Liberating Architecture

architects Jean-Philippe Vassal, Anne Lacaton
project Le Grand Sud Polyvalent Theatre, Lille, France
written by Dominique Boudet


There is something fascinating in the work of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal. Regardless of the program, site and of the conditions in which they develop a project, in each of their projects they manage to display their panoply of incongruous elements, such as greenhouses, polycarbonate and corrugated aluminium sheets. And each time we are surprised by the intelligence and clarity of the project which is as much
functional as it is architectonic. In their recent project, a polyvalent cultural centre situated in a park in the suburb of the city of Lille, Lacaton and Vassal have once again demonstrated their ability to address the constraints that they encounter while working on a project (one of which, in this particular project, implied burying the building underground, leaving only two façades facing the exterior). The Lille project is yet another example of their successful combination of functionality and architectural lightness. Behind the long façades (composed of narrow greenhouses made out of etfe cushions), underneath the layer of greenerystretches a place unique in its flexibility and in the diversity of programmes and activities that it can accommodate simultaneously. Various events such as symphony concerts and wedding receptions can be held at the venue, and the following day the entire building can be used to host a roller skating championship. This specific public space that unifies cultural and social activities is also commonly known as Le Grand Sud; soon after it had been put into service, the centre became an important reference point for this type of polyvalent structures. Le Grand Sud has been regularly visited by architects (architects from American studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro have recently paid it a visit) as well as by those appointed to develop similar facilities. This has been achived without an architectural tour de force. The building’s interior is a system of concrete beams, mobile partitions and telescopic seating. On the exterior, the long façades of Le Grand Sud give it an impressive appearance, yet at the same time the structure blends effortlessly into the surroundings, engaging in brief dialogue with the park.