The Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena has won the 2016 Pritzker Architecture Prize for work that "epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect."
The award was announced on Wednesday by Tom Pritzker, chairman and president of the Chicago-based Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize. Aravena, 48, is the first Pritzker laureate from Chile, and the fourth from Latin America.
In its citation, the jury noted that "few have risen to the demands of practicing architecture as an artful endeavour, as well as meeting today's social and economic challenges. Aravena ... has achieved both, and in doing so has meaningfully expanded the role of the architect."
The jury cited, among others, five buildings Aravena has designed for his alma mater, the Universidad Catolica de Chile, including its mathematics school, its medical school and, in 2014, its Angelini Innovation Center, an opaque concrete structure with a light-filled glass atrium inside.
"A powerful structure from a distance, it is remarkably humane and inviting," the jury said, noting that the unique design ensures that energy consumption is minimal. The design also includes "many spaces for spontaneous encounters and transparency that enables viewing activity throughout," it said.
Aravena's resume includes private, public and educational commissions. He has designed in the United States — a residence and dining hall at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas — and elsewhere, including a building for the pharmaceutical company Novartis in Shanghai.
Speaking in Santiago, Aravena said he felt "huge gratitude" upon receiving the award, which he said was tantamount to a Nobel Prize in his field. He noted the collaborative nature of architecture.
"Architecture is a collective discipline," he said. "It is done, to begin with, with the hands of others, the workers that build the designs, as opposed to a sculptor that makes it with his own hands."
Aravena mused about what the award would allow him to do in the future. "It gives you a sensation of great freedom," he said.
"The road to the future is not written, and that sensation of going on adventures to unexplored territory is in some way the spirit that's inside this office these days — what are we going to do now? We can risk whatever we want, we can take unprecedented challenges, and that really excites us."
The Pritzker Architecture Prize was established in 1979 by the late entrepreneur Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, to honour "a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture."
The winner receives a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.