Lacaton & Vassal — Humanism in Architecture
Profiled Firm: Lacaton & Vassal | Location: Paris, France
Vectorworks counts among its community many winners of the Biennale Architettura award and several laureates of the prestigious Pritzker Prize. French firm Lacaton & Vassal — winners of the European Mies Van der Rohe prize in 2019 — won the Pritzker Prize in 2021 for their humanizing work in light of the global COVID-19 health crisis.
A Humanist Architecture for the Times
Lacaton & Vassal’s architecture is founded on the idea that advancing human welfare is a responsibility of an architect and should therefore be our foremost priority. This philosophy radiates through the architects’ work, especially amidst the global COVID-19 crisis.
The crisis exacerbates the problem of affordable housing for many. According to the jury, this international Pritzker Prize award underscores “the need to create a sense of community. With their work, Anna Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal show how architecture can contribute to this.”
The approach of the two French architects proposes a distinctly positive vision: to use and transform the existing, to do something better with it. "The beauty is that we always find a solution," the architects said.
Starting from the observation that the modern city is not a tabula rasa, but an existing complex and confused environment, the architects' position is to use what is already there. In doing so, they bring empathy to the legacy of modernism, which aimed to condense essential functions of a building into a core to free up space around it.
For this non-essential space that’s increasingly constrained by new developments, the architects chose to preserve it and add space by extending the floor plates and enlarging the space with terraces. This is the case for the Bois-le Prêtre building in Paris and then for the Grand Parc district in Bordeaux.
In Short, Be an Architect!
Respecting the mission of the architect, Lacaton & Vassal carry out their projects with care. Together with the building's occupants, the architects carefully identify tenant requirements.
They aim to "do more with less," never losing sight of the essentials: creating a flexible space based on the occupant’s desires, letting in more daylight, and providing a beautiful view to promote well-being.
Their case-by-case approach for an existing housing unit reverses classic urban techniques and places the resident back at the center of the design process. By implementing simple and inexpensive solutions, they "valorize the use before thinking about the form."
The architects’ choice to focus entirely on current issues, quality of life, its cost, and the challenges of sustainable development implies that they continue what already exists in defense of their humanistic vision of architecture. Because architecture is at the intersection of political, economic, sociological, and ecological issues, Lacaton and Vassal's approach uses these different aspects as springboards for their sophisticated design process.
With Vectorworks, the design software we use, we can meet our own design and drawing requirements as well as those of the client. In my projects, I always start from an idea and the drawing must always be able to represent the idea freely. The most important things for me are the space and how the light affects such space.
The Legacy of Lacaton & Vassal’s Humanism — Inspiring the Marcel Lelong Building Transformation
Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal say they’re "happy because the 2021 Pritzker Prize gives more publicity and visibility to an approach that’s widely shared, especially by the young generation of architects who are very attentive to issues such as the environment, the well-being of residents, and economic issues."
Gaëtan Redelsperger belongs to this new generation of architects and has been working with Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal for about ten years, developing their approach for housing and for public facilities.
In 2018, Lacaton, Vassal, Redelsperger, Quartus Résidentiel and Habitat & Humanisme won the contract to transform the Marcel Lelong building on the ZAC Saint-Vincent-de-Paul in the heart of Paris, due for completion in 2024.
"The plan is to keep the existing hospital building from the 1950s and transform it into a residence, and we added 3-4 floors in height. Our proposal was accepted by the developer of the ZAC de St-Vincent de Paul, Paris & Métropole management," Redelsperger said.
This building will be expanded and transformed by the three architects into a project of 134 homes, including 66 freehold homes, 33 social rental homes, 35 homes with leases, and 2,600 square meters of commercial space on a total area of 12,490 square meters.
"Just like any building project, the intention is to offer everyone more space, more freedom, more daylight, and a sustainable relationship with the climate,” Redelsperger said.
The apartments, whether they’re in the renovated section or in the new elevated section, will have generous spaces and feature large areas of glass to let in as much daylight as possible and provide a beautiful view; the new section will also be equipped with winter gardens and balconies. Demolition is minimal, forming an environmentally friendly approach with sparing use of resources and materials and maximum reuse of the existing building. The presence of winter gardens and a double facade for all new homes addresses the issue of comfort and energy savings, taking maximum advantage of the climate.
The landscape architect Cyrille Marlin designed a naturalistic garden around the building, providing a sustainable place for plants in the center of Paris. On the Agora, at the heart of the building block, the forum of services, the garden, a greenhouse, and social spaces for residents all come together. Then there’s the café, a coworking space and a room for social interaction open to the whole neighborhood.
"This project is part of a coordinated development zone," Redelsperger said, indicating that close collaboration was absolutely necessary for the project. "The rules are strict and the IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) file is a required project deliverable when submitting digital models of the projects."
The greatest asset of the software is the freedom it offers. I can draw what I want and how I want it,"
The project to renovate the Lelong building was therefore designed with Vectorworks using its BIM capabilities:
"With Vectorworks, the design software we use, we can meet our own design and drawing requirements as well as those of the client. In my projects, I always start from an idea and the drawing must always be able to represent the idea freely. The most important things for me are the space and how the light affects such space."
"The greatest asset of the software is the freedom it offers. I can draw what I want and how I want it," Redelsperger said.
That same freedom is an asset to Lacaton & Vassal, who need limitless design freedom to express their creative ideas. It’s why they design with Vectorworks.
All images in this article are courtesy of ©Lacaton & Vassal, Gaëtan Redelsperger, Cyrille Marlin, Quartus Résidentiel, Le Bureau Jaune