The Chilean architect whose "half-a-house" concept pioneers a more participatory approach to building design has grabbed architecture's top honour for 2016.

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena has won the 2016 Pritzker Prize for his innovative architectural work in the field of low-cost social housing.

At just 48 years of age Aravena is one of the youngest ever recipients of the leading accolade for the world’s architecture professionals. Aravena’s work focuses on catering to the housing needs of Chile’s low income urban migrants, with his Santiago-based firm ELEMENTAL responsible for the construction of more than 2,500 dwellings since the turn of the century.

Aravena has previously garnered much attention for his development of the “half a good house” concept, which was pioneered in 2003 with the 2,500 unit Quinta Monroy housingproject in the Chilean port city of Iquique.

The innovative housing design involves the creation of units that at first glance appear half finished, consisting of just the fountains and concrete frames. According to Aravena this enables future residents to fill in the remaining unfinished living space at their own discretion, providing more varied and culturally apt housing than the monotonous batches of homes that are more typical of social housing.

Alejandro AravenaThis approach is part of Aravena’s emphasis upon participatory design, which involves architects taking the concerns and considerations of building occupants on board at the very outset of the creative process by asking “stupid questions,” order to define the future direction of development.

“If you are a rigorous outsider and pay more careful attention to the information then eventually you formulate those stupid questions that allow you to move forward,” said Aravena.

Despite remaining little known to the general public, Aravena has fast emerged as one of the the leading architects of the new century and been much feted within the profession. The Pritzker Prize adds to a raft of top honours that Aravena has won over the past decade, including the Erich Schelling Medal and the Marcus Prize.

In conferring the award Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, lauded Aravena for his profound grasp of building design as well as the social awareness displayed by his professional undertakings.

“His built work gives economic opportunity to the less privileged, mitigates the effects of natural disasters, reduces energy consumption and provides welcoming public space,” said Pritzker who also referred to Aravena as “an architect who deepens our understanding of what is truly great design.”