Friday 22 December 2023



This article is so important it deserves to be reproduced in full just to broaden access to it.

While our era seems to seek out an eye-catching, bespoke style in architecture, where the greater the deformity, the better; all in the name of clever, creative, self-expression seeking praise for the uniquely different outcome that is photographed and photoshopped into exquisite, fragmented compositions implying an integral wholeness, Lacation & Vassal’s work offers a humane, caring, sensitive and inclusive approach to architecture that embodies a richness in its depth and understanding, rather than concentrating on hollow, grand displays of unbelievably slick gymnastics.


Architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal on the joy of reusing buildings rather than knocking them down

Rowan Moor

'A fascination with spatial effects': Jean-Philippe Vassal and Anne Lacation at the Sir John Soane's Museum in London last month.
Photograph: Sir John Soane's Museum.

The French architect duo, winners of the 2023 Soane medal, whose work has ranged from straw huts to social housing, talk about the freedom of working with what’s already there – and how to step back from perfection

Rowan Moore

Sun 10 Dec 2023 22.00 AEDT

The French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal are famous for their belief in keeping existing buildings whenever possible, no matter how unpromising or unloved they may be. They follow, in effect, an architectural version of the Hippocratic oath – first, don’t demolish. It’s a message that has never been more pertinent, as it dawns on the construction industry that constant demolition and rebuilding is an environmentally devastating activity. The husband-and-wife team have been putting this idea into practice for decades, in projects such as the renovation of social housing blocks at Cité du Grand Parc in Bordeaux and the Tour Bois-le-Prêtre in Paris, and art centres such as the FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais in Dunkirk and the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.

The latest recognition of their achievement is the 2023 Soane medal, awarded by the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London to those who “have furthered and enriched the public understanding of architecture”. Keeping the already-there is not, though, their only concern, nor is it to do with sustainability alone. They like to use words such as “generosity”, “kindness” and, above all, “freedom”, which means that they are always looking to find and create spaces additional to those asked for in a brief, “with no utility, no function”, as Vassal puts it, “in which the user will feel the possibility to be inventive for themselves. Because this space has no name, it’s up to you to create what will happen there.”

They seek this liberation both for the inhabitants of their projects and themselves. “We really feel enclosed in a brief,” says Lacaton, “that has so many rules, so many recommendations and impositions, and for us it’s a kind of survival.” They strive against an attitude that “in architecture everything must be quantified… everything should be uniform”. They also want to escape the weight and fixity of construction. “Lightness” is another favourite word.

'Humble and disregarded ways of building': the double-height conservatory at a family home in Floirac, Bordeaux.
Photograph: Philippe Ruault.

Their first project together was a house built of straw matting in two days in 1984 on a sand dune outside Niamey in Niger, where Vassal spent five years after graduation, only for the wind to blow it away over the course of two years, as they knew might happen. “That’s life,” says Vassal now. “The place was fantastic,” says Lacaton, “so we took the risk of losing it.” A little later, in the early 1990s, they designed a new family house in their home city of Bordeaux, where they doubled the floor area their clients expected, while staying within a very limited budget. Their secret was to erect a double-height conservatory built like a simple greenhouse, which gave a sense of generosity and freedom to the rest of the house, a two-storey structure with also basic construction. They aimed for luxury of space rather than of material or detail.

Both these projects involved a fondness for adapting humble and disregarded ways of building. “We found we were conditioned by our education as architects,” says Lacaton, “to say that one way of constructing is the right one and the other one is not good. We discovered that we could use any tool, any material, anything if it’s used in an intelligent way.” They also developed the idea of reusing the already-there, as with a seaside house in Gironde, south-west France. which was built among 46 pine trees, along with arbutuses and mimosas, without cutting any down. With the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, a 1930s building remodelled as a centre of contemporary art in two phases, in 2001 and 2012, they took pleasure in making only minimal alterations to its damaged interior.

Lacation & Vassal's minimal revamp of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Photograph: Phillipe Ruault.

The common theme here is that of the objet trouvé, whether it’s a standard greenhouse design or trees or an old building – the thing that liberates the artist or architect from the pretensions and agonies of authorship. The reuse of old fabric can also, says Vassal, “add an incredible value”. In the case of the seaside house, the architect contributes “perhaps 20% because already you have a fantastic view, you have the nature”. When renovating the Cité du Grand Parc in Bordeaux, carried out in collaboration with Frédéric Drout Architecture and Christophe Hutin Architecture, keeping the existing saved money, which could be spent instead on additional space. It also protected the networks of friendship and support that had grown up within these housing blocks.

