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A CONVERSATION WITH: LATERAL OFFICE

MASON WHITE LOLA SHEPPARD MATTHEW SPREMULLI

KERB 21

PG. 53

LATERAL OFFICE

How did Knowledge Clouds come about?

LS – We should put it in context and say that it’s part of a suite of projects that has been ongoing now for three years. We have been looking at the role of infrastructures and networks in the north, how there are some cultural resources that might be shared among the pioneers and first communities. Knowledge Clouds came out of an observation that Canada, as a circumpolar nation, is the only nation that doesn’t have a university in its north. The reasons for that are multiple: partly political, but largely there isn’t the population to sustain one or more permanent campuses in the north and so the project began as a question of ‘Could one rethink the university in the context of geography, climate, and because of the meeting of many very different and unique cultures?’ MS – What is interesting about the Canadian North is that you have a lot of different stakeholders that are bringing knowledge and trying to gain knowledge for different reasons – observation, scientific knowledge along the lines of development, and resource extraction. Part of Knowledge Clouds is the ability for all of these different stakeholders of knowledge to have some kind of platform or infrastructure, to find common ground and collaborate. By having a moving campus or moving faculties in temporary locations, you are able to collaborate with these different stakeholders at different times; these meeting grounds become sites for the cross-pollination of knowledge. LS – Part of the project started to be about imagining new forms of academic curriculum that would be a hybrid of academic knowledge and ‘on the ground’ knowledge: knowledge that comes from either the Inuit or from researchers measuring the ice or observing mammals. So, in effect, there’s a curriculum itself that would bring together different modes of learning.

Right: Photograph of campus cluster with animated model showing the changes in environmental conditions: the movement of wind, the accumulation of snow, the freezing and thawing of ice. Photo by Jesse C. Jackson

Through these kinds of networks. the site could be described as predominantly a route of travel from a departure to a destination. MS – There are so many people bringing different agendas. more broadly. It’s like looking back at an awkward finger-painting and discovering an idea in them that you’re still not finished with. MS . and part of this research is defined by accidents and loopholes or the places where the system either doesn’t work or where there’s actually opportunity within the system that’s overlooked. MW – We have a real interest in where the site of a project begins or ends. Our ambition for the studio. as we’re all trained as architects. very plastic. The fact is. 54 UNCHARTERED TERRITORIES KERB 21 PG. and that’s where a lot of our innovations come from. it forces you to adapt.We’re ten years old as a studio. The deployable. It’s something that a lot of other northern-polar countries do for similar reasons. that these sorts of designs that can shift across scales. also. as well. Innovation isn’t change for the sake of change. You can operate at a territorial scale without necessarily building bigger or more. marking a temporary campus. like parks and urban infrastructure? LS – This idea of network. I think that’s a genuine question for the studio. there’s something very simplistic about that question that it almost sounds as if it is at the very foundation of design questions to ask. which was never named after our identities.There is an aboriginal culture and innumerable cultural anthropologists and environmental scientists. Below: View of classroom unit being air-lifted to site. why was it so import to have a degree-granting institute in the north? MW . physical or ephemeral. was to embrace a kind of flat and horizontal form of practice. the ability for the design to adapt and respond to change – it might be pragmatic. a planning-based practice. In the interview for Landscape Futures. whereby planning has specifically been an idea of finite or fixed designs. and innovation comes during improvement upon articulating a response to a question. But I think the terms disaggregate and aggregate are really acknowledging an alternate practice. The studio wasn’t about individual identities. mobile university capitalises on the technology of airships to airlift equipment for the northern mines. MW . you speak about designs that can aggregate and disaggregate as necessary. you have these powerful contradictions of extreme science. people at the top of their fields. quite small interventions can start to engage and transform how a much larger territory operates. LS . this plan can then become malleable and adaptable. occupying this remote landscape. We’re very flexible. The idea of local knowledge and the idea of a gathered database of knowledge – I think there is a likeness between these two that has been overlooked.This idea of aggregating and disaggregating a form of practice that relates to dynamism or.Because we’re interested in this large scale. but the overlapping interest in landscape architecture and the respect we have for the discipline has come out of this general initial investigation of h. . It makes sense that there is a local knowledge base and a degree knowledge base that is from the north and for the north. We’re now working under a more structured practice that was really critical. but a friction we were hoping to try to excite and find synergies between. to form a cluster of teaching classrooms.When you’re confronted with issues of program. We were wondering how you balance a consistency of practice in which there’s an expectation of what you are going to do and what is going to be produced. The powers of local knowledge are a way to balance new interest and knowledge coming in with speculation for the future. LS . I would argue that one needs to start to think about something that can transform and respond or even risk megalomania. it’s understanding the question being asked in a more profound way. environmental or weather-based responses. So there’s this powerful friction. like specifics of site and climate. climatic conditions or demands of its users. architecture and infrastructure working at a territorial scale underpins many of our projects. either you’re building massive things and I can see failed projects in that realm or you find an alternate way of thinking about how you can engage.Another thing that has interested us is the idea that a structure or intervention might have an impact beyond its immediate context. We are humbled by the fact that landscape architects take an interest in our work. I think consistency comes out of recognising those foundational questions.CONVERSATION: PG. including the various regional campuses themselves. sea mammals and all kinds of patterns. How might this insight into the Arctic inform other projects in your practice that are not related at all to the Arctic. studying ice flows. naïve way. And then there are people who have occupied that land for thousands of years. Aggregating and disaggregating is an alternate approach to planning.All of our projects start with a lot of research. I think that the innovations have come out of the initial impressions that were there from the very beginning of ititiating a design collaboration in that wonderfully awkward. The network for infrastructure can respond and react to programmatic demands. rather. If you operate at a huge scale. The Knowledge Clouds project embodies that powerfully because it has site-specificity in the enclosure of the structure. The territory of the whole northern Arctic in the case of Knowledge Clouds means you need alternate tools to engage and respond to sites of that scale. How did you determine that this was the most appropriate approach? MW . LS . 55 LATERAL OFFICE There are so many other places that you could intervene. We’re interested in design systems and elements that can be combined in various ways to provide a general strategy. These labs or classrooms can be adjusted to be site-specific.

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architecture. outside the scope of architecture. broadly speaking. It seemed like a tug of war