The Pritzker Architecture Award for 2021 has been awarded to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, a French architecture duo who has taught the world to design projects based on insightful thinking and creative designing through sustainable approaches. Lacaton and Vassal met in the late 1970s at Bordeaux’s École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage and later they co-founded Lacaton & Vassal in Paris, 1987, then they have completed more than 30 projects throughout Europe and West Africa while advocating for thoughtful sustainable architecture. The firm also did joint work in Niamey, Niger, where Vassal had moved to practice urban planning for some time. It’s the first time a female architect from France has received the prize, with Lacaton being the sixth woman since it was founded in 1979. Lacaton & Vassal have prioritized the “enrichment of human life” in their three decades of work, helping the citizens have an easier lifestyle while encouraging the city’s evolution.
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal | Pritzker Prize Winner 2021
“Good architecture is open—open to life, open to enhance the freedom of anyone, where anyone can do what they need to do,”
says Anne 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.”
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal worked on their first project in Niger- a straw hut built from locally gathered bush branches. Since moving to Paris, they have completed many critically acclaimed projects, including Latapie House in Floirac (1993) and House in Cap Ferret (1998) in France, as well as multi-family housing projects in France and abroad, including two apartment buildings in Mulhouse (2005 and 2015).
The Pritzker Prize Background
The Pritzker Prize is awarded to recognize a living architect or architects whose built work exemplifies a blend of creativity, vision, and dedication that has resulted in continuous and vital contributions to humanity and the built environment through the practice of architecture.
The Laureate is awarded $100,000 as well as a bronze medallion. Every Laureate of the Pritzker Prize receives a bronze medallion based on Louis Sullivan’s designs, and the name of the prize is engraved on the other side. Three words are engraved on the reverse: “firmness, commodity, and delight,” a reference to Roman architect Vitruvius’ basic architectural concepts of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas.
Last year, the prize was given to Grafton Architects co-founders Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the fourth and fifth women recipients. Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima of SAANA, and Carme Pigem of RCR Arquitectes were the previous three female winners. Christian de Portzamparc and Jean Nouvel, both French architects, have previously received the prize. Alejandro Aravena, Frei Otto, Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster, and Toyo Ito are among the other recipients of the prestigious award.
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal Studio Practice | Pritzker Prize Winner 2021
Many of the studio’s projects concentrate on increasing accessible space by incorporating winter gardens and balconies, often made of polycarbonate panels. Latapie House in Floirac was one of the first projects to do so; a wide rear polycarbonate winter garden was built that brought light into the home and enlarged the indoor living spaces. Later, the studio added terraces to the Tour Bois-le-Prêtre and Grand Parc Bordeaux housing schemes to provide more versatile rooms.
The studio’s other main renovations include the conversion and expansion of a former shipbuilding workshop in Dunkerque to create the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais contemporary art gallery.
They also completed two significant renovations at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo museum. The team designs projects starting from the interiors to the exteriors, as they examine the circulation and living patterns of the people who will utilize the space. The duo work on the facade and materials at the very end of the projectual phase.
The duo has taught and exhibited their work all over the world. They’ve also won a host of prizes, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, the European Union Prize for the Cité du Grand Parc, Bordeaux for the transformation of 530 dwellings, alongside Frédéric Druot Architecture and Christophe Hutin Architecture.
The jury mentioned that the studio’s attitude towards renovation and the experience people encounter when visiting Lacaton & Vassal projects were essential factors in winning this year’s award.
“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.”
Here are few notable projects by the French practice, Lacaton, and Vassal:
1. House in Bordeaux, 1999, Bordeaux | Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal
The House in Bordeaux was converted from a former biscuit factory into a home with a series of contrasting spaces, starting with an entrance through a dark garage.
The duo removed part of the factory’s roof and replaced it with transparent polycarbonate sheeting that allows natural light into the structure.
2. FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais, 2013, Dunkirk | Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal
To construct the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais art gallery, Lacaton & Vassal sensitively restored a shipbuilding workshop and mirrored it with polycarbonate for an extension.
Their proposal for the building was the winning entry of the architectural competition held for selecting the design of the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais. Now the structure houses an international art collection, archival rooms, and exhibition halls.
3. École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes, 2009, Nantes
This architecture school in western France is made up of three tall, glass-lined storeys that are connected by an external ramp and are nine, sixteen, and twenty-two meters above ground level.
It features a lightweight steel frame with generously sized, pared-back interiors that can be easily modified or expanded to suit the school’s changing needs.
You can look at their other projects at the website: www.lacatonvassal.com