The 2021 Pritzker Prize, an annual award considered the highest honor in the architecture profession, has been awarded to Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal.
According to an article by Neda Ulaby, there’s an element of surprise to this year’s selection. Even Lacaton and Vassal say they are surprised as anyone else.
Lacaton and Vassal could not be more different from an earlier generation of Pritzker “starchitects,” known for their signature styles, statement skyscrapers and flamboyant follies. Instead, the two apply a credo: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!” to their work on old urban buildings. That includes dilapidated public housing (or “social housing” as it is known in France). Designs by Lacaton and Vassal have focused on replenishing low-income housing complexes, aesthetically and functionally, while respecting — rather than displacing — the tenants who live there.
Lacaton described some of the couple’s philosophy in a 2017 lecture delivered to the Architectural League of New York. “Buildings are beautiful when people feel well in them,” said Lacaton in the lecture. “When the light inside is beautiful and the air is pleasant. When the exchange with the outside seems easy and gentle, and when uses and sensations are unexpected.” Lacaton also added this bombshell: “There’s a lot of violence in architecture and urbanism. We try to be precise. We try to work with kindness.”
Ulaby offers that the couple’s approach to architecture could provide a model for urban planning in the United States. With a focus on cost-effective and creative adaption, the work of Lacaton and Vassal certainly stands in contrast to the influence of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier and the urban renewal programs of U.S. planning history.