March 17th, 2021

‘Never demolish, never remove – always add, transform and reuse’

In an age of demolishing public housing and replacing it with shiny new carbon-hungry developments in the name of “regeneration”, Lacaton & Vassal have worked tirelessly to expand and upgrade existing buildings with surgical precision, transforming the lives of thousands of people in the process. [...] From social housing to contemporary art centres, they always begin with a forensic assessment of what is already there, and how it could be improved with a minimum of resources. They prefer spreadsheets to slick computer-generated images, stretching shoestring budgets and using simple, off-the-peg materials with elegant economy, to “make more and better with less”.

The architects’ fiercely pragmatic approach is most visible in their pioneering work on public housing in France, where they have transformed a number of blocks in Paris and Bordeaux, enlarging the flats and drastically improving their environmental performance. In the early 2000s, when the French state was allocating €167,000 for the demolition and rebuilding of each apartment, they argued that it was possible to redesign, expand and upgrade three flats of the same size for that amount. And they proved it.

Demolishing is a decision of easiness and short term,” said Anne Lacaton. “It is a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.”


Images: Street market on Kongjia Nong 孔家弄, in the old town. Torn-out pilasters and gate awnings on a demolition site, Dajing Road 大境路.