04 February 2020

Architect Anne Lacaton, nominated by ETSALS, receives honorary degree from URL


Anne Lacaton, architect and co-founder of Lacaton & Vassal, has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Ramon Llull University (URL) following her nomination by the La Salle School of Architecture-URL (ETSALS). Lacaton was chosen for her commitment to a very specific style of architecture, which is aligned with the historical values of the La Salle-URL School of Architecture: sustainability, the circular economy, the importance of the social component and respect for the natural and historical environment.

The honorary degree was presented by Robert Terradas, director of the La Salle-URL School of Architecture since 1997. The sponsor of Lacaton’s investiture recalled the beginnings of the School and its pioneering character, as it became the first private school of architecture in Catalonia some 20 years ago. In the beginning, the founding team set themselves two objectives: to offer a Lasallian pedagogical model and to offer excellent technical training. “The School asks itself whether those criteria are still valid and whether new ones should be added, since the world has thrown up new trends and new problems to which an answer must be given.” Here, explained Terradas, is where the thinking of La Salle-URL finds a clear link with the work carried out by the Lacaton & Vassal Studio: “Logical architecture that responds to the needs and stimuli of the location, that reacts to the problem of climate change; criteria of rigour applied to construction, criteria of sustainability, criteria to improve people’s lives, criteria of common sense and, among others, criteria of economy.”

Terradas looked back at the architect's professional career so far and stressed how people are at the heart of her projects: “Lacaton-Vassal thinks and imagines a new way of doing, a way to make it more efficient, more economical and, above all, more enjoyable for people and for the landscape”. In this regard, the director of the La Salle-URL School of Architecture observed the curious fact that photographs of the interior spaces of the works by Lacaton & Vassal published in magazines “have been taken at any time in the life of the user and are normally unprepared, pictures where one can see all kinds of disordered objects (toys, bicycles, shoes, furniture of all styles) and these photographs therefore really explain the lives of people, unlike the perfectly studied photographs that normally illustrate the work of architects.” Normality as a norm. “Pictures of her work express life, while others only show the architectural space”, emphasised the director.

After showing her gratitude for the recognition, Anne Lacaton explained in her speech the importance of the time the Lacaton-Vassal couple spent in Niger over five years. “There we discovered another world, another way of thinking, another form of architecture, so alien to what we had learned, more direct, accessible, attune to the climate, more spontaneous. We discovered what the essential means, the economy of gesture and matter, the art and creativity of recycling, the art of economy and improvisation. We discovered the meaning of the word 'inhabit' as the main value of architecture. This determined our evolution and definitively changed our idea of architecture and our way of working”. Lacaton’s success is also that of Jean Philippe Vassal, her husband and fellow student, whom she also mentioned: “It’s impossible to discern all the work we have done or to attribute it to a single person.” 

Lacaton and Vassal completed their first residential project in 1992, the Latapie house. “We were very encouraged and motivated because we wanted to offer something much better than the standard houses, one that was generous, very open and receptive to the surrounding natural climate, without being limited in our objective by the small budget we had to build it”, she explained. And, project after project, those same convictions and principles are what move them still today; Lacaton described them in 12 points:

  • Inhabit: “Beyond the functional aspect, 'inhabit' refers to pleasure, generosity, the freedom to occupy space.”
  • Interior: “Build space from the inside, not the outside, as an external, distant action.”
  • Use: “Offer the inhabitant opportunities of displacement, of appropriation.”
  • Double space: “Building twice, both programmed and free space; that is, twice as much with the same budget, generates new freedoms and new ways of living. We want to build big so that 'something' can happen, to favour relationships within the spaces.”
  • Lightness: “It is about the way we enter a location without damaging it, the economy of gesture and materials, and the delicate sensations perceived by the inhabitant.”
  • Climate: “Make use of natural resources as much as possible. These are climatic spaces, but also, and above all, spaces for use, which place their trust in the inhabitant by involving them in managing comfort and controlling energy consumption with simple gestures.”
  • Structure: “We always try to use the minimum amount of materials possible to build the maximum number of cubic metres and generate the maximum number of activities imaginable.”
  • Transformation: “Our attitude is never to demolish, never to suppress, but always to add, to transform, to recycle. Transforming makes it possible to do more and better, it costs less, it is done with greater attention, more delicateness and more inventiveness.”
  • Positive contributions: “Transforming what we find, and juxtaposing it to new spaces or also reactivating nearby public spaces... Always applying a rule of sustainability: it always has to look better after than before.”
  • Economy: “Economy is the key. Make the most of the budget. Being sustainable means spending less and better. We understand the economy as a vector of freedom.”
  • Sustainability: “It means extending the life of existing elements.”

In closing, the rector of the URL, Josep M. Garrell, stressed the value of Lacaton’s teamwork and curiosity: “Reading your words, and listening to you today, I feel many of these things are applicable to many other professional disciplines. You spoke of a curiosity for people and things that has lasted over time. You’ve also spoken of the necessary enthusiasm, of a positive perspective on the world, of the hard-working capacity of admiration to find that which is positive and beautiful in all things.” He also took up an idea of Lacaton’s that he believed to be applicable to many facets of life and society: “The historical moment, the present time, the time we have to live in is far from easy. Perhaps this is the time when joint awareness as a planet is greater than it's ever been. Perhaps some will feel called to change their habits, to take action. Others may think the challenge is so great that their contributions won't make much difference. A time when perhaps a few, let’s hope they’re just a few, will see it as too complicated to step forward. Anne Lacaton encourages us to take action, and very concrete action, when she tells us that she believes that her role (as an architect but —and I insist— I feel this is applicable to all professional fields), her role is to continue to unreservedly contribute social, economic, cultural and ecological perspectives, ideas and ambitions. A lesson and an example for us to follow.”

He went on to praise Terradas’ experience as director of the La Salle-URL School of Architecture and sponsor of Lacaton’s honorary degree. “I have known the director, Dr Terradas, the sponsor of Dr Lacaron's honorary degree, for many years. To say he is a point of reference in architecture would be to fall short, very short. Robert is a maestro, an architect who has led the way. A school is not just an educational institution or a university offering engineering or architectural studies. It’s also the way we teach, a group of people following a philosophy or way of doing, following a master. Dr Terradas is that master, and the founder of this School of Architecture”, he said.