Elemental’s ‘Half-Finished’ housing typology: a success in all circumstances

December 13, 2013

Elemental’s ‘half-finished home’ typology has become something of a signature for practice. It began as a way of providing housing at incredibly low prices, but nevertheless creating homes that would provide for residents’ needs and even gain value over time.

All images: courtesy Elemental

Since Elemental first developed the typology for its Quinta Monroy project in Iquique, Chile, the ‘half-finished home’ has become something of a signature for practice. It has used the technique in multiple cities in Chile, as well as its Monterrey Housing project in Mexico. The typology began life as a way of dealing with extremely low budgets, allowing governments to provide housing to citizens at incredibly low prices, but nevertheless creating homes that would provide for the needs of residents and even gain value over time. Now, Elemental has applied the theory to its Villa Verde Housing project, published just last week on ArchDaily.

At Villa Verde, Elemental was able to work with a larger budget than it had previously. Rather than providing housing for the most disadvantaged members of society, it was now designing for people who would make use of the upper bracket of Chile’s  policy.



Taking this higher budget into consideration, Elemental believed, “We could have taken one of our own more economic typologies and used the extra money to finish them… but we thought of once again applying the principle of incremental construction and prioritisation of the more complex components, this time with higher standards both for the initial and the final scenario.”

This issue was of particular urgency, as the company commissioning the project, Arauco, plans to extend this design to around 30 different towns across Chile, all of them with populations of around 10,000 to 20,000. Elemental’s research showed that “it is in exactly these types of towns where the worst urban standard is found” and, for this reason, the practice felt it more important to focus on the quality of the building rather than its completeness.

Residents also receive coaching on how to improve their homes.

Residents also receive coaching on how to improve their homes.


The design for Villa Verde is an attempt to show that Elemental’s original equation still holds true one step higher up the housing ladder – that there is intrinsic value in this incremental construction process, whether it is used at the cheaper or the more expensive end of social housing. Fundamentally, it is a demonstration that all homeowners are aspirational and that, for many homeowners, the best way to account for this aspiration is to provide flexibility and space to expand.

Another new aspect of this particular project is the structure of organisations involved: rather than providing social housing directly for the Government, as in previous projects, Elemental received the commission from a large company, which wanted to provide homes for its employees via the Government’s wider social housing fund.



On an aesthetic level, Villa Verde also shows that there is a certain neighbourly quality in this type of development where homeowners have more input into the final appearance of the building. This prevents the potential placeless quality that you might find in a design intended for 30 different neighbourhoods across a country, with each address having a personality that reflects that of its occupiers.

Essentially, the Villa Verde project establishes that the typology developed by Elemental almost 10 years ago at Quinta Monroy – often underestimated as a technique to improve housing conditions for people living in the poorest possible conditions – is much more versatile than we may have ever believed.

‘Elemental’s ‘Half-Finished’ Housing Typology: A Success in All Circumstances’ by Rory Stott, was first published on 22 November 2013 at ArchDaily

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