The Pritzker Architecture Prize is considered the Nobel Prize of the profession, and receiving it is one of the greatest honours for an architect. Specifically, this prize is awarded each year to living architects whose work has made a significant contribution to humanity, combining talent, vision and commitment. 

The purpose of this award has from the outset been to encourage and stimulate architecture, helping professionals to become more publicly aware of buildings, while at the same time fostering their creativity. 

In this sense, this year the prize has been awarded to the French architecture studio Lacaton Vassal, formed by Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, with the aim of praising their attention to the field of social housing and their concern for sustainability. 

Lacaton Vassal’s premise is to renovate rather than demolish, to respect old buildings and to create large spaces where people can decide what to use them for. 

“Our work consists of solving limitations and problems, and finding spaces that can create uses, emotions and feelings. At the end of this process and all this effort, there must be lightness and simplicity, when everything before was so complex,” explains Vassal.

Lacaton Vassal’s principle of non-demolition 

Lacaton Vassal’s work includes social and private housing, cultural and academic institutions, public spaces and urban developments. In all of them, the award-winning architects re-examine sustainability in terms of reviewing existing structures to see where they can be improved. 

Their work focuses on the relationship between form, function and economy, with an emphasis on contemporary lifestyle to create comfortable spaces. 

Technological innovation and the use of materials such as polycarbonate to build larger spaces are also two main features of his work. 

In recognition of its work, the French studio has received other awards throughout its career, such as the Grand Prix National d’Architecture awarded by the French government in 1999, the City of Madrid Prize in 2006 and the City of Bordeaux Architecture Prize in 2008, among others. 

One of the last, prior to the Pritzker, was the EU Miles Award, awarded to the best contemporary architecture in Europe, for the transformation of 530 dwellings in the Grand Parc Bordeaux. 

Lacaton Vassal’s work that proves him worthy of the Pritzker Prize 2021

The Pritzker Prize jury determined that Lacaton Vassal was worthy of the award for his work in “prioritising the enrichment of human life through a lens of generosity and freedom of use, can benefit the individual socially, ecologically and economically, helping the evolution of a city”.

To understand his work, we will review some of his most significant works: 

Grand Parc Bordeaux Social Housing (2017)

This project consisted of a public call for intervention for 530 social housing units in Bordeaux, the main objective of which was to improve the insulation of the building. 

To do so, the architects decided to build covered terraces with a transparent material on the entire façade to add square metres to each dwelling and insulate the building. 

Its realisation was subject to an agreement with the City Council according to which the project will stay within budget as long as the price of rents did not rise for the tenants. 

FRAC exhibition centre (2015)

The FRAC is a contemporary art centre located next to the port of Dunkirk in northern France. The main building is a former ship warehouse of immense volume. To carry out the project Lacaton and Vassal left the main building intact and built a twin building next door using a prefabricated, semi-transparent, bioclimatic and lightweight structure. 

Latapie House (1993)

This project is a private house in Floirac, France and was one of the first houses they built. 

It is a cube-shaped house whose front part is covered with a cement sheet and the back part has a kind of habitable greenhouse made of polycarbonate sheets to maintain the temperature, let in light and reduce costs. 

Palais de Tokyo (2012)

The Parisian contemporary art centre opened its doors in the early 2000s and in 2012 Lacaton Vassal undertook its restoration.  

The aim was to create voluminous, unfinished spaces that would allow the artists to mould them to their liking. In the end, they decided to leave the traces of the restoration process and the raw materials visible, giving it a very modern and avant-garde “abandoned” look. 

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