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Lacaton & Vassal: FRAC in Dunkerque…

November 27, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

P1080483Last weekend and rather last minute, we got up early, drove down to Folkestone, boarded Le Shuttle to cross the channel and headed off to Dunkerque.

We’d initially planned to go earlier in the year. Unluckily for us however, we’d opted for the ferry and chosen that weekend in the middle of February when violent storms lashed the south coast, cancelling crossings and causing long delays on the roads… So this time we decided to go underwater and avoid any potential weather problems.

Dunkerque is a nice enough place with amazingly long, clean beaches, an impressive cathedral, interesting dockland areas and the moving legacy of its role in World War Two. On the down side, Sunday’s wet weather and the town’s total inability to offer us a single open shop to stay dry in, made us wish we’d booked an earlier train home and did much to ensure we’re unlikely to go back.

Walking along wind swept beaches aside, the main reason for choosing Dunkerque, was to visit the recently opened FRAC building by the Parisian practice of Lacaton & Vassall, and what treat it was too…

aerail_red dot

FRAC is a regional contemporary art fund and the northern region needed a new home. So it was in the tradition of Grand Projects that the French are rightly famed and admired for, that the apparently largest possible option was chosen…

Halle AP2 is the rather perfunctory name of the huge existing building. Historically used for boat and ship building (although empty and unused in recent times) and despite its size, slightly lost in the seemingly endless docklands, Lacaton & Vassal’s decision to keep this magnificent space exactly as found is a fantastically generous move, creating a space not unlike the Tate Turbine hall, but in somewhere akin to Folkestone…

The new programme of works (galleries, a cafe, workshops, a cinema and other function spaces) are all housed in an adjacent building that visually occupies the same volume as the existing, and adopts the same shape, but is finished in a thin and translucent skin compared to the massive envelope of the existing.


Inside the finishes are industrial and beautifully made. Through the use of concrete, prefabricated steel, glass and inflatable translucent panels, the architects have created an impressive building, at once respectful of the existing and its industrial past whilst still being utterly contemporary.


Unfinished at the time of our visit was a bridge linking the gallery directly to the beach, another big gesture that will allow visitors to avoid the rather barren acres of Dunkerque’s empty docklands.


Talking of visitors, when we were there, we virtually had the place to ourselves. I’ve no idea know how the economics of such an ambitious scheme as this work, but hopefully more people will go in the summer…


The only slight disappointment was the contents of the galleries. Contemporary art will always be a challenging thing, but there’s usually something that makes you stop and think. Not so with the exhibitions we saw, which were universally derivative and thin.


So whilst the current state of French contemporary art leaves much to be desired in my opinion, its architecture appears healthy and exciting, and very safe in the hands of Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal.

More here on Dezeen…



  1. Arch
    November 28, 2014 at 08:06

    Looks great.

    • November 29, 2014 at 12:25

      Cheers matey.. How’s tricks?

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