“The Chilean Government asked us to resolve the following equation:
To settle the 100 families of the Quinta Monroy, in the same 5,000 sqm site that they have illegally occupied for the last 30 years which is located in the very center of Iquique(..). We had to work within the framework of the current Housing Policy, using a US$ 7,500 subsidy with which we had to pay for the land, the infrastructure and the architecture. Considering the current values in the Chilean building industry, US$ 7,500 allows for just around 30 sqm of built space. And despite the site’s price (3 times more than what social housing can normally afford) the aim was to settle the families in the same site, instead of displacing them to the periphery. (..) (Aravera, 2014)
Aravena’s team worked with many different patterns: they started with a simple house, but they could only host 30 families, in addition on a very limited space of 30m² per unit. Row houses could settle only 66 families and due to their layout they lacked privacy, light and inner ventilation, leading to low standard of living. High-rise buildings, even if land-efficient, were not taken into account, as the experiences related with social housing were too overwhelming. In addition, none of those solutions gave an opportunity to expand the living space for the new family members.
It was concluded that a matter of governmentally supported housing has to be approach in a completely different way. This is when the concept of Elemental came into life. They proposed that instead of building a small dwelling, they could design a 50% of middle-income row house with all the needed installations as stairs or sanitation cores, to enable in the final stage an expansion to a unit of 72 m². So designed space hosts the desired 100 families on area of 5000 m² and creates a pleasant neighbourhood in the middle of a city centre.
“In the end, when the given money is enough for just half of the house, the key question is, which half do we do. We choose to make the half that a family individually will never be able to achieve on its own, no matter how much money, energy or time they spend. That is how we expect to contribute using architectural tools, to non-architectural questions, in this case, how to overcome poverty”. (Aravena, 2014)