$3200. Exercises on Elementary Architecture Throughout the Chilean Territory

PLASTIC A low-income house in Chile costs US $7000, land and infrastructure included. Each family, having saved at least US$ 300, is eligible to get a US $3200 government subsidy and a US $3500 government loan, with which they can \”choose\” between Government-produced housing (contracted out to private construction firms) and what the market offers. The evident intrinsic and generalized poverty that permeates any underdeveloped country housing policy, turned into misery when–in a case that is already emblematic–the government, as a solution to the incapacity of the buildings to remain watertight even against the mild Chilean rains, gave the people plastic to wrap the houses. (Image 1, 2, 3). The government accused the firm of fraud, arguing that they did not respect the minimum standards required by the law; the firm responded that they followed exactly the technical specifications of the government, criticizing that standards themselves were insufficient. This battle of accusations reached its highest point when the president of the firm revealed that the Housing Minister wasn\’t that picky when accepting the racing horse offered to him as a present. (Image 4)The resulting scarcity (of physical quality but of accountability as well) might explain the \”people\’s belief, that government loans have not to be repaid, or at least not paid on time\”; following a simple market rule, people perceive that it is unfair to pay for a product of such a low quality. This situation results in more than 60% of the loans in arrears over 3 months, even after several renegotiations, making the state pay a hidden extra subsidy. The new policy looks for transforming this de facto voucher into a formal \’once and for all\’ subsidy, which the government won\’t expect to be paid back. What people have in mind in the Housing Ministry is to build minimum housing units (actually contracted out private construction firms) for US $3200 and give them for free to the people in the waiting lists, expecting themselves to expand the initial unit (Note 1). The Minister himself asked for help to formulate the parameters and scope of these units, a product that the market has not naturallyregulated yet, and which appears as a an open field within which to scrutinize, operate and contribute. One possible path could be to start from infrastructures (Note 2; image 5,6 ) ; in Spanish we use the word \’urbanize\’ for the process of giving connection to infrastructural networks, having therefore in the \’urbanization\’ the principles for the forma urbis, the city . The other way I would expect this concept to be explored is through very concrete and specific research in building methods and materials, who eventually are not used in the housing market, bursting into this open field as open-minded as possible.(Note 3; image 7,8) CONCRETE This studio is part of an initiative, lead by the Department of Architecture at Harvard University\’s Graduate School of Design and the School of Architecture of the Universidad Catolica de Chile, which should culminate in an International Competition to build 10 projects of 100 units each throughout the Chilean territory, from Patagonia to the Easter Island. The idea is to contribute through concrete experience to the debate about the elemental (instead of calling it social) architecture, calling architects from all over the world to think with works what this \’almost nothing\’ could be. If this second part, the financing and execution of the projects, exceeds the competence of the Schools, this first focus point should be considered as the necessary initial academic phase, providing the initiative the right conceptual frame. In fact, this studio could be seen as the testing ground for the competition\’s call for entries, entries that were already started lastfall in a seminar I taught in Chile. Actually, this same investigation isbeing done simultaneously by