We all know that the Pritzker prize is considering the highest honor for architects. With respect to that, The Pritzker Architecture Prize 2021 is Awarded to France-based architects Anne Lacaton and Jean Phillipe Vassal.
Genesis of their career and Philosophy
They began their architecture career in Niger, West Africa. They were immensely influenced by that county’s beauty and simplicity of that citizens. “Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the people are so incredible, so generous, doing nearly everything with nothing, finding resources all the time, but with optimism, full of poetry and inventiveness. It was really the second school of architecture,” recalls Vassal. Also, they are well known for their never demolish principle and sustainability approach by encompassing three pillars that are environmental, social, and economic. However, enhancing human life, environment-friendly design, and freedom of use is their foremost prioritization.
They both built their first joint project in Niger which was a straw hut built with locally available materials. Unfortunately, it yielded impermanence due to wind within two years of completion. From then they vowed never to demolish anything which could be redeemed and refurbished. They established Lacaton and Vassal in Paris in 1987.
Greenhouse technology experiment
Greenhouse technology is one of the most eminent elements of sustainable architecture. Their first experiment on Greenhouse technology was done in Latapie House in Floirac. France in 1993. Using natural daylight and ventilation with incorporating insulation and solar shading they created a desirable microclimate. “From very early on, we studied the greenhouses of botanic gardens with their impressive fragile plants, the beautiful light and transparency, and ability to simply transform the outdoor climate. It’s an atmosphere and a feeling. And we interested in bringing that delicacy to architecture,” shares Lacaton.
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Understanding the values of Pre – Existing elements
They built a private residence in an underdeveloped plot along Arcachon Bay. The whole concept is to construct the building with minimal disruption to the surrounding environment. Rather than cutting down 46 trees on the site, they retained the native vegetation and constructed the building around the trunks of those trees. This obliges the occupants to live among nature. Lacaton explains, “the pre-existing has value if you take the time and effort to look at it carefully. In fact, it’s a question of observation, of approaching a place with fresh eyes, attention, and precision…to understand the values, and the lacks, and to see how we can change the situation while keeping all the values of what is already there.”
By using simple materials, the architects created large and affordable living spaces. For example, 4 – single-family residences for a social housing development (2005), 59 units within low rise apartment buildings at Neppert Gardens (2015), and adjoining mid-rise buildings of 96 units at Chalon- Sur – Saone, France (2016).
Upholding the concept
Throughout their career, they rejected the projects calling for demolition, instead, they focused on renewing the existing space by prioritizing the user’s welfare. Without displacing its residents during construction, they transformed 59 units within three buildings at Grand Parc in Bordeaux, France (2017). Also, this is done to improve its technical facilities and to add flexible space within each unit.
“Our work is about solving constraints and problems and finding spaces that can create uses, emotions, and feelings. At the end of this process and all of this effort, there must be lightness and simplicity, when all that has been before was so complex,” explains Vassal.
This idea applies to their previous project La Tour Bois Le Pretre, Paris, France (2011). Also, this is a 17-story apartment with 96 units, a city housing project which built in the early 1960s. However, they transformed each unit to increase the interior space of every unit by removing the exterior concrete façade and extending the footprint to form bioclimatic balconies. Once a constrained living area now transformed to flexible balcony space with large windows which offer an unrestricted city view. “We never see the existing as a problem. We look with positive eyes because there is an opportunity of doing more with what we already have,” states Lacaton.
In their most recent transformation of Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France, 2012). They also increased the museum space by 20,000 sq.m. by creating a new underground space and assures that every nook of the building uses by the users. Moreover, they retreated the traditional white cube galleries of contemporary museums to voluminous, unfinished spaces for the artist to exhibit their art with a wide range of physical movements.
Current works in progress include the housing transformations of a former hospital into a 138-unit. Also, the mid-rise apartment building in Paris, France, and an 80-unit, mid-rise building in Anderlecht, Belgium. The transformation of an office building in Paris, France; mixed-use buildings offering hotel and commercial space in Toulouse, France; and a 40-unit, private housing, mid-rise building in Hamburg, Germany.
In addition, they have completed over 30 projects around Europe and West Africa. Lacaton and Vassal are the 49th and 50th Laureates of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.
“Good architecture is a space where something special happens, where you want to smile, just because you are there,” shares Vassal. “It is also a relationship with the city, a relationship with what you see, and a place where you are happy, where people feel well and comfortable—a space that gives emotions and pleasures.”
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