Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement

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Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton, Jean Philippe Vassal. Tour Bois-le-Prêtre, Paris, France (Model before transformation). 2008

Acrylic, styrene and acrylic primer, 20 7/8 x 18 1/2 x 11 13/16" (53 x 47 x 30 cm). Gift of The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art

Andres Lepik: It was in the 1960s and 70s that Paris started to build massive low-income social housing sometimes just the apartments stacked one on top of the other. These houses were degrading and the architecture was blamed for social problems in the outskirts of Paris.

And the research, which Anne Lacaton, Jean Philippe Vassal and Frédéric Druot started was why should we tear these houses down and are they really, let's say, guilty for what the social problems are?

It started not on the desk of the architects but really with interviews with the tenants in their houses. And what came out is they don't want to move out. They want to get a little bit more light, maybe a balcony. They want to get more space.

So the basic idea is to keep the structure as it is but to build a new façade, like a shell that comes around of glass and structural frame. So people will get a sort of winter garden or balcony to the outside of their apartment. They will get more light. More floor space. And at the same time, this glass facade creates also a thermal buffer for the old building, which means the energy costs for heating and/or cooling is also going down.

These architects reverse the idea of the architecture being the cause for the social problems. But they say you can also change the future of these houses in just giving them a better shape restructuring them.