Exemplifying the transformative power of design, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have been awarded one of architecture’s highest honors, the Pritzker Prize. The French architects who founded the studio Lacaton & Vassal in the suburbs of Paris have been recognized for their innovative ability to repurpose, reinvent, and reinvigorate existing structures while providing affordable housings as well.
“Through their ideas, approach to the profession and the resulting buildings,” the jury said in its citation, “they have proven that a commitment to a restorative architecture that is at once technological, innovative and ecologically responsive can be pursued without nostalgia.”
Renewing the modernist hopes of improving the lives of many through affordable housing, the architectural studio takes into account how architecture responds to climatic, ecological, and social issues of contemporary culture. The studio has never demolished a building to make way for a new structure. Instead, they seek to rehabilitate existing structures where possible. According to Lacaton, “Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing …… 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.”
Many of the studio’s projects focus on expanding usable space through the use of gardens and balconies. This application of such features that increase living spaces “inexpensively” was initially applied to the Latapie House in 1993 in Floirac, France. On a larger scale, their 2011 La Tour Bois le Prêtre further explored these principles while utilizing unique and unexpected materials, including polycarbonate panels, to create a play of translucency while remaining efficient in cost. This type of innovative exploration of habitation has continued into larger projects including their2017 transformation of 530 units within three buildings at Grand Parc in Bordeaux, France that was designed from the inside out to prioritize the welfare of the building’s residents.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize was established to honor the work of a living architect and is considered architecture’s most significant lifetime achievement award.