Modest maestros Lacaton and Vassal win 2021 Pritzker Prize
The winners of the most prestigious award in architecture, the Pritzker Prize, have been announced. French duo Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal are the deserving winners, with the judges lauding the pair's decades-long efforts to improve and extend existing buildings.
Lacaton and Vassal met at in architecture school in Bordeaux in the 1970s and have since refined an approach to their craft that is modest and practical. Indeed, whereas some architects would jump at the chance to demolish an old building and put their own stamp on a city, Lacaton and Vassal have a "Make do and Mend" approach that they clearly feel passionate about.
"Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing," explains Lacaton. "The demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term. It is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence."
Lacaton and Vassal began their career with their first joint project in Africa in 1984. They took six months to decide on the ideal location in Niamey, Niger, then constructed a simple temporary straw hut that lasted two years before being destroyed by wind. Larger projects soon followed, some in their home country and others around the world, with many focused on improving existing social housing.
One project that demonstrates their belief in never demolishing what can be renovated is a 2011 collaboration with Frédéric Druot. The three architects collaborated to transform La Tour Bois le Prêtre, a 17-story, 96-unit city social housing project in Paris originally built in the 1960s.
The trio rejected the city's original plans to demolish the building and instead painstakingly improved plumbing, electricals, and ventilation. They also increased the interior living space of every single home in the complex through the removal of the original concrete facade and the installation of a new glass replacement. Once cramped and dark living rooms now extend into light-filled flexible terraces and offer generous views of the city.
Another example of Lacaton and Vassal's approach is their 2012 work on the Palais de Tokyo, also in the French capital. They increased the museum's available floorspace by 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft), with the creation of new underground space.
Unfinished rooms with exposed concrete beams are left on show and the spaces offer a mixture of rooms, from dark and cavernous to sunlit and airy.
The transformation of the Grand Parc social housing estate in Bordeaux is another career highlight. Working with Druot and Christophe Hutin in 2017, Lacaton and Vassal transformed the complex by again removing the original concrete facade and replacing it with a modern glazed facade.
Along the way, the team modernized the complex's aging elevators and plumbing, while expanding the living space of the residential units – all without the displacement of any residents. Like much of their work, it's not very glamorous to the casual observer, but improved life for those living in the 530 social housing apartments while creating far less waste and pollution than the construction of a new building would have.
"This year, more than ever, we have felt that we are part of humankind as a whole," says Alejandro Aravena, Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury. "Be it for health, political or social reasons, there is a need to build a sense of collectiveness. Like in any interconnected system, being fair to the environment, being fair to humanity, is being fair to the next generation. Lacaton and Vassal are radical in their delicacy and bold through their subtleness, balancing a respectful yet straightforward approach to the built environment."
You can see more examples of works by Lacaton and Vassal in the gallery.
Source: Prizker Prize