Updated at: 18-07-2023 - By: Kim Anderson

Government-built social housing is generally constructed on low-cost land, often far from opportunities for work, education, transportation, and healthcare. Moreover, the value of subsidized social housing tends to depreciate over time. In Chile, where it is projected that $10 billion will be spent over the next twenty years on housing, the government has hired the Chilean architecture firm Elemental to design a new social housing unit that can increase in value over time.

The architects designed half-built houses, called Incremental Housing, for one hundred families in the poor neighborhood of Quinta Monroy, in Iquique, which they have illegally occupied for thirty years. With only a $7,500 subsidy to pay for the land, infrastructure, and each housing unit, the architects designed the half of the house (30 sq. m. or 323 sq. ft.) the families would never be able to afford—the structure, bathroom, kitchen, and roof. To allow for expansion, only the ground and top floors are constructed; residents are responsible for the rest (72 sq. m. or 775 sq. ft.).

The government of Nuevo León, Mexico, commissioned Elemental to design a group of seventy housing units for a middle-class neighborhood in Santa Catarina. Adapted for the expanded scenario and local climate, Elemental Monterrey features half-built units with a kitchen, bathrooms, stairs, dividing walls, and roof spanning the units. A subsidy of $20,000—more than double the cost of the Chilean project due to higher construction costs and stricter local building standards and codes—builds the more difficult half of the dwelling, and an additional investment of $2,000 by each family, doubling the unit’s size, increases its market value to $50,000.

Architects: Alejandro Aravena, Tomás Cortese, Emilio de la Cerda, Andrés Iacobelli, and Alfonso Montero, Elemental. Engineers: José Gajardo, Juan Carlos de la Llera; urbanization specialist: Proingel and Abraham Guerra. Construction: Loga S.A. Client: Chile Barrio. Iquique, Chile, 2003–4. Concrete, brick concrete, wood panels. Monterrey Architects: Alejandro Aravena, Fernando García-Huidobro, and Gonzalo Arteaga, Elemental. Collaborator: Ramiro Ramirez. Construction: Constructora AXIS. Client: Instituto de la Vivienda de Nuevo León (IVNL). Santa Catarina, Gob. Nuevo León, Mexico, 2007–8. Concrete, concrete blocks, stucco, plaster, paint