The garden layer added to Bordeaux's 60s Grand Parc social housing block.
Photograph: Phillipe Ruault.

Here, Lacaton and Vassal added an extra layer, containing winter gardens, an intermediate zone between inside and outside that helps to keep the homes warm in winter but can be opened up in summer. It puts into practice their idea that a building’s “relationship with climate should not be one of protection but of change” – that rather than wrapping it with huge amounts of insulation that “create a very uniform atmosphere inside”, you allow residents to manage their environment by opening and closing windows and shutters.

If much of their approach is strikingly different from that of many architects, they share with others in their profession a fascination with spatial effects. We are talking in the house and museum that John Soane built for himself in the early 19th century, an intricate and complex array of small and larger spaces, light and dark, horizontal and vertical. Lacaton and Vassal admire this. They too aim to achieve “a diversity of spaces” within the homes of their housing projects, to enter, for example, into a “narrow dark space” from which you might glimpse “your balcony and the light of the city”, which then opens up into the larger rooms of an apartment.

The seaside house at Cap Ferret, Gironde, built among 46 pine trees without cutting down any of them down.
Photograph: Phillipe Ruault,

Where they differ from other architects is in their attitude to control. In the John Soane museum, every detail and experience is minutely managed and directed. Contemporary practitioners often photograph their works unpopulated, at the precise moment between completion and inhabitation, where the perfection of their idea is most immaculate. For Lacaton and Vassal, it’s important to know when to stop, when to leave it to residents to occupy and embellish their homes. They enjoy and photograph the different things that people do to their spaces.

Their way is humane and intelligent. It’s also invaluable. In Britain and elsewhere, there’s a desperate need to create more homes without incurring unacceptable bills for carbon emissions and energy consumption. Reuse is an obvious answer; for example, making redundant office and retail space into housing. Lacaton and Vassal, with their belief in generosity and freedom, show how it can be done.

For more of the work of Lacation & Vassal, see:  Google Images: Lacation & Vassal.


The project carried the title ‘Heritage House.’ The Local Project article – see : Woven Sensitivity – Heritage House by Wolveridge Architects - presented the text and an array of some 18 isolated images illustrating detailed portions of this project that had been chosen to be revealed by the eye of the camera operator as jigsaw pieces - a collection of special visions selected by the architectural photographer Derek Swalwell: Derek Swalwell: Photograph Derek Swalwell +

The jigsaw pieces.

The text was read and re-read to try to discover just where this house might be: one likes to see projects in their broader context, their ‘Street View,’ rather than only in the special, rarefied isolation of the lens, a framing perhaps ‘enhanced’ as a ‘photoshopped’ image. Alas, there was no obvious indication of location in the text or in the images; one merely had the opportunity to read the architect’s words and peruse the fragmented pictorials selected for publication in order to assess the ‘heritage’ outcome. It seemed that the location was irrelevant, in spite of the name chosen for this project and the title of the text that suggested a true sensitivity had been expressed for the context the house had been designed for. Why not reveal the 'warp and weft' of this suburb that the building has stitched itself into as a ‘sensitive’ patch?

More jigsaw pieces.

In order to see if one could find out the actual location of this house, the architect’s site was opened to glean any available, useful information. Yes, there was a clue: the Heritage House was in Wurundjeri, (Camberwell, Victoria), but there was no more detail to help identify a specific site in this 5.8sqkm suburb known for its grand, historic residences and tranquil, leafy streets. It is commonly regarded as one of Melbourne's most prestigious and exclusive suburbs. › wiki › Camberwell, Victoria.



The jigsaw pieces.

Wurundjeri, (Camberwell).

Google Earth was opened to reveal the sprawling Camberwell region, and the search began. One was looking for a house with a hipped roof form, with an additional block mass on top, located at the corner of a street and an old lane in the heritage area of this suburb. There were no plans to help identify a particular location, or any north point; just a sketched section illustrating the tricky transition between hip and the floor above, in a drawing that also showed how specific heights and more functional areas had been cleverly squeezed into the tight, approx. 565sqm site with a cunning basement.

