2021 Pritzker Prize winners could spark an architectural revolution

Beginning out as an architect within the Nineteen Nineties, I used to be so looking forward to work, and excited concerning the artistic prospects, that turning down a challenge appeared inconceivable. It was thrilling, then, at a convention a couple of years in the past, to listen to French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal clarify how that they had completed simply that.

When town of Bordeaux, in France, commissioned the duo—this 12 months’s Pritzker Prize laureates—to revamp one of many city’s plazas, they began by observing the house carefully. Their conclusion was that the Place Léon Aucoc was a vibrant neighborhood house that didn’t want altering.

Town needed to brighten the house, however, they mentioned, it was already lovely. It was effectively constructed, genuine, unsophisticated: It made sense. The individuals who lived there felt at dwelling. “It made us surprise,” they write, “what embellishment means, what function it serves?” So they proposed doing nothing other than maintenance work that might fulfill the inhabitants: extra common cleansing, higher take care of the lime timber across the edges, changing the gravel.

In a world by which flamboyance and elegance have lengthy decided how an architect turns into a star, this method—doing nothing—is an act of resistance. The truth that, 30 years into their profession, Lacaton and Vassal have now been awarded the constructed atmosphere’s equal of the Nobel Prize is a revolution. Because the jury put it, Lacaton and Vassal haven’t solely renewed the legacy of modernism: they are redefining architecture itself.


The Palais de Tokyo: Lacaton and Vassal revitalized the western wing of this 1937 Parisian monument, which since 2002 has housed a recent artwork gallery. [Photo: Flickr user Jean-Pierre Dalbéra]

This represents an institutional shift to what I’ve known as a “Gaia-centred” approach to architecture. In my e-book, Architectural Materialisms: Nonhuman Creativity, I talk about how this concept of structure locations designing and constructing inside a broader ecology that features every part round it—from natural world to questions of gender and information. It doesn’t heart people however as an alternative recasts them merely as certainly one of many brokers. Crucially, it derives its aesthetics, as Lacaton and Vassal systematically demonstrate, from its ethics and its politics.

Starchitect historical past

Launched 42 years in the past, the Pritzker Prize was initially meant to encourage larger consciousness of how we understand and work together with our environment. Nonetheless, it has largely lauded what we now know as starchitects: nearly at all times men (Zaha Hadid was the primary girl to win, in 2004; Lacaton is simply the sixth) whose private model is as essential as any extraordinary constructing they could design.

As the broader business shifts in direction of responding to social, climatic, and environmental emergencies, nonetheless, it seems the Pritzker is switching gears too. In 2020, the Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara gained for his or her constant service to humanity—buildings, the jury mentioned, that have been “good neighbors” and environmentally accountable.

Till now, ecological consciousness in structure has been acknowledged by means of certification, not awards. And buildings—not the architects who design them—have been the recipients. In different phrases, working on this method has include few accolades.

The Cité Manifeste housing property in Mulhouse, France. [Photo: Flickr user bruno cerejo henriques]

Certifying a constructing is sensible as a result of it’s a one-off product of a course of. It may be precisely judged. There are two internationally acknowledged certifications—BREEAM and LEED—that are each designed to evaluate the sustainability (from vitality and water effectivity to CO2 emissions) of any given challenge.

Judging an architect’s total course of, although, is trickier. The German architect Thomas Herzog is extensively thought-about the pioneer of sustainable architecture. However few others can show their sustainability credentials for every part they undertake.

Redefining worth

I’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot overlap between these two markers of excellence—the architects awarded a Pritzker versus the architects designing BREEAM or LEED-certified buildings. This raises an essential query about what we truly worth in structure. A direct connection has been made till now between iconic starchitecture and world capitalism. Lacaton and Vassal’s follow supplies a daring different.


The French duo’s motto is “never demolish.” This principle is about paying consideration and valuing what exists. They will lose out in competitions, they’ve mentioned, as a result of they’ll’t say what the ultimate constructing will appear to be till they’ve uncovered every part they need to work with.

Lacaton and Vassal remodeled the Cité du Grand Parc housing property, in Bordeaux, by including prolonged winter gardens and balconies to every condominium. [Photo: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images]

Characteristically, when the pair discover timber on a website, they construct round them (Cap Ferret House, Arcachon). When commissioned to demolish and rebuild (the Sixties Bois le Prêtre tower in Paris) they do not want or counsel lighter interventions. When refurbishing social housing (the Cité du Grand Parc social housing towers in Bordeaux), they accomplish that with out displacing the neighborhood that lives there.

Theirs is structure grounded in a deep-seated political awareness that precludes magnificence for magnificence’s sake. As a substitute, the sweetness comes from the way in which the structure is conceived, designed, and constructed with folks and planet in thoughts.

Such concepts will not be new. In 2014, as curator of the Venice Biennale, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas advocated for a return to the fundamentals. He challenged individuals within the biennale to consider what structure does versus who architects are.

The place Koolhaas’s theme was about reconnecting to architectural historical past, Lacaton and Vassal’s method is to take a look at the precise constructions and networks on the bottom and the way they are often retained and reused, out of concern for the long run.

The Pritzker jury honed in on the way in which the French pair’s urban housing projects, particularly, reply to the crises we face. I’ve discovered that architects and purchasers each, quite the opposite, are too typically seduced by eccentric, costly shapes and the guarantees of experimental know-how. They miss the purpose that structure’s main perform is to do precisely what Lacaton and Vassal are doing, and reply to the social, political, and environmental context by which it’s constructed.

The query now could be the place the youthful era takes these concepts. Will Lacaton and Vassal’s humble method to reuse and low-key interventions be extensively adopted? How may it serve emptying post-pandemic cities? May their limelight bolster these architects working within the shadows to respond to the climate crisis?

Maria Vogiatzaki is a professor at Anglia Ruskin University. This text is republished from The Conversation below a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.