Founded in 2001, ELEMENTAL is based in Santiago, Chile, and led by five partners: Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Victor Oddó, Diego Torres, and 2016 Pritzker Prize winner, Alejandro Aravena. Just a couple of years after its establishment, ELEMENTAL received a tough commission from the Chilean government: transform Quinta Monroy, a shantytown in the desert city of Iquique, by resettling 100 families on the same 1.25-acre site they had illegally occupied for 30 years. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the project was the budget: about $7,500 per unit, including land, services, and construction.
In response, the self-described “Do Tank” (as opposed to a “think tank”) responded with what they called “half a good house.” Instead of building whole, cheaply made homes, the team created a model that would be 50-percent self-built by the resident. The purpose was to introduce two perks public housing rarely provides: privacy and the space to expand the homes as families grew. As the residents had been living illegally on the site for some years in informal dwellings, completing the buildings was something they felt comfortable doing. Additionally, at their baseline, the spaces provided a higher quality of living than they were used to, so residents could make improvements at their own pace. Elemental continues to refine this design and has built more than 3,000 units throughout Chile.
ELEMENTAL’s work comprises a wide range of projects. Other notable work by the firm includes educational and corporate buildings such as the St. Edwards University Dorms (USA), Anacleto Angelini UC Innovation Centre (Chile), the Office Building at the Novartis Shanghai Campus (China); and the design of public spaces as the Santiago Metropolitan Promenade and Bicentennial Children’s Park (Chile). Elemental has won an international competition to design ArtMill, a major cultural centre in Doha (Qatar).
In 2011, ELEMENTAL published the Incremental Housing and Participatory Design Manual by Hatje-Cantz, and in 2018, the monograph ELEMENTAL by Phaidon.
ELEMENTAL’s projects have been exhibited worldwide and have won many awards. A solo retrospective opened at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in October 2018.
Today, ELEMENTAL continues to develop projects that contribute to new fields of discourse.