The day after receiving the 2016 Pritzker Laureate at the United Nations, Alejandro Aravena discussed with the SDG Fund how the work of architects and development funds like the SDG Fund is complementary in reaching sustainable cities and communities (Sustainable Development Goal 11).
How do you think the SDG Fund can contribute to align the efforts of the architecture world and development actors?
If there is any power in architecture, it is the power of synthesis. The more complex the problems, and this is the case when looking at the built environment, the greater the need for synthesis. The very core of our practice is the capacity to organize information in a proposal in a rather synthetic way. However, architects do not normally pay attention to the right questions. We may be dealing with problems that only interest other architects, so from funds like this, from the UN, we may be getting the right brief, the right questions, the right challenges on which then to apply this powerful tool of the project – synthesis of complexity.
In what ways do you think architects can make a contribution to achieve the sustainable development goals?
When the discussion is too generic or too broad, then we miss the opportunity to translate it into concrete improvement. In that sense, we can provide the right examples to point to instead of just making generic statements that everybody agrees with, but which leave you with no tools to operate in your everyday practice. I would say this is the kind of dialogue that I would expect from a fund like this – to get the right questions and for architecture to synthesize it into the right answers.
On different occasions you refer to the housing crisis. What solutions do you think are the most effective for it? What are the most pressing issues in urban spaces?
Migration to cities is happening at a speed, at a scale and with a scarcity of means that has no precedence in human history. I would call it the “Three S Menace” – the scale, speed and scarcity. Out of the three billion people living in cities today, one billion is under the poverty line. By 2030, out of the five billion people living in cities, two billion will be living under the poverty line. This means that we have to build a one million people city per week, on average with an income of $10,000 per family. If we don’t solve this equation, it’s not that people will stop coming to cities, they will come anyhow looking for opportunities, but they will live in awful conditions.
One of the biggest challenges is to be able to find a way to provide the right accommodation for these new urban migrants.
At the very core of our practice, there is a powerful tool to contribute to correcting inequalities in a much shorter period of time. I would say that cities, in that sense, are a shortcut towards equality. If you strategically identify projects in the city, in public transportation, in infrastructure, in public space, in housing, then you can improve quality of life without having to wait for income redistribution.