Maybe it’s because it is reported in The Guardian; a newspaper that is almost as easy to despise as the Daily Mail though for less obvious reasons. Maybe it’s because it’s a story about a pair of French people and Brexit has just rubbed off on me even though I voted to Remain. Or maybe it’s because it just shows a complete lack of understanding (and self-awareness – bot more of that shortly) about an industry that I love.
Whatever the case, the news that French architects Lacaton & Vassal have won the Pritzker prize has simultaneously rattled my cage, ruffled my feathers and generally got my goat.
Well, that’s not entirely true. It is the reporting of the prize and, in particular, a specific quote that has caused me to come over all Angry of Wimbledon and put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard just doesn’t have the same ring, does it).
According to Lacaton & Vassal: “Demolition is a waste of energy, a waste of material and a waste of history. For us, it is an act of violence”.
Before I offer to show the two of them what an act of violence really looks like, some context.
According to The Guardian, when Lacaton & Vassal were commissioned to redesign a public square in Bordeaux, they told the client to leave it alone. They thought the square was perfectly good as it was. It just needed some new gravel.
Now setting aside the fact that they were probably paid handsomely for this insight, let us study the facts.
Their solution to the renewal of this particular square was to utilise materials torn from the Earth; virgin materials ripped from the very bosom of Mother Nature merely to satisfy the aesthetic aspirations of a pair of pontificating architects.
Elsewhere in the same article, it states that the air have built their reputations upon their desire to “stretch shoestring budgets and using simple off-the-peg materials” and to “make more and better with less”.
No-one – and I mean NO-ONE – makes more and better with less than the demolition fraternity. The industry does not destroy materials; it puts materials back into circulation. It does not require virgin materials. Instead, it places valuable recycled materials at the disposal of the very people responsible for making Lacaton & Vassal’s vision a reality.
I probably shouldn’t get so annoyed by these things. Along with suggestions that the industry still uses bulldozers or that all demolition involved either a wrecking ball or explosives, the notion that demolition is destructive is a common misconception that just refuses to die.
But the fact is that demolition does not squander; it salvages. The industry’s very livelihood often hinges upon its ability to extract maximum value from a disused or dilapidated structure; to reuse, repurpose or recycle that which others see as waste.
The fact that a TV news reporter can stand beside an excavator with the word Caterpillar emblazoned on its flank and then pronounce to the watching millions that “the JCBs have moved in” is annoying but it is forgivable. TV news reporters cannot be expected to know everything about everything, even if they do have access to Google whilst in the field.
But for two people to suggest that liberally sprinkling virgin gravel onto a Bordeaux square is somehow more noble and environmentally conscientious than using secondary materials recovered from the industrial past is an “absurdite” of the highest order.
And I am left to ponder what future generations of demolition men and women – eager to continue the sustainability drive of their present ay forebears – will make of Lacaton & Vassal’s “off the peg”materials.
What a load of “merde”.