Architecture

Modest maestros Lacaton and Vassal win 2021 Pritzker Prize

Modest maestros Lacaton and Va...
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) was completed in 2017 and is an example of Lacaton and Vassal's belief that demolishing existing buildings should be avoided if at all possible
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) was completed in 2017 and is an example of Lacaton and Vassal's belief that demolishing existing buildings should be avoided if at all possible
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Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) involved the renovation of a 17-story, 96-unit city social housing project in Paris originally built in the 1960s
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Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) involved the renovation of a 17-story, 96-unit city social housing project in Paris originally built in the 1960s
Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) saw Lacaton and Vassal painstakingly increase the interior space of every single home by removing the original concrete facade and replacing it with glass
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Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) saw Lacaton and Vassal painstakingly increase the interior space of every single home by removing the original concrete facade and replacing it with glass
Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, increased the museum's available floorspace by 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft), by creating new underground space
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Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, increased the museum's available floorspace by 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft), by creating new underground space
Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, provides a variety of exhibition spaces, from dark and cavernous to sunlit and open
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Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, provides a variety of exhibition spaces, from dark and cavernous to sunlit and open
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) was completed in 2017 and is an example of Lacaton and Vassal's belief that demolishing existing buildings should be avoided if at all possible
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Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) was completed in 2017 and is an example of Lacaton and Vassal's belief that demolishing existing buildings should be avoided if at all possible
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) created new flexible terrace areas for residents to use
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Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) created new flexible terrace areas for residents to use
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) saw the team modernize elevators and plumbing, and expand the living space of the residential units without the displacement of any residents
7/10
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) saw the team modernize elevators and plumbing, and expand the living space of the residential units without the displacement of any residents
House in Bordeaux was completed in 1999 and involved converting a factory into a private residence. Sections of the roof were removed and replaced with transparent polycarbonate panels to create an indoor courtyard and distribute sunlight throughout the home
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House in Bordeaux was completed in 1999 and involved converting a factory into a private residence. Sections of the roof were removed and replaced with transparent polycarbonate panels to create an indoor courtyard and distribute sunlight throughout the home
2013's FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais is a postwar shipbuilding facility. Feeling that it was too important to be significantly altered, the architects created an adjacent second building, identical in shape and size to the original, that was made out of transparent, prefabricated materials. The new building hosts art galleries, offices and storage contemporary art, and can function independently or together with the original building
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2013's FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais is a postwar shipbuilding facility. Feeling that it was too important to be significantly altered, the architects created an adjacent second building, identical in shape and size to the original, that was made out of transparent, prefabricated materials. The new building hosts art galleries, offices and storage contemporary art, and can function independently or together with the original building
Latapie House was completed in 1993. The project saw Lacaton and Vassal use retractable and transparent polycarbonate panels on the east-facing rear of the home to create more living space for a growing family
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Latapie House was completed in 1993. The project saw Lacaton and Vassal use retractable and transparent polycarbonate panels on the east-facing rear of the home to create more living space for a growing family
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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.

Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) saw Lacaton and Vassal painstakingly increase the interior space of every single home by removing the original concrete facade and replacing it with glass
Transformation of 100 Units, Tour Bois le Prêtre, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot) saw Lacaton and Vassal painstakingly increase the interior space of every single home by removing the original concrete facade and replacing it with glass

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.

Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, increased the museum's available floorspace by 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft), by creating new underground space
Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, increased the museum's available floorspace by 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft), by creating new underground space

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.

Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) created new flexible terrace areas for residents to use
Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin) created new flexible terrace areas for residents to use

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

View gallery - 10 images
2 comments
2 comments
ReservoirPup
If I were the prize committee, I would keep giving the prize to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal till we learn to recycle 99% of what we use. If the artists don't take the environment seriously, who will?
Don Duncan
This year, more than ever after 78 years, I am convinced I am a unique individual, human but not typical of humankind. I am the exception to the whole. My ability to think, to reject absurdity and authority based on violence, is not common, not like the masses. I am in touch with myself, my individuality, my mortality. I was not, now I am, and soon will be no more, forever. My mortality inspires me to be as much as I can be, daily. I respect humanity by extending my self love to all others who value each other. I feel connected to those like me, those who live and let live.