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Architecture Misfits #7: Lacaton & Vassal

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When misfits finally gets around to writing the definitive history of sustainable architecture, it will bypass all the media-hogging and resource-wasting architecture of the twentieth century and instead feature many of the architects mentioned in this blog.

Irving Gill deserves a place for this following statement he made around 1915.

If the cost of unimportant ornamentation were put into construction, then we would have a more lasting and dignified house.

Dodge House, West Hollywood, CA, 1914-16 (demolished) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hannes Meyer will feature for doing his best to make that happen by choosing materials according to the suitability of their non-visual properties.

facultad (Photo credit: vladimix)

This site offers some insights (in German) into window sizing and illumination levels of his Peterschule project. I don’t know of anyone else who was concerned about this in 1926.


Eileen Gray will have a place for her unpretentious approach to siting, climate and layout way back in 1924.

19-b (Photo credit: its_daniel)

George Fred Keck for, in 1934, thinking of

  1. the house as the servicer to its inhabitant, not vice versa
  2. the importance to one’s health of passive heating and the modulation of natural light
  3. the need to design within the boundaries of mass production
  4. an exterior prefabricated steel truss frame that allowed for a completely open interior plan
  5. panels and mullions of standardised sizes
  6. not designed to be different or tricky but to seriously attempt to find better ideas and designs for living

The Futurists will have earned their place for showing the world it was okay to reject past ideas of beauty and to create new types more relevant to the modern world.  

Study for a 1927 Biennale pavilionby Fortunato Depero
Study for a 1927 Biennale pavilion
by Fortunato Depero

Superstudio will have a place for Natalini’s 1971 statement about architectural priorities.

All these people contributed in some way to the theoretical, philosophical and moral basis for the type of buildings misfits is about. In a nutshell, misfits believes in making the most of what we have or have left. Everybody agrees this is a good thing, but there’s still no consensus about what it is that needs to be made the most of. The flow of architectural history suggests that “making beauty for less” is a constant. Even if, like Corbusier, the work of Sanaa is evolutionary in redefining beauty downwards, the focus is still on beauty no matter how economical it may be to achieve (relative to and in decreasing order, The Pyramids, Chartres Cathedral, the Sydney Opera House …. etc). In the not-so-distant future, affordable will be the new luxury.

The introduction to this yet-unwritten book on the history of sustainability will need to have a brief note explaining that the word sustainable is used in the sense of cost-effective performance without regard for visual appearance for, in English, we seem to have lost the plot a bit. In French, the word for sustainable is “durable”. This sense of something remaining useful for longer has the obvious advantage of it not needing to be  replaced as often. Although renovating, refurbishing and reusing buildings is unquestionably virtuous and is rewarded as such by the various sustainability rating systems, the main focus of architecture is still on sexy new build projects.
Lacaton & Vassal are natural misfits in that their focus is on doing more with less. Their Latapie House features on the misfitsarchitecture home page header. This post however, will feature their retrofit of the La Tour Bois-le-Prêtre tower (in collaboration with Frédéric Druot). The plan and two photos below tell the story. There’s more description here and a slideshow here.

after copy
plan after

“It depends how you ask the question,” Ms. Lacaton responded when asked whether the building ended up as she had hoped. Architects couldn’t fix the neighborhood or provide 24-hour security guards, she said. But they could make something pleasing whose appearance derived from the narrow range of material options available, within a tight budget.The aesthetics arose purely from the decisions about the quality of space,” Ms. Lacaton insisted. “We could have done something playful and fashionable on the outside, to look better, if we had put just a few balconies here and there. But our priority was improving the living conditions for everyone.” [New York Times]

Total cost: $15 million compared to $26 million to demolish and rebuild. No tenant relocation was necessary.

interior view

Lacaton & Vassal – misfits salutes you!




  • says:

    the “sun rooms” provide an personal and semi private outdoor space
    from our limited housing projects of the form,thiis is seems to a necessary component to keep the campers happy/
    locally, this quite easy. the climate of places like paris requires more thought and consideration
    bravo and well spotted