‘The house’ versus ‘social housing’? Chile’s National Architecture Award 2024 sparks debate

Architect Cristián Castillo Echeverría, born in Santiago de Chile in 1947, has just been awarded the Chilean Premio Nacional de Arquitectura 2024 by the College of Architects of Chile. The son of architect and politician Fernando Castillo Velasco, who was himself awarded the National Architecture Prize in 1983, Cristián Castillo graduated in architecture in 1972 from La Católica (Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile), specialising in housing in 1977 at the Architectural Association School (London). The award has caused a stir on the Chilean scene, the architect Germán del Sol (himself winner of the National Architecture Prize in 2006), arguing he would have preferred to see the prize awarded to a builder of ‘houses’ rather than on of ‘social housing’.

From the outset, Cristián Castillo focused on social issues, fighting against precariousness in favour of the communities. His concerns have focused on social housing, public facilities and education. Completed in 2011, Barrio Maestranza Ukamau, a 424-units social housing complex in the Estación Central district of Santiago, is one of the largest built in Chile in recent decades. The project is the brainchild of Ukamau, a ‘social and popular’ movement who called upon Cristián Castillo’s expertise. Find out more about this project in the latest issue of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, entitled ‘Chile’.

This project in particular, as well as Cristián Castillo’s architecture, don’t seem to fit everyone’s taste, as some of his colleagues have manifested their “concerns” with the Chilean College of Architects’ decision  to award him the Chilean National Architecture Prize 2024 (Premio Nacional de Arquitectura 2024) last June. Among his detractors, Germán del Sol, himself a 2006 National Architecture Prize winner, wrote in a letter to the editor of the daily conservative newspaper El Mercurio: ‘(Castillo’s work) is a disgrace to all those who expect awards for works that meet the permanent objective of architecture, which is to build houses – not “social housing” – where we would all like to live, because in them we see reflected the splendour of our life, even with its miseries. And not dense pavilions with dark courtyards, more reminiscent of the Soviet Union of the 1950s than the houses that we Chileans can offer our residents today, as shown by the many examples built by so many good architects, and sometimes even by their owners.’

Cristián Castillo was quick to respond in a letter to the same newspaper: ‘Mr Director, I deeply regret that our winner of the 2006 National Architecture Prize (Germán del Sol, editor’s note) is still living in a country that is not his own. And when I read his (yesterday’s), note, I regret that he didn’t have the economic resources and business contacts that enabled him to produce a work that all Chileans would love to live in, work in or spend their holidays in.

If we had had the working conditions that he has had, there is no doubt that in our country, social housing would have the same number of square metres as the houses that he designs, that we would use the immense technological possibilities that he allows himself, and that they would overlook the valleys from those large windows so common to his work.

I also regret that he does not recognise the struggle of those who have nothing to obtain decent housing, or the immense effort and commitment that we are making, both at the level of the Ministry of Housing and of contractors and builders, professionals and workers, as well as the homeless of this country, to improve, all together, the design and construction of social housing in Chile.

It would be enough to visit the areas where these projects are being developed to understand the profound change that exists in the way we consider what we should and should not do to cooperate in building a country that belongs to all of us.’

Barrio Maestranza Ukamau © Oficina de Arquitectura FCV



© Felipe De Ferrari © Oficina de Arquitectura FCV


© Ukamau


Find out more about this project in AA's latest issue entitled ‘Chile’.

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