By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Gazette

Image courtesy of Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Around 1980, two young architects finished their training in Bordeaux, France, and moved to Nigeria. In that African nation’s remote regions, they were inspired by the simple structures they saw amid the stark, stunning desert landscapes. The houses were open to the air, had utilitarian thatched roofs, and were made with bits of local wood. Modesty prevailed in structures that also invited beauty.

The lessons of building in Africa stayed with Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal in their Paris-based practice, Lacaton & Vassal: use what is there, stay simple, embrace open air, and honor light, freedom, and grace. They practice social architecture based on economy, modesty, and the found beauty of environments.

“Africa was probably our second school” after Bordeaux, said Vassal. While in Nigeria, they worked on town planning and traveled to marvel at indigenous building practices. “It [was] a fantastic liberty to live there.”

Their belief in social architecture, shaded by a sense of African resourcefulness and economy, now embraces the overlooked utility and unseen loveliness of abandoned buildings, neglected public housing, rundown outdoor plazas, and overgrown urban forests that are at risk from a lack of imagination and coarse development.

The architects brought their message to the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in a picture-filled, poemlike evening lecture on March 24 in Gund Hall’s Piper Auditorium.

Read the entire article on Harvard Gazette.