and obligations towards their communities.
    orderly expansion, controled growth, filling the gaps= amazing idea.it is not only control the future growth but also give a chance for residents to express their desire or mode, you can tell from looking at the different colors in the new parts of the facade.