The greatest

We’ve wanted to write about Lacaton & Vassal for some time but we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. It’s not that there is any question of their status, they must be among the most innovative architects currently working.

As you can see, they do a pretty fabulous house but that’s not why they are so important.

They are important, and controversial, in a way we love. In every project they do something designed to deeply annoy the entire architectural profession because they build very cheaply in order to produce the maximum floorspace for a given budget and by cheaply we mean cheaply, way below any industry norm – none of those expensive finishes and fixtures that architects use to push up their commission. Quel scandale!

A typical example is this suburban square in Bourdeaux, when commissioned to redo it they discovered that it had users who loved it as it was so their proposal was little more than repair, renewing the gravel and street furniture and implementing a better maintenance and cleaning program. No imposing their architectural egos, simply the minimum necessary to continue something that worked as a practical, flexible space with a wide range of ad hoc public uses.

Although they do know how to produce a pretty luxurious look even if it’s just a bit of tiling. That’s one of the things about them, they can produce great effects with very simple means.

And there is no question that their work involves adaptive reuse, both of existing structures in the case of the Palais de Tokyo or their modification of prefab industrial structures

particularly their use of commercial glasshouses here used as the shell to contain a house.

The Palais de Tokyo in Paris was the job from hell that they turned into a triumph, where they had to somehow produce a functional building

from a dangerously half demolished wreck where most of the funding had already been scandalously wasted. They stabilised the building then fitted it out by adapting industrial materials,

like dividing spaces with chain link fencing, or installing a ticket booth in a caravan.(Check out Ivar Hagendoorns photos) The end result is one of the most exciting contemporary art spaces in the world.

These days thay are doing a lot of urban renewal work rebuilding high rise housing that has reached its use by date.

Lacaton & Vassal epitomise everything we approve of but as soon as we started to write about them we discovered that their web presence is minute, there is very little to link to although there is this. Architects without an overdesigned site full of flash graphics that take ten minutes to load…thats another scandal, but such a relief to the rest of us. We know all about them because a few years back we bought a book about them and we recommend it highly to everyone – maybe you can find it second hand through Abebooks.

4 thoughts on “The greatest

  1. Ross McLeod

    Fantastic. Wonderful stuff. I was not aware of them, but I now love them with a passion. Not sure if all that laserlight and plastic is going to work in these climes, but you’ve got to love their thinking.

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  2. Ian Milliss

    It’s the thinking that’s important rather than the final appearance although that is usually pretty impressive as well. So there wouldn’t be much point to using glasshouses in Australia for climatic reasons but haysheds, that’s a different matter. I think the reason I fell in love with them, and Adam Kalkin, was that for many years I had fantasised about buying one of those enormous but cheap haysheds that only have a roof, adding one or two walls of polycarbonate then virtually just camping under it. It’s pretty much their approach, to create cheap flexible shelter that can then be rapidly reconfigured for different uses…a bit like the traditional japanese approach, too.

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  4. Bob

    I’m sorry, but all that stuff isn’t just ugly, it’s insulting to the eye. Especially that yellow house with the big plastic veranda. It looks like an old, poorly assembled meant-to-be-temporary warehouse construction in a miserable place next to a railway.

    Ok, I do like the attitude and ideas of those architects a lot, but it doesn’t prevent me from using my sense of aesthetism.

    Seriously, would you like to live in that yellow house? Would you like the feeling that your home is some kind of cheap industrial left-over, rattling at the slightest gust of wind, and seaming to be about to collapse or to be bulldozed down to make way for the expansion of the nearby shopping mall / airport?

    If I had to live in a cheap house, I would want it to be cosy. For example, a tiny, one-roomed cottage with a fire place. Not a piece of plastic.

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