Enchanting the Existing

Enchanting the existing

Last March 25th took place at Columbia GSAPP’s Avery Hall a conference by Anne Lacaton, from the French Studio Lacaton & Vassal. With the name “Reinvent: Enchanting the Existing”, Lacaton went through some of the projects of her office since it started back in 1987.

She started treating the concept of Inhabiting in Architecture. The way they conceive it is major issue for their work, focused on building space from the inside, and not from the outside. For them, the idea of virgin territory no longer exists; the point is to exalt the capacities of the existing. An extremely interesting concept that they have been developing for 25 years and appears especially adequate in today’s Architectural scene.

She also brought to the table the concept of Superposition, applied both to Urbanism and Architecture. The more superposed situations, the more intense the life gets on those spaces. Superposition of uses, times, or new and existing, keeping the current layers while adding new ones.

It was very easy for me to connect to those concepts, since they are traditionally much related to the way of teaching Architecture and Urbanism at Barcelona School (ETSAB), where I studied. The importance of the existing and the values of the superposition are in the based of the school methodology, but they might be not as for granted in a place like Columbia GSAPP.

She presented projects as the House in Cap ferret, treating the existing site with an extreme delicacy for the nature, including the trees in the design and getting the best out of the surroundings conditions. Or the Ecological Neighborhood in La Vecquerie, Saint-Nazaire, an elevated housing complex respecting the rich ecological environment of the site.

Towards the end, she showed the project for the Café Una, in Austria; and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, a coherent way of applying the same concepts into different scales and uses.

But for me, the most interesting amongst all the work she presented was the main body of the conference, the project called PLUS – Les grands ensembles de logements – Territoires d’exception.

Is a study based on a public program in France that tends to deconstruct the high-rise housing estates from the 1960s and 70s. They position themselves totally against demolition, and propose a more economic, more effective and more qualitative way of intervention in those buildings, based on the potential they have for quality remains associated with them.

Through a deep analyse of the building and its inhabitants, their proposal is focused on small interventions that create a big impact on the life of the owners. Widening the openings, adding gallery spaces, rearranging the inhabitants based on their actual needs for space are some of the strategies they use. A particularly clever system of façade/scaffolding allows carrying the construction without moving the users out of the apartments.

One of these interventions was recently awarded in the Design’s of the Year Awards, the project called Tour Bois-le-Prêtre.

They have published a video_research, 50000 longements nouveaux  in which they map existing housing buildings in which is possible to realize interventions that will increase both density and quality of living.

An impressive and very interesting work that was even able to transmit hope for future generations of Architects: “There is so much work to do”, she said.

It was one of the most inspiring conferences out of the Columbia GSAPP series of this academic year. A practice that is out of the star system, but that proposes a solid and deep thought approach to Architecture, much needed in nowadays.

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2 responses to “Enchanting the Existing

  1. Iga Jandir Gonçalves October 27, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    What is the name of the professor who introduced Anne Lacaton at the beginning?

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