French architects Lacaton & Vassal – thoughtful and respectful approach to apartment living

French architects Lacaton & Vassal – thoughtful and respectful approach to apartment living.

In April 2021, French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal were announced the winners of the prestigious 2021 Pritzker Prize, called the Nobel of Architecture. Together, Lacaton and Vassal design low-impact homes and public buildings based upon natural ecological responses to current living challenges, such as the refurbishment and revitalisation of the Bois le Prêtre social housing project as part of an urban regeneration scheme in Paris.

Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal met as students in Bordeaux before co-founding the Paris-based architectural practice Lacaton & Vassal in 1987. Their projects include the Nantes School of Architecture’s riverside campus, completed in 2009, and the 2012 expansion of the Palais de Tokyo art gallery in Paris. The Palais de Tokyo (Tokyo Palace) is in the Trocadéro district in the 16th arrondissement. It was named after the street, Avenue de Tokio, which is now called the Avenue de New-York. 

However, Lacaton and Vassal are best known for their work renovating France’s post-war social housing buildings, winning the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture and the Mies van der Rohe Award.

Their mantra is: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!”

In 2011, Lacaton, Vassal and Druot completed the transformation of the Tour Bois le Prêtre (known as the Prêtre Tower), a rundown 1960s residential project in northern Paris. Instead of demolishing the building, they replaced the building’s facade, which increased the square footage of each of the 96 apartments and added modern features such as terraces and large windows. They also renovated a social housing development in Bordeaux, expanding its 560 apartments without displacing its current residents. According to a press release announcing the 2021 Pritzker prize, their work was completed at a third of the cost of demolishing and rebuilding the three blocks from scratch.

In a France 24 interview, Lacaton and Vassal said that demolition is a waste of time, energy, material, and history. “For us, it is an act of violence.”

The 10-person judging panel for the 2021 Pritzker prize praised the duo for having “expanded the notion of sustainability” and “refusing any opposition between architectural quality, environmental responsibility, and the quest for an ethical society.” Lacaton and Vassal were described as “radical in their delicacy and bold through their subtleness, balancing a respectful yet straightforward approach to the built environment.”

France 24 said that they brought a democratic spirit to homes and public buildings through a sustainable, thoughtful, and respectful approach to architecture. Their motivations were to try to give functional space a strong connection with nature.

Of the social housing project, they said they wanted “a more kind and efficient way of approaching the design where all residents could stay inside their flats while the renovation continued.” They added balconies and winter gardens, which resulted in improved energy consumption of the building. They said they worked a lot with residents to consider the project from the inside.

One resident said that the renovated social housing tower now had a park, supermarkets, and beautiful balconies which brought “a new energy that will have a positive effect because a building is not an island.” 

Lacaton and Vassal call it “a very precise approach to kindness. We call it metamorphosis – transformation rather than demolition, which is an ecologically conscious approach. The concept of inhabiting is most important for us.”

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