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Socially minded architecture is a choice not a responsibility according this year’s Venice Biennale curator Alejandro Aravena, who has called for “professional quality, not professional charity” to deal with the world’s issues.

As director of Chilean firm Elemental, Aravena has committed much of his career to tackling the housing crisis, by engaging local communities in a radical reinvention of social housing models.

But speaking at a Biennale press conference earlier today, the Elementaldirector said that architects should never feel morally obliged to work on socially responsible projects.

“We started doing social housing, not claiming for a second any kind of moral superiority or social responsibility, or that this is what architects should or shouldn’t be doing,” said Aravena.

The Chilean architect instead urged designers to see global problems as opportunities to challenge their capabilities.

“These difficult complex issues require professional quality, not professional charity,” he said.

“If you think you are a good professional in any field then let’s try to test your skills in these challenging issues,” he added. “The more complex the issue, the more the need for synthesis.”

Aravena will be the 15th curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale, opening in May this year.

His theme, Reporting From The Front, focusses on the biggest social and political issues that architects are negotiating with around the world – including crime, segregation, sanitation, housing shortage, traffic, waste, migration and pollution.

The architect said that “talent and creativity” are needed to service these issues, not just an ethical approach.

“Particularly when dealing with scarcity of means, you have to be really strategic,” he stated.

Aravena’s own projects, as part of Elemental, include a series of buildings for the Universidad Católica de Chile and a model for low-cost housing based on the principle of initially providing “half a good home”.

He will this year be awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s equivalent of the Nobel, for his contribution to the industry.

During the conference Aravena also revealed more details about his plans for the Biennale, which he said would offer a new perspective on the challenges and threats affecting the world, and share knowledge from those on the ground.

“We believe that the advancement of architecture is not a goal in itself but a way to improve people’s quality of life,” he said.

“Given life ranges from very basic physical needs to the most intangible dimensions of the human condition, consequently improving the quality of the built environment is an endeavour that has to tackle many fronts: from guaranteeing very concrete down-to-earth living standards to interpreting and fulfilling human desires, from respecting the single individual to taking care of the common good, from efficiently hosting daily activities to expanding the frontiers of civilisation.”

Reporting From The Front opens to the public on 28 May and runs until 27 November.

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