French architects Lacaton and Vassal take Pritzker Prize

Pair is best known for repurposing older structures, including social housing complexes

National /
Mar.March 16, 2021 05:47 PM
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal and École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes. (photos courtesy of Laurent Chalet and Philippe Ruault)

Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal and École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes. (photos courtesy of Laurent Chalet and Philippe Ruault)

The winners of this year’s Pritzker Prize for architecture are not starchitects known for glittering skyscrapers or controversial designs.

Rather, French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, who were awarded the profession’s top prize Tuesday, are known for repurposing and adding to older buildings. Those include the contemporary art center, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which was originally built for the 1937 World’s Fair; along with social housing complexes throughout France.

Among the works cited by the Pritzker jury was Lacaton and Vassal’s update of a 1960s housing complex in Bordeaux, France. Rather than demolishing and rebuilding the old apartment blocks, the pair added large terraces that brought more light and air into each unit.

“There are too many demolitions of existing buildings which are not old, which still have a life in front of them, which are not out of use,” Lacaton told the New York Times. “We think that is too big a waste of materials. If we observe carefully, if we look at things with fresh eyes, there is always something positive to take from an existing situation.”

In its jury citation, the Pritzker committee cited the pair for “a commitment to a restorative architecture that is at once technological, innovative, and ecologically responsive,” noting that sustainability and a “democratic spirit” are central to their work.

The pair’s win is also noteworthy because it is one of the few times in the prize’s history that a female architect has been named a laureate. The late Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid was the first female laureate, in 2004; most recently, Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara won the prize in 2020.

[NYT] — Amy Plitt





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