Friday, October 17, 2008

Chile. Quinta Monroy

Varying facades 5 years later

Before and after facades on Galvanrino St.

Elevation on Pedro Prado.
This project served as one of the inspirations for my initial proposal on incremental housing. By looking at how architects could play a significant role in helping people improve their housing without taking away their agency, the architectural group ELEMENTAL, in conjunction with the Chilean government, has contributed significantly to the discourse of social housing. The first project in Iquique, on a site called Quinta Monroy explored the question of how to provide a basic quality house, for only $7,500. Their answer was to provide half of the house. And if only half, which half would it be? Working closely with a community of squatters that had lived precariously on an urban site, the architects developed a set of rules, by which people could still have a lot of capacity to live their lives and have their homes express that. The rules ensured that each unit would have access to public space, adequate light and ventilation, and be structurally sound to withstand the many earthquakes that affect the area. But, they went much further than that. Each family could then add on and expand their house whenever possible, and in many different ways, customizing and individualizing their spaces. Additionally, the families were able to remain on the same site, where they had access to neighbors, shopping, main transportation thoroughfares, and the beach.
This project would not have happened without the sheer determination of the inhabitants and the effectiveness of their leaders (women). Only once these folks agitated for something to happen, many things came together (One of the community leaders I met with said that she personally blocked the path to President Lagos’ helicopter when he visited Iquique to get his attention about their living situation.) But, it was the architects who were able to help bring formality, credibility, and ingenuity to the process to ensure its success. And since its completion, this project has generated much press. This project, in addition to others in pipeline (see more upcoming posts) helped ELEMENTAL receive the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Biennale this year. Well deserved, if you ask me. It is nice to find architects who are relevant.
The overall arrangement took the 100 families that were living on the land, and redistributed them into 4 smaller communities, each arranged around a common public space. The units were basically designed as duplexes with units on the lower floors taking up three bays, while the upper units had two stories and took up two bays. The initial space of each unit was about 30 m^2, and could be expanded up to 72 m^2. The Chilean government had established a program called “Housing without Debt.”. Each family owned their unit without debt. This was able to happen through keeping the initial costs extraordinarily cheap, and strong commitment from the government. Wow, housing without debt. Just think if that was a value in the United States. Especially now. Would it be possible to pull that off?
Before and After
Ana Lagos
Ana has been one of the movers and shakers in this community. Through her leadership position, she was able to pick a lot on the main thoroughfare of Pedro Prado, with the intention of someday adding a store to generate some extra income. She was also intentional about picking a unit in which her mother could live below. The first thing that Ana did was to tile the bathroom. This not only served a functional appearance (most of the bathrooms were leaking to below), but gave it a much greater sense of permanence and quality (those which had not been finished felt pretty grimy).
Ana Lagos
Since the upper units don’t come with a bedroom, just an open two story space (and the bathroom), Ana added a floor for a bedroom upstairs in 2005. After that, they removed the stairs from the original section and added the floors in the slack space. The leftover space of the original stairs provided more closet space, and the resulting three bedrooms allowed a room for each person.
In 2007, with the assistance of her mother, Ana added a room onto the back of her house on her main floor, right above her mother’s patio area. The floor of this addition sat on the roof of her mother’s new addition. Ana could pull this off because she knew her mom would agree to it. Most restrictions stipulate that those living above can’t add onto the second story of the house, but can add a balcony on the third story. This is mainly to reduce conflicts among neighbors. However, some neighbors have agreed in writing and worked together to add multiple story additions on the back of their homes.
Right now, Ana leases the store out, which supplements her work as a domestic servant in Iquique. She hopes to eventually run the store herself one day, but can’t afford to right now.
Finally, in September of 2008, she plastered the interior walls of her home and will be painting them next week.
Ana´s Mother
Ana’s mother (who lives below her) has customized her space in really attractive ways. She lives there with her husband and brother. She enclosed two rooms as bedrooms. Her brother ended up moving in with her in a room added onto the back. She brought her kitchen with her from Santiago. She added a wall at the front to serve as a sort of foyer because she could see the bathroom from the front door. On the outside, she painted her three bays all the same color, clearly denoting her space and adding a visual layering most typically done by architects.

Before and AfterPraxedes Campos

Praxedes is one of those people you instantly feel comfortable around. The energy with which she greeted me on the phone, the warmth of the greeting first in person, and then openness with which she opened her home to me was just wonderful. But, at the same time, she is not the kind of person you want to be disagreeing with because I could quickly tell she was a deep and persistent fighter. Much of her story is described in the history of the project, and she is certainly one of the main reasons this project exists.

Praxedes lived with 5 other family members in an 8x3 meter shack on Avenida Gavalrino. In that tiny space, there were two bedrooms and a bathroom, but the kitchen was a just a covered space outside, so she had a lot of incentive to improve her space. Now, there are 7 of them, as her daughter recently had a baby. After the project was completed, she chose a bottom floor unit because she thought that it had more space to make additions. In 2005, soon after moving in, she and her husband enclosed the first bedroom for themselves. Everyone else at that point was sleeping in the living room. In 2007, once her daughter gave birth to a baby boy, she decided it was time to close in the second bedroom. Finally, earlier this year, they added a room on the back patio for her son. It is kind of a pimp pad, where he sleeps, but also serves as a gathering point and local hip hop recording studio. Certainly, having this makes the strain much less on the rest of the family. Soon, there are plans to add one more room off the back.
Growth of Praxedes´ homeMaria Mantorfano
Maria was in the process of adding onto her space the weekend I was there. She had a friend who was doing most of the construction. All 4 children are currently sleeping in one bedroom, so when finished there will be two more bedrooms.
Growth of Maria´s home
In talking to people here, they are incredibly proud of the project and how it has turned out. I do believe so much of it comes from the fight and initiative that they had to put forth to get to this point. The beauty about this project is that its intention was that people would eventually have a middle class house. So many projects for the poor people are very clearly for poor people, in appearance, size, and amenities. But this one gave people room to negotiate and aspire, and eventually to have the house they had always dreamed of. And I am not being romantic here. People were dang proud and happy with their place.

You know, after seeing so many projects in real life that are different than what is published, this one was such a breath of fresh air, because it was expected people would take over and commandeer the space. And there were rules, but they were loose enough to really allow people to have some agency, and control over their homes. I felt very comfortable, and the warmth with which people shared their homes, families, and food with me was pretty dang great. And mad love to the strength of the women here.
Expansion zones (in red)
But, a few questions are:
What happens when someone moves out? When all there people move after 5 years? Will anyone want a smaller space? Will the construction be poor enough to allow easy renovations, reductions, and shifts? Could the house potentially shift? Could the intervention be done another way to allow for disassembly?

Check out much more good stuff here. Rock on ELEMENTAL


Matthieu said...

I have been trying to find your email address on the blog but could not. Would you mind emailing it to me at mine, which is
This concerns an interview about incremental housing I would like to carry for you.
Thanks a lot and have a great week,

Kristen Tucker said...

Soy una estudiante de BI y estoy buscando por mas informacion de la proyecto Alojamiento Progressivo. ¿Es posible que tĂș me ayudes hablar con un hablador nativo que trabajaba on la proyecto?
Muchas gracias,

Fernando Bellia said...

Hi, im an architect from Brasil and im making a documentary about incremental house, to be more especific, about the work of Aravena and ELEMENTAL, i interviewed aravena and the comunity of Quinta-Monroy last year, im colectiong all material i can about quinta-monroy, can you please send me an email so we can talk?

here is my post from last year, with a little bit of the interview:

Thanks a lot!

Fernando Bellia