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Design Award Upset: Small Chilean Studio Beats the Starchitects With Affordable Housing Project

2010’s Brit Insurance Design Award for Architecture went to Elemental’s affordable, and adaptable, housing project in Mexico, skipping over big shots like Zaha Hadid and James Corner.

Monterrey Housing Complex

Architecture had its own Oscars on Monday, and just as cinephiles everywhere sighed with relief when The Hurt Locker beat out “FernGully: Part 2,” those following the Brit Insurance Design Awards cheered the triumph of the little guy. In a major upset, little-known Chilean studio Elemental beat big-budget showpieces like Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI museum, Herzog and de Meuron’s Tenerife Arts Space, and even the New York High Line, winning the architecture category with their Monterrey Housing Complex.

Built in Santa Catarina, Mexico, it was the studio’s first project outside of Chile. The 70 connected homes were based on a similar housing complex they built in Iquique, Chile in 2004. This time, they had almost double the budget, but it was still next to nothing: about $20,000 per unit. So Elemental took a similar approach, building out half of each house, including the difficult parts like the bathroom and kitchen, and leaving the second half empty, to be constructed by the resident. It’s cheap, clever, and instills an ownership in residents that fully-built–but poorly-built–housing projects lack. Plus, it’s another sign that architecture is moving away from show and towards substance. It’s a welcome, if overdue change.

Monterrey Housing Complex

Monterrey Housing Complex

See the rest of the winners in fashion, product design, furniture, graphics, transport, and interactive design here.

[Via Architecture Lab]