The cross section illustrates the three levels.

The spire.

One thought that these criteria might be sufficient for a search, but this turned out to be a real ‘needle in the haystack’ task: nothing obvious could be seen. There was the thought that the aerial view of the suburb might be older than this project, meaning that the site might never be found. So the photographs of the project were revisited to search for even the slightest clue with a more inquiring, forensic eye. Most of these published images were arty parts of isolated interior or exterior details; but one external photograph held a vital reference almost as an aside – it showed a portion of a classic Victorian church spire in the background to the right of the house. One had seen this church in the earlier perusal of the suburb on Google Earth, so it was easy to find again. The most likely location for the house, one that had to be west, and a little south of the church, Trinity Presbyterian Church, was selected: it was a corner block from which this spire could have been photographed so as to appear as it did in the image. The challenge was that the building seen in the aerial view at this corner location was not the ‘Heritage House.’ Might this have been the cottage that had been demolished for this new project? One wondered what this old place might be like, so moved to Street View, only to have the new house revealed in all its glory at 27 Fermanagh Road, Camberwell, Victoria. Would one never know what the old place looked like; might be useful here?#

The most likely site.

Not the architectural 'Heritage House.'

27 Fermanagh Road, Camberwell, Victoria.

More jigsaw parts.

The neighbour.

The location was indeed full of ‘grand, historic’ Victorian cottages with coloured brickwork, frills of lace, and bold chimneys. How did this new ‘heritage’ place fit in? Might it all really be just about height, repetition in the street elevation, hipped roofs, and block forms over? If the architects were so proud of their work as to name it ‘Heritage House,’ why were they so reluctant to reveal its exact location? Surely the title begs the question: what heritage?, leaving one to wonder how the new ‘warp and weft’ – it was said to be ‘woven’ - sensitively fitted into the old?

The lane.

Street View: c.f. title image above that shows a leafy corner and a different, more 'aesthetic' letter box;
with the neighbour, and the neighbouring street posts and poles on the right all precisely framed out.

The mystery letter box: whose is it?

27 has its own 'architecturally designed' letter box.

Framed out: DX Architects do not get given any publicity!

The neighbouring sign.

The images that have been chosen to be exhibited are the cunningly framed, stylish interior details, along with a few carefully composed portions of the exterior. One is left with a suggestive set of jigsaw pieces that seek to tell one how to see the reconstructed project. Ordinary, everyday Street View vistas are avoided, even when one is told that this context is the core of the rationale for this project’s identity, shaping its unique care for place and history. Strangely, one has to rely on a chance opportunity – the appearance of the spire – to know anything more of the actual region.

One small, unintended reference defines the site.
Does the basement change the reading of this place when compared with the neighbours without one?

The jigsaw pieces.

One is left feeling sceptical about intentions here, and approaches the place with a more critical eye that tests the claims of subtlety. Architecture is far more than arty things nicely selected for the eye to pleasure on. Architecture comes to us as a lived whole; a necessary part of place that is, in turn, an integral part of the project. We see and sense place well before we discover the project, yet it seems that this vital, integral wholeness is an irrelevance; that architecture today is all style; a collage of considered, pretty fragments to drool over; a set that carries the inference that the whole can be optimistically experienced likewise, with an equivalent panache, when the assumption that the parts can define the whole may prove to be false.

If we are going to get some true substance back into architecture, it needs to do more with and for others, rather than boast about its sole, singular identity that is presented as a charming, creative wonder in spite of the neighbours. This fragmentary approach might be that of all architecture today; but here, with this project, we have the statement that this is a ‘Heritage House,’ and all that this implies. Oddly, it seems to be a house keen to boast about its sensitivity to a place that it appears to want to ignore.

Fermanagh Road.

The Street View images of Fermanagh Road, Camberwell might help fill in the gaps and assist in understanding more about this project.

Street View reveals all the daily life clutter.

The old residence at 27 Fermanagh Road that was demolished. *

# site first showed the new property, noting that it was not for sale, but that it could possibly be rented for about $930 a week (updated 18 December 2023). The next site, an older listing, showed the previous property. It was a modest brick cottage with a tiled roof on a site approximately 565 sqm, with cosy interiors and a typical ‘Australian’ backyard.

