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Alejandro Aravena

Winner of ‘Nobel prize for architecture’ discusses sustainable urbanisation at UN
Alejandro Aravena

The role that architecture can play in creating cities that are more sustainable and habitable – a vital element of the United Nations 2030 Agenda – was in the spotlight at UN Headquarters as this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate discussed his work and the road to a more inclusive future.

The Pritzker, known as the ‘Nobel prize for architecture,’ is the highest honour in the field, with winners selected by a distinguished jury from around the world.

The ‘3S’ menace

Describing the breadth of the challenge as the ‘3S’ menace – the scale, speed, and scarcity of means – Alejandro Aravena said that to cope with the current influx into urban areas, every week we would have to build one new city for a population of one million people, with $10,000 per family.

He added that if we don’t solve this equation, it’s not that people will stop coming to cities – they are going to keep coming, but they will live in awful conditions.

‘We are living in an urban age – which is in principle great news, because cities hold the prospect of greater opportunity, education and jobs – but the problem of the scale and speed with which the urbanisation process is taking place, has no precedent in human history.

‘To give you an idea, out of three billion people living in cities today, one billion are living under the poverty line. By 2030, we will have more than five billion people living in cities and two billion of them are going to be under the poverty line.’

Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate

Improving people’s lives

So how does the international community respond to such a phenomenon? Mr Aravena offered a key clue, which he has put to use in his own work: We must use people’s own capacity, ideas and resources to provide a better environment.

‘The scarcest resource in cities today is not money, but coordination. So we need to create open systems that can include people’s own capacity to add value to their living conditions and opportunities.’

Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate

This notion is at the heart of Mr Aravena’s work, which the Pritzker Foundation noted ‘gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption, and provides welcoming public space. Innovative and inspiring, he shows how architecture at its best can improve people’s lives.’

‘Almost 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030, and we need to work with people coming from the architecture sector, among others, to deal with the challenge of the speed of the urbanisation process.’

Director of the Sustainable Development Goals Fund, UN Development Programme (UNDP)

Click here to find out more about Alejandro Aravena.

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