Updated: March 19, 2021 7:47:40 am
In arts — including architecture, the more interventionist among artistic disciplines — “radical” is not necessarily “spectacular”. Sometimes, it is about deciding that the public square you have been commissioned to redesign only needs its gravel changed. Or proposing and practising that most radical notion of all — demolition isn’t a prerequisite for the creation of the new.
It’s this vision of architecture that was validated when French architect duo, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, were honoured with the 2021 Pritzker Prize this week. It is an unexpected honour, given the builders of iconic monuments who count among previous Pritzker laureates. Lacaton and Vassal couldn’t be more different from, for example, I M Pei, who built the infamous glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris or Zaha Hadid who designed the breathtaking Guangzhou opera house. The French architects’ buildings, especially the public housing projects they are best known for, don’t proclaim themselves, instead quietly ministering to the needs of those who will use them.
The recognition of Lacaton and Vassal’s “restorative” vision by architecture’s most prestigious prize is an opportunity to reflect on what, if any, purpose resource-intensive architecture serves today, particularly where public resources are involved. Take the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, a remnant from the 1937 World Expo. Instead of razing the massive structure, Lacatan and Vassal burrowed in and carved out spaces, giving it new life as a contemporary art museum. All it needed was a little imagination, the one resource humankind is not in danger of running out of.
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