Place Léon Aucoc - Bordeaux - France
In 1996 the Bordeaux City Council proposed an “embellishment” plan for the many town squares. It was in this situation that Lacaton and Vassal received the task of refurbishing the Place Leon Aocuc, in the quartier of the Gare Saint-Jean.
The triangular shaped square, surrounded by trees, with benches and a space to play petanque, was already “extremely beautiful”.
Giving that the whole neighbourhood was recognized as being authentic an “excellent example of estate architecture and of collective public housing” with sober, well designed houses that align along the street, the office adopted a reserved attitude towards the concept of refurbishing it.
“Then we asked ourselves about a development project of this square with a view on its embellishment. But this place was already beautiful. There is no urgent need for intervention.” However, the decision of “doing nothing” and simply maintaining what exists is a position that one needs to argument better than any intervention, especially in a situation where the Council expects a “new image” of the city and its neighbourhoods. Their research was based on a weekly site visit for four months, to identify what makes this space already beautiful.
“It is not about refusing to do something, but we consider that the work of an architect is not only to build, the first task is to think, and only after that are you able to say whether you should build or not. Very often you have to build but sometimes not.”
Rather than taking this opportunity to manifest one’s architectural talent and skills and choosing to adopt a certain style or manner of intervention, their approach was a rather thoughtful one. Acknowledging the quality of what is there and facing the fact that through a refurbishment, a “new image” these qualities would be lost, is what make their attitude solid. One of the most challenging tasks is to observe honestly and analyze correctly the present situation. If there is any quality, even non-architectural, but that depends on architecture, one needs to try to keep it.
“We’re always curious about what we are going to find. We think that there is a lot of potential in what already exists. Every existing situation has its own special quality, and you have to take your time and be curious in order to understand it.”
As mentioned before, such attitude needs to be strongly argumented and motivated, as clients expect an actual project of “building something” and make one understand that sometimes, just because it already exists for a while doesn’t mean it doesn’t work anymore, or it lost its value.
[project selected by Andreea Denisa Balaj]