French Duo Win the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, win the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize, according to Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award that is known internationally as architecture’s highest honour.
“Good architecture is open—open to life, open to enhance the freedom of anyone, where anyone can do what they need to do,” says Lacaton. “It should not be demonstrative or imposing, but it must be something familiar, useful and beautiful, with the ability to quietly support the life that will take place within it.”
Through their design of private and social housing, cultural and academic institutions, public spaces, and urban developments, Lacaton and Vassal reexamine sustainability in their reverence for pre-existing structures, conceiving projects by first taking inventory of what already exists. And it is this inventory that made them do nothing when approached to redesign the public square in Bordeaux. According to their interview with the Guardian, the architects told the clients to leave the square alone as “it was perfectly good as it was and that the public money could be used somewhere the need was much greater.” By prioritising the enrichment of human life through a lens of generosity and freedom of use, they are able to benefit the individual socially, ecologically, and economically, aiding the evolution of a city. In an era when architects try to put their thumbprint on any building or public space by either building anew through regeneration, Lacaton and Vessel have worked to improve lives and transform lives through their sensitive approach not only to design but to life in general.
“Not only have they defined an architectural approach that renews the legacy of modernism, but they have also proposed an adjusted definition of the very profession of architecture. The modernist hopes and dreams to improve the lives of many are reinvigorated through their work that responds to the climatic and ecological emergencies of our time, as well as social urgencies, particularly in the realm of urban housing,” states the 2021 Jury Citation.
The architects increase living space exponentially and inexpensively, through winter gardens and balconies that enable inhabitants to conserve energy and access nature during all seasons. Latapie House (Floirac, France 1993) was their initial application of greenhouse technologies to install a winter garden that allowed a larger residence for a modest budget. The east-facing retractable and transparent polycarbonate panels on the backside of the home allow natural light to illuminate the entire dwelling, enlarging its indoor communal spaces from the living room to the kitchen, and enabling ease of climate control.
“This year, more than ever, we have felt that we are part of humankind as a whole. 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,” comments Alejandro Aravena, Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury. “Lacaton and Vassal are radical in their delicacy and bold through their subtleness, balancing a respectful yet straightforward approach to the built environment.”
On a grander scale, Lacaton and Vassal, alongside Frédéric Druot, transformed La Tour Bois le Prêtre (Paris, France 2011), a 17-story, 96-unit city housing project originally built in the early 1960s.
The architects increased the interior square footage of every unit through the removal of the original concrete façade and extended the footprint of the building to form bioclimatic balconies. Once constrained living rooms now extend into new terraces as flexible space, featuring large windows for unrestricted views of the city, thus reimagining not only the aesthetic of social housing but also the intention and possibilities of such communities within the urban geography. This framework was similarly applied to the transformation of three buildings (G, H, and I), consisting of 530 apartments, at Grand Parc (Bordeaux, France 2017), with Druot and Christophe Hutin. The transformation resulted in a dramatic visual reinvention of the social housing complex, the modernisation of elevators and plumbing, and the generous expansion of all units, some nearly doubling in size, without the displacement of any residents and for one-third of the cost of demolishing and building new.
“Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term,” says Anne Lacaton, “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.”
The architects rebalance dormant or inefficient rooms to yield open spaces that accommodate greater movement and changing needs, thus lengthening the longevity of the buildings. Their most recent transformation of Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France 2012), after a restoration of the space more than a decade earlier, increased the museum by 20,000 square meters, in part by creating new underground space, and assuring that every area of the building is reserved for the user experience.
Retreating from white cube galleries and guided pathways that are characteristic of many contemporary art museums, the architects instead created voluminous, unfinished spaces. These spaces allow artists and curators to create boundless exhibitions for all mediums of art within a range of physical environments, from dark and cavernous to transparent and sunlit, that encourage visitors to linger.
Lacaton insists, “Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing.”
All Pictures Courtesy: The Pritzker Architecture Prize.