Never Demolish

John Hill
29. November 2021
Photo © Anna Mas

Curators Ilka and Andreas Ruby have transformed the Barcelona Pavilion into a domestic space — a temporary version of the EU Mies Prize-winning "Transformation of 530 Dwellings in the Grand Parc Bordeaux" by Lacaton & Vassal architectes, Frédéric Druot Architecture, and Christophe Hutin Architecture.

Never Demolish, as the intervention is titled, takes its name from the mantra that partners Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal have used throughout their careers as architects, be it when designing public spaces, cultural works, or social housing. Their most famous "never demolish" project is the award-winning Transformation of 530 Dwellings - Grand Parc Bordeaux that they did with architects Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin, and which won them the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award in 2019 and was highlighted in the announcement of the duo winning the 2021 Pritzker Architecture Prize. The project added four-meter deep winter gardens to the facades of three social housing buildings in Bordeaux, France, dating to the 1960s.

Ilka and Andreas Ruby, who nearly ten years ago curated an exhibition on Tour Bois le Prêtre, a similar transformation done by Lacaton and Vassal with Druot, contend that large-scale housing projects from the 1960s and 70s "can have a second life that's better than their first, through sensible renovation – enlarging the spaces and improving living standards." Never Demolish uses the Transformation of 530 Dwellings "as a potential model for the social and physical rehabilitation of the mass-housing estates of modernism," inserting a simulation of the project into the Barcelona Pavilion, famously designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich as the German Pavilion for the Barcelona International Exhibition. The juxtaposition of the two projects is explored through the below images.

The curators inserted a parallel "long wall" between the existing glass wall, at left, and famous onyx wall, at right, bisecting the pavilion space into winter garden, seen here, and apartment, on the other side of the temporary wall. (Photo © Anna Mas)
The curators displayed a floor plan of the installation during a panel discussion at COAC on November 26 that coincided with the opening of the exhibition. (Photo: Screenshot)
The new wall is covered with large-scale photographs of the actual apartments and winter gardens in Bordeaux as well as the views from their windows, helping to immerse people into versions of those spaces. (Photo © Anna Mas)
Ilka and Andreas Ruby removed the pavilion's iconic red curtain in favor of a silvery one as used in Bordeaux. (Photo © Anna Mas)
Old furniture, live plants, and other objects are placed in the pavilion alongside photos of the same to bring the domestic realm of the Bordeaux transformation to Barcelona. (Photo © Anna Mas)
The view from next to the onyx wall reveals the space of the apartment, defined by the blue curtain, and that of the winter garden beyond. (Photo © Anna Mas)
Here is a view of the actual Grand Parc Bordeaux project, looking toward the winter garden from inside an existing apartment. (Photo: Philippe Ruault)
Similar to the previous photo, Never Demolish frames photographic views of the actual winter gardens between blue curtains spread across the temporary wall. (Photo © Anna Mas)
The narrow space between the onyx wall and the temporary wall with blue curtains replicates the living space of one of the apartments in Bordeaux. (Photo © Anna Mas)
The domestic nature of the intervention is most pronounced where a sofa sits opposite a television... (Photo © Anna Mas)
...inviting visitors to sit down for a while and get a sense of a place — the transformation of Grand Parc Bordeaux — that they would not experience otherwise. (Photo © Anna Mas)
Lastly, here is a photo of curator Ilka Ruby and architect Anne Lacaton during the opening of Never Demolish. (Photo © Anna Mas)
Never Demolish is on display at the Barcelona Pavilion (Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7, 08038 Barcelona) from November 26 to December 16, 2021.

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