Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal met in the 1970s during their formal architecture training in France. In 1987, they established Lacaton & Vassal in Paris. The duo’s architecture reflects their advocacy of social justice and sustainability by prioritizing a generosity of space and freedom of use through economical and ecological materials. They vowed to never demolish what could be redeemed but instead make sustainable what already exists, thereby extending through addition, respecting the luxury of simplicity, and proposing new possibilities. For over three decades, they have designed private and social housing, cultural and academic institutions, public spaces, and urban strategies.
While most designers focus either on perfecting elements of a design (i.e., choosing sustainable materials) or the impact that the final product has on the user’s experience (i.e., designing a building that is aesthetically pleasing) Lacaton and Vassal focus on both aspects. For example, a skillful selection of materials enables the architects to build larger living spaces affordably. Not only do they think deeply about the best way to construct the built environment, but they ensure that their designs exceed basic function, inspiring joy and quality of life.
In 2004, together with Frédéric Druot, Lacaton and Vassal made headlines with their manifesto PLUS, which pushed back against the French government’s proposal to demolish urban, post-war social housing and replace it with smaller, more expensive new units. Over the ensuing years, the three architects and Christophe Hutin reconfigured modernist housing blocks in Paris, Saint Nazaire, and Bordeaux. This result was less expensive than rebuilding. Additionally, low-income residents were not forced to move outside the city. To minimize inconvenience to the residents, much of the retrofitting was prefabricated so the construction could be implemented with inhabitants on site. The replacement of the facade lasted about 2 days and after a few weeks, a resident could have an improved, larger home.
Current works in progress include the transformation of a former hospital into a 138-unit, a mid-rise apartment building in Paris, and an 80-unit, mid-rise building in Anderlecht; the transformation of an office building in Paris; and the renovation of the Kampnagel theater in Hamburg.
We had an opportunity to speak with Anne and Jean Phillipe. Listen here.