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Lived-in Architecture proyecto Elemental

Alejandro Aravena

Le Corbusier’s first large-scale project was a complex of fifty-one worker family homes at Pessac near Bordeaux: the Quartiers Modernes Frugès. Henry Frugès, a rich businessman of avant-garde artistic and social leanings, commissioned Le Corbusier to design his workers a set of dwellings combining modern architectural expression with the bourgeois comforts of the new century, this time reserved for the proletarians: showers, indoor bathrooms, heating. Le Corbusier’s response to this in 1927 drew on all the architectural principles he had devised, though the pillars and roof-terraces were soon to be masked from sight by the inmates themselves. Despite being viewed at first as a symbol of failure on the part of Modernism, Pessac forms the paradigm of the twentieth century’s contribution to urban life. The Quartiers Frugès provide a model of group cohesion ensuring the relationship of public to private, as well as a sound, flexible structure capable of coping with frequent alterations, as Ada Louise Huxtable pointed out in 1981. The roof-terraces had the advantage of providing further accommodation, just as room adjacency enabled windows to be relocated without any walls needing to be demolished. The continuous open plan lent itself to various re-divisions in time; the wrongly dubbed loss of original image is actually one of the design merits whereby change and the needs of all the residents were catered for. The true lesson of Pessac can be read in the Monroy Units at Iquique, 1860 km north of Santiago in Chile, where the original Elemental plan was implemented by the group under the architect Alejandro Aravena. This conglomerate of ninety-three houses for the people forms part of a new government programme targeting the poorer classes. The largely state-subsidized accommodation aims to prevent the beneficiaries being saddled with debts. It was designed to occupy the land the families had lived on for years, and to keep their social cohesion within the city. The...

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