ENSA

I think luxury is not related to materiality, it’s just some incredible situations. And as architects, you have to produce incredible situations.

– LACATON & VASSAL

Lacaton & Vassal have made a practice of non-object archtecture at a time when objects reached cult status. They avoid making models to avoid  making sculpture. they habitually explain that their buildings work from the inside out, that their form is a utilitarian after-thought.

Nonetheless, their architecture can hardly be called minimalist. They plainly strive to intelligently deliver the maximum punch using constrained means.  And, perhaps most importantly, they project how their buildings might be appropriated in the future, an act of radical functionalism and creative humility. On the day that we visited the architecture school in nantes, Anne Lacaton was teaching a housing seminar. Her students, just in from Madrid, were squatting a large double-height open area on the third floor. Some of the sliding facade panels were pulled open allowing in breezes and views of the Loire River to create the sensation that this impromptu studio was neither in nor out.

Gaelle Breton, an associate professor at the Ecole d’Architecture in Nantes since 2008, walked us through the building. A registered architect in France, but also trained as a carpenter, she unravelled the logic of the building in a rivetting way. The architects, she explained, were asked to construct 10,000 square meters of program (classrooms, studios, library, computer center, workshops, cafeteria, etc.) on a 5,000 square foot lot. Instead of a typical building, Lacaton & Vassal proposed a parking garage on steroids clad in a greenhouse sweater. In other words, a superstructure with three dilated decks, inserted program and a sliding plastic panel skin. The conditioned program is introduced using a lighter steel structure and placed in the space between the concrete slabs. The two level mezzanines are treated as buildings in miniature with the “left over” or unconditioned interstitial space transformed into a virtual urban plaza. Public. Visible. Shared. Infinitely transformable. Ready to be appropriated as need arises. The result is a plethora of flexible, unprogrammed space. Enviable. Luxurious. Having taught architecture and design studios in Lille, Marne-la-Vallée, Cornell University, the University of Montreal, the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture, and Paris-Malaquais, Gaelle Breton is deeply familiar with the spatial requirements of a design school, and this building, she was happy to report, provided her with just enough space. “It encourages instructors to have more public reviews, and students to create more audacious, larger scale installations, to dare and take up the volume that has been alloted. It is tempting, and challenging all at once.”

– Anya Sirota