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Lacaton & Vassal

In 2004, Architects Anne Lacaton and Jean Phillipe Vassal made headlines with their manifesto, PLUS: Large Scale housing Development- an Exceptional Case. PLUS pushed back against the French government’s proposal to demolish urban, post-war social housing and replace it with smaller, more expensive new units. The alternative Lacaton and Vassal proposed is encapsulated by their dictum: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!"

Over the ensuing years, they put PLUS into motion, reconfiguring modernist housing blocks in Paris, Saint Nazarre and Bordeaux. This result was less expensive than re-building; low income residents were not forced to move further outside the city and the apartments are more livable than ever before. For example, floor slabs were extended at the sides of the buildings. This created balconies enclosed as winter gardens with floor to ceiling windows, taking advantage of both light and views. To minimize inconvenience to the residents, much of the retrofitting was pre-fabricated so the time they were displaced was minimal.  In some cases, in less than twenty-four hours a resident could have an improved, larger home.

Through their writing, teaching and practice, Lacaton and Vassal have successfully argued that re-adaptation of social housing stock is preferable in aesthetic, economic and ecological terms.  This works against a pernicious form of gentrification that targets the poor; tear down existing affordable housing, replace it with market rate units, which forces lower income citizens to relocate where land and rents are cheaper– further from the city center.

Lacaton & Vassal’s “transform and reuse” philosophy has important implications for sustainability as well.  Regardless of how “green” new construction might be, reuse is almost always an ecologically preferable option.

We had an opportunity to speak with Anne and Jean Phillipe about their methods and philosophy on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

9 | Add, Transform, and Reuse!


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Clair de lune" by Avalon Jazz band from their album "Je Suis Swing."