Place Leon Aucoc
Approaching design as a means to designing nothing is a radical proposition to Architects. Lacaton & Vassal’s, Place Leon Aucuc in Bordeaux France approach this new way of thinking as a function through a context of social issues. An approach to design, that Lacaton and Vassal would agree, is creativity hindering its transcendency of understanding space. When commenting on this park, The Design Profession must question the architect’s role in understanding social impacts and environments with complexity and sustainability efforts in a consistent manner. This position considers the constraints and viewpoints of architects to differentiate a sustainable outcome that allows a minimal impact on earth’s resources and investigates the relation of intelligibility as a means of success through government and individual entities, and usefulness measured through time.
In 1996, as part of a citywide beautification effort of the Bordeaux City Council, Lacaton and Vassal were commissioned to evaluate and redesign a small triangular park. Parks are dynamic: design and accessibility hold strong ramifications for its designers and users; for social relationships of class, gender, and age; urban infrastructure; and serve as representations of the nation’s image (Balaj 2017). Following a research period in which the architects studied the interaction with the park and who the users of the public space were, they concluded that Leon Aucoc square was “already beautiful” and nothing new was necessary except an improved maintenance program of replacing the gravel, cleaning more frequently, and taking care of the trees (Lacaton, Vassal). Lacaton and Vassal’s response destabilized the ideologies of many iconic architects at the time such as Rem Koolhaas, and questioned the expected role of the architect to produce objects complicit for the sake of underlying an assumption that something was wrong. Because of this, their approach was met with hesitation from city officials. They argued that leaving the plot of land bare would underperform the established apartments surrounding it and these officials hesitated to continue an approach that felt like an inability to imagine any possible transformation as they had underlying assumptions that improving public space was more of a matter of aesthetics (Enia, Marco 2019). The architects also added an analytical approach to their decision, as they contended it was not a denial of architecture but of their role(Rachel and Mosley), they surveyed residents that were intertwined in this network of the park and provided cost procedures of designing a new park and their plan of refurbishing the maintenance of the park. It proved successful on an extensive review and the city agreed that a perceptual renewal could become architecture (Sara, Mosley 2014).
Space, whether it is enclosed by walls and a roof or by trees and benches inhibits a role of facilitating the social through the means of its environment. It is this same critical perspective of a conceptual framework that helps destabilize the ideologies of space that determine the transgressive role of a designer for the public to reveal them. Similar to Anne Lacaton & Jean-Phillippe Vassal approach, modern architects must find and conduct co-authorship with local constituents to understand the socio-culturally and economic determinants of a project. In this case, a conclusion of minimal intervention was a moment of historical preservation and investment rather than risking a new program of unwanted behavior and increasing cost. Not only that but this project was also a moment of understanding parks as simple sites of leisure or symbols of nature in the city’s urban fabric and as symbols to enhance the quality of urban life (Wallach 2012).
Apart from personal preferences and idiosyncratic desires of tabula rasa, Lacaton and Vassal were very consistent with their idea that bodies and space have an immense transgressive bond (Faiferri 2018). They clearly understood the assemblages that public spaces create and the role of aesthetics as a means of intervention. The quality, charm, and life already existed at this park (Huber 2017), and it’s the coherence of actors that determined the intelligibility of the success of the project, but it was only until the architects sought out this information, during that time, that resulted in gaining agency and tangibility of the project. Today, this project remains unmarked and continues its cleanup routine based on the architect, but with avoidance to return to the project in over two decades and a new population, this oversimplified argument suppresses various architectural possibilities and imaginations if not revisited frequently. What started as a manifesto, a study, and an inventory of public space only becomes successful if it can successfully achieve investment by the actors who are directly involved with daily. This can be seen with the reviews on the park which has been awarded sixth place in the worst-reviewed park (2021). It goes to show that relying on physical design and upkeep of public spaces does not make for good parks. It needs to adapt to the users of the space through time as a means of being useful.
Balaj, Andreea Denisa. Projekt, 2017. http://www.reduce-reuse-recycle.info/Projekt_3_0_id_122.html.
Enia, Marco, and Flavio Martella. “Reducing Architecture: Doing Almost Nothing as a City-Making Strategy in 21st Century Architecture.” Frontiers of Architectural Research 8, no. 2 (2019): 154–63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foar.2019.01.006.
Lacaton, Anne, and Jean-Philippe Vassal. lacaton & vassal. Accessed June 20, 2021. http://www.lacatonvassal.com/index.php?idp=37#.
Mosley, Jonathan, and Rachel Sara. The Architecture of Transgression. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Huber, David. “Lacaton & Vassal.” David Huber, October 4, 2017. http://davidhuber.info/lacaton-vassal-art-museums/.
Wallach, Alex. Rep. Understanding Park Usership. Netherlands, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2004.
Faiferri, Massimo. Re-Invent: Reuse and Transformation in Lacaton & Vassal’s Architecture. Trento, Italy: LIStLab, 2018.
“Place Léon Aucoc [Lacaton & Vassal, Architectes] - Park and Garden in Le Bouscat, France.” Worst rated: Parks in Le Bouscat, France. Top-rated.online, 2021. https://www.top-rated.online/cities/Le%2BBouscat/place/p/2878591/