The site had more details; the old property had been last sold on 19 December 2015 for $2.5 million: current estimates placed the value at $2.5 to 3 million – last updates 18 December 2023. The site does yet not acknowledge the new house.

The typical real estate blurb is interesting. The text has been reproduced as it originally appeared:

Last Listing description (November 2015)


The plan of the old residence.
The architect has chosen not to publish any plans of the new house.



In relation to the option to do something with the old house, see: French architects, Anne Lacation and Jean-Philippe Vassal who promote the joy of reusing the old rather than demolishing it: see - (see reproduced in

Their approach is a breath of fresh air in an architectural world now concentrating on the self-importance of bespoke expression and style. One has to consider the intentions in removing the old brick home at 27 Fermanagh Road, Camberwell, with the ambitions to achieve what we see replacing it, complete with a basement – obliterating everything this little brick home once stood for. What are the differences here? What values do these desires promote/embody?

Might one say that this project is somewhat careless with both heritage and history? What has it done to the memories of what Camberwell once was with its mix of modest brick homes in amongst the decorated ladies, let alone being Wurundjeri country? Must all places become stylishly homogeneous in appearance to be desirable?


The Local Project

Woven Sensitivity – Heritage House by Wolveridge Architects

Words by Bronwyn Marshall

Architecture by Wolveridge Architects

Photography by Derek Swalwell

Build by Preferred Properties

Interior Design by Wolveridge Architects

Styling by Bland Connard Menzies

Landscape Design by Gardens By Design

Set amid character-rich surrounds, Heritage House called for a sensitive approach – one that bridges an appropriate response to place and acknowledges context. Wolveridge Architects weaves thoughtfully curated and handmade gestures throughout the home as a way to ensure the owner’s character is present as well as connect to the area’s narrative.

On approach, Heritage House appears through a meticulously landscaped entry that serves as a prelude to the considered architectural detailing and junctions within. Classical style references carry from the exterior into the interior, while the height of the home aligns with the streetscape. Wolveridge Architects pays homage to the past through an elevated approach that expresses a weighted materiality among textured and natural finishes.

On approach, Heritage House appears through a meticulously landscaped entry that serves as a prelude to the considered architectural detailing and junctions within.

Sited on a compact allotment, the form needed to make the most of the available area. The residence’s constructed environment merges seamlessly with the surrounding garden. The material palette is also grounded in a combination of dark, heritage, pressed brick, slate and grey stucco. The added second level tucks itself into the extended roofline, with dorma-type windows that peek out of the slope on one side. Bringing in light, yet not over-stimulating the retreat spaces that sit within this space, the openings allow sightlines to the surrounds yet protect privacy.

The visual narrative is one that tells a story of place and the people living within and allows the spaces to feel immersive and cocooning. Connecting multiple stories, a sculptural staircase celebrates movement while having a character of its own. Timber then brings a natural and textural component to the form and breaks up an otherwise dark material palette.

Wolveridge Architects pays homage to the past through an elevated approach that expresses a weighted materiality among textured and natural finishes.

Despite the challenges with inserting a new build among such established homes, Heritage House emerges with its own sense of identity. Wolveridge Architects brings a boldness through its contemporary interpretation of the traditional yet uses sensitivity to ensure an appropriateness of place triumphs.


Houses opposite the site.

Houses opposite the site.

Houses opposite the site.

Fermanagh Road.

The basement might conceal its bulk, but the upper level remains awkwardly obvious,
even if it maintains a matching height.

The spire acts as an unwanted landmark for this house.

The lane with the building under construction.

The cantilever out over the driveway ramp defines the thee levels.

Daily life - as it is not photographed for publication.

The spire has a defining relationship with the house only because it is there.

27's letter box.

Has the corner letter box been transformed for publication? - see title image.

The corner seems to be a good place for refuse as well as the gas meter.
The lush bush illustrated in the title image might make the meter difficult to read.

Street View captures raw, everyday life.

The road already has high, two storied buildings that stand out from the remainder of the 'lace' homes.
Why are height and style so critical?

Wurundjeri, (Camberwell, Victoria).


25 December 23

Diana Darke, Stealing From The Saracens  How Islamic Architecture Shaped Europe, C. Hurst & Co. London, 2020.

p.30 Wren, (Christopher, the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral, London), belonged to a broader and more generous time. He was a universalist, imagining the whole rather than fancying the parts.