The winners of the architecture’s top prize Pritzker award in 2021, were Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, the founders of Lacaton & Vassal Architectes. The 49th and 50th winners of the award, Anne Lacaton became the sixth woman to receive the award and the first French woman architect to win the award. Anne Lacaton (1955, Saint-Pardoux, France) and Jean-Philippe Vassal (1954, Casablanca, Morocco) are the French duos who examine urban housing areas in the context of sustainability and adopt the concept of social housing. Their desire is ‘Never demolish, never remove – always add, transform and reuse.’
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal met while they were studying architecture at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture et de Paysage de Bordeaux in the late 1970s. Lacaton went on to pursue a Master’s in Urban Planning from Bordeaux Montaigne University (1984), while Vassal relocated to Niamey, the capital of Niger, West Africa, to practice urban planning. While in Nigeria, they worked on urban planning (The Pritzker Architecture Prize). They were founded by Lacaton & Vassal in Paris in 1987. Anne Lacaton has been an associate professor of Architecture and Design at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich since 2017. She is a visiting professor and visiting chair at different universities. Jean-Philippe Vassal has been an associate professor at Universität der Künste Berlin since 2012. He has given lectures at different universities. They are both members of the juries of the major awards. They have won many awards, such as Lifetime Achievement Award and Mies Van Der Rohe Award. Although they are mostly known for their work on social housing, there are types of projects they work on, such as cultural and academic institutions, public spaces, and urban development.
During their 30-year career, they transformed human life as well as buildings. They provided people with environments of physical and emotional well-being. The sensitive and courteous treatment of the families attached to their residences and the importance they attach to humanitarian values show their view of architectural ethics. Instead of demolishing or removing buildings, they preferred to renovate, adapt and reuse and replace what was salvageable. They improve the livable environment and intervene sensitively with an emphasis on ecological solutions. Instead of demolishing mass housing and building brand new ones, they save on costs, energy, materials, and carbon while demolishing them. Winning in the economy also means winning in ecology. And also, with additions and expansions, they make creative renovations, giving users more living space. This distinguishes them from the pretentious world. Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal are extraordinary. They are interested in restoring neglected, battered urban environments. While performing transformations, they also do not compromise on aesthetics.
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal favor simplicity. The humble, social architecture they saw in Africa was influential on their buildings. There they understood the importance of using the sun, natural ventilation, and shading. “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,” said Vassal, 67(The Pritzker Architecture Prize)
Some Selected Works of the duo
1. Temporary Straw Hut:
They designed their first collaborative building in Nigeria in 1984. In this country, which has a very different climate than France, the main goal was to create coolness in the building due to the air temperature. They produced a wicker hut with a round volume that could let fresh air in.
2. Palais de Tokyo Expansion:
The building in Paris, France, which is neglected and idle, was built in 1937 for an international exhibition. It was a museum that housed modern art when it first opened. It was rehabilitated and reopened in 2014 by Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal using minimalist materials. Except for the reinforcements at certain points, and the construction of stairs and pedestrian bridges for circulation, no work was organized that would affect the simplicity of the space. This and similar aesthetic features of the building, which makes abundant use of natural light, are highlighted. The building has been optimized for user experience.
3. 23 Semi-collective Housing Units
Renovated in 2010, the 23-unit residence is located in Trignac, France. Conservatory and well-ventilated illuminated roof duplexes were built to enhance the building. Galvanized steel, transparent polycarbonate, or natural aluminium are the materials used. Transparencies are emphasized in the project with the selected materials. 23 Semi-collective Housing Units It is an example of constructing generous buildings at a low cost.
Journey after the Pritzker Prize
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal are currently dealing with residential conversions. Housing conversions are being carried out from a 138-unit mid-height residential building of a former hospital in Paris, France, to an 80-unit mid-height building in Anderlecht, Belgium.
- The Pritzker Architecture Prize. Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal Biography [online]. Available at: https://www.pritzkerprize.com/laureates/anne-lacaton-and-jean-philippe-vassal#:~:text=%E2%80%9CNiger%20is%20one%20of%20the,of%20architecture%2C%E2%80%9D%20recalls%20Vassal. [Accessed 04 April 2022].