Architectural journalist Chris Foges also suggests looking to Paris for inspiration for the 2021 Davidson Prize, nominating an ambitious retrofit of a 1961 tower block from architects Frédéric Druot and Lacaton & Vassal. In 2011 they wrapped the Tour Bois-le-Prêtre in a 3m-deep carapace of insulating winter gardens, balconies and glazed extensions, giving residents more space at a lower economic and environmental cost than a rebuild.
‘It’s still a great example of design intelligence,’ says Foges. ‘The concept is elegantly simple but to realise it the architects had to challenge local planning rules, rewrite building regulations, negotiate a different rent regime and devise a construction system that allowed residents to remain in situ. Anne Lacaton’s observation at the time was that ‘design’ (in its narrow sense) was the least difficult part.
‘Bois-le-Prêtre shows what’s possible when a project has a clear agenda and a wide scope,’ argues Foges, ‘It also has direct relevance to the many public housing schemes of the same age in the UK now facing the threat of demolition. As Lacaton also pointed out – more costs less than less.’