An attempt at change 2016 – Lacaton & Vassal

статия 6This article is part of our weekly series “Plattenbau stories”, introducing the topic of plattenbau districts in Europe and the world. ONE ARCHITECTURE WEEK 2016 will be held in Trakiya, a plattenbau districts in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, from September 30th until October 9th. The main focus of the festival is the topic of“citizen participation in the creation of the urban environment”.

An article in METROPOLIS MAGAZINE, for the full version click here.

Today plattenbau districts, especially those consisting of social homes are under threat of demolition everywhere around the world. But there are two french architects who think saving these places, their public functions and their socio-cultural links is of great importance.

Anne Lacaton и Jean-Philippe Vassal (aged 60 and 61, respectively) met as students in the 70-s, and their carriers follow the development of Postmodernism in architecture. They moved their home and studio in Paris in 1999, when they receive the task of making a temporary contemporary art centre inside a monument dating from the 1937 World’s Fair. But Lacaton and Vassal deny Modernism’s motto of removing the old and state their own ideas through buildings. Their role os that of advocates of buildings, which other people would demolish without even thinking twice.

They claim, that some of their most important lessons were learned through their first project – a straw-mat house on the bank of the river Niger in Africa. Even though the project was very thoroughly thought out it remained unsuccessful – the house was used for about two days and two years later it was destroyed by the wind. Now the two architects believe, that the most important aspects of architecture are flexibility and freedom of use. This is the motto of their colaboration with Frédéric Druot in 2004.

Today with Druot and Christophe Hutin,they are transforming a 150-acre  postwar housing complex in Bordeaux. The 16-story building was expanded alongside its southern facade and the 11-story building along its eastern and western facade so that the apartments can gain another 12.5 feet. The transformation includes new big glass windows, private winter gardens, new elevators and narrow balconies, divided by sliding polycarbonate panels. This project is to be finished by the end of this spring. By then the ground-level entranceways will be improved as well.

This project costs half as much as a new apartment block would and has multiple benefits – it does not make people leave their homes, the winter gardens improve the microclimate of the building and inhabitants can decide how to use their shared spaces. They also have one of the best views in Bordeaux.

According to some critics the projects this studio makes are naive and made with cheap materials. Lacaton the other hand believes, that importing items that are considered luxurious in such buildings is important for its inhabitants. She also states that the power of architecture is not in the complexity of it’s forms, but in it’s function and the opportunities it provides to those who live in and use the buildings.