2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize

2021

2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize

16 March 2021 — Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, of France, have been selected as the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates.

“Good architecture is open—open to life, open to enhance the freedom of anyone, where anyone can do what they need to do.”

Anne Lacaton, 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, photo courtesy of Laurent Chalet

“Good architecture is open—open to life, open to enhance the freedom of anyone, where anyone can do what they need to do. 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,” says Lacaton.

“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.

“Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing. The demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term.”

ANNE LACATON, 2021 PRITZKER ARCHITECTURE PRIZE LAUREATE

Lacaton insists, “Transformation is the opportunity of doing more and better with what is already existing. The demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term. It is a waste of many things—a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.”

Through their design of private and social housing; cultural and academic institutions; public spaces; and urban developments, Lacaton and Vassal reexamine sustainability in their reverence for preexisting structures. They conceive projects by first taking inventory of what already exists. By prioritising the enrichment of human life through a lens of generosity and freedom of use, they are able to benefit the individual socially, ecologically and economically, aiding the evolution of a city.

129 Units, Ourcq-Juarès Student and Social Housing, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

Latapie House

The architects increase living space exponentially and inexpensively, through winter gardens and balconies that enable inhabitants to conserve energy and access nature during all seasons. Latapie House (Floirac, France 1993) was their initial application of greenhouse technologies to install a
winter garden that allowed a larger residence for a modest budget. The east-facing retractable and transparent polycarbonate panels on the back side of the home allow natural light to illuminate the entire dwelling, enlarging its indoor communal spaces from the living room to the kitchen, and
enabling ease of climate control.

Latapie House, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

“Like in any interconnected system, being fair to the environment, being fair to humanity, is being fair to the next generation.”

Alejandro Aravena, Chair of the Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury

“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,” commented 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.”

La Tour Bois le Prêtre

On a grander scale, Lacaton and Vassal, alongside Frédéric Druot, transformed La Tour Bois le Prêtre (Paris, France 2011), a 17-story, 96-unit city housing project originally built in the early 1960s. The architects increased the interior square footage of every unit through the removal of the original concrete façade, and extended the footprint of the building to form bioclimatic balconies. Living rooms that were once constrained now extend into new terraces as flexible space, featuring large windows for unrestricted views of the city, thus reimagining not only the aesthetic of social housing, but also the intention and possibilities of such communities within the urban geography.

53 Units, Low-Rise Apartments, Social Housing, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

Transformation of G, H, I Buildings, Grand Parc, 530 Units, Social Housing (with Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin), photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

This framework was similarly applied to the transformation of three buildings (G, H and I), consisting of 530 apartments, at Grand Parc (Bordeaux, France 2017), with Druot and Christophe Hutin. The transformation resulted in a dramatic visual reinvention of the social housing complex, the modernisation of elevators and plumbing, and the generous expansion of all units, some nearly doubling in size, without the displacement of any residents and for one third of the cost of demolishing and building new.

House in Bordeaux, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

Palais de Tokyo

The architects rebalance dormant or inefficient rooms to yield open spaces that accommodate greater movement and changing needs, thus lengthening the longevity of the buildings. Their most recent transformation of Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France 2012), after a restoration of the space more than a decade earlier, increased the museum by 20,000 square meters, in part by creating new underground space, and assuring that every area of the building is reserved for the user experience.

Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

Retreating from white cube galleries and guided pathways that are characteristic of many contemporary art museums, the architects instead created voluminous, unfinished spaces. These spaces allow artists and curators to create boundless exhibitions for all mediums of art within a range of physical environments, from dark and cavernous to transparent and sunlit, that encourage visitors to linger.

Site for Contemporary Creation, Phase 2, Palais de Tokyo, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes

Much of their work encompasses new buildings, and the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes (Nantes, France 2009) exemplifies the significance of freedom of use. To accommodate the range of pedagogies necessary for its growing student body, the plot was maximised and the architects were able to almost double the space outlined in the brief and do so within budget.

École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

Located at the bank of the Loire River, this large-scale, double-height, three-story building features a concrete and steel frame encased in retractable polycarbonate walls and sliding doors. Areas of various sizes exist throughout, and all spaces are deliberately unprescribed and adaptable. An auditorium can open to extend into the street, and high ceilings create generous spaces necessary for construction workshops. Even the wide, sloping ramp that connects the ground to the 2,000-square-metre functional rooftop is intended as a flexible learning and gathering space.

École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Nantes, photo courtesy of Philippe Ruault

“Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have always understood that architecture lends its capacity to build a community for all of society,” remarked Tom Pritzker, Chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award that is known internationally as architecture’s highest honour. “Their aim to serve human life through their work, demonstration of strength in modesty, and cultivation of a dialogue between old and new, broadens the field of architecture.”

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