A Master of Architecture student's transformative experience in France

29 June 2023

Global experience broadens students' creative horizons

Embarking on a journey of a lifetime, Master of Architecture students travelled to France to explore the work and inspirations of architects Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal, as part of a research studio led by the superstar duo.

Rothwell Co-Chair Jean Philippe Vassal with Master of Architecture student Lauren Li

The ARCH9040 Rothwell Research Studio: Living in the City elective offered students a unique and immersive overseas experience. Guided by Rothwell Co-Chairs Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal, and coordinated by Senior Lecturer Catherine Lassen with Dr Hannes Frykholm, the studio allowed students to deepen their learning through exploration of innovative housing projects and distinctive public buildings.

Lauren Li, a Master of Architecture student, set off for France eager to meet the Pritzker Prize laureates and to experience the rich architectural heritage of Paris.

Over nine days, Lauren and her classmates visited a variety of inspiring architectural sites across France, including several Lacaton and Vassal projects. 

Master of Architecture students gathering at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris

Moving out of the studio and into these spaces gave students a deeper understanding of the architects’ philosophy.

“It was surreal to visit their buildings while gaining firsthand insights into their design rationale and decision-making process,” reflects Lauren.

Visiting social housing projects like Ivry-sur-Seine and Cité du Grand Parc provided students with a profound understanding of the possibilities for sustainable and socially inclusive architecture that is sensitive to its environment and inhabitants.

Lauren recounts her visit to Ivry-sur-Seine as a particularly eye-opening experience. Guided by residents, she observed the distinctiveness and personalisation of each unique housing unit, which defy the standard mass design approach for social housing.

“We saw how the architecture of Ivry-sur-Seine played a pivotal role in fostering a socially inclusive community.” 

Hans-Walter Müller Maison

During her time in France, Lauren was taken aback by the sheer depth and breadth of knowledge she acquired in a short span of time. Each day brought unique opportunities to visit various locations and engage in exceptional learning encounters, thanks to the guidance of Anne and Jean Philippe.

One experience that left an indelible mark on Lauren was the visit to Hans-Walter Müller's House. Nestled in a secluded forest near La-Ferté-Alais, the inflatable house was a testament to architectural ingenuity.

Hans-Walter Müller pictured inside his inventive inflatable home.

 “We were given a tour of Hans’ house and marvelled at all the varying unique elements; there was an inflatable guest house, a large ‘bubble’ workshop with an underground apartment, movable floors, picturesque garden areas, and even an underground fireplace.”

From exploring the unique elements of the house to engaging in conversations and laughter, the experience opened her eyes to the importance of joy and imagination.

“It was truly an unforgettable and magical experience,” describes Lauren.

Since returning from the research studio, Lauren has found her interactions with Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal to be transformative.

"The most important thing I learned from Anne and Jean Philippe was the significance of devoting considerable time and effort to comprehend the intricacies of a given site before designing," Lauren shares.

The experience has led Lauren to integrate newfound perspectives into her work, allowing her to approach architectural practice with a deeper understanding of people, site, and design longevity.

“It is only with this knowledge and understanding that you can then design with generosity and kindness, and design sensitively to the site and its inhabitants,” reflects Lauren.

ARCH9040 Master of Architecture students with Rothwell co-chairs Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal, Senior Lecturer Catherine Lassen and Dr Hannes Frykholm

Images supplied by Lauren Li.

The Rothwell Chair in Architectural Design Leadership is made possible by a major gift from alumni Garry and Susan Rothwell. The Rothwell Chair program includes the Rothwell Chair appointment, postdoctoral research appointments, research scholarships and a public program inviting distinguished architects to lead student-focussed activities and/or public lectures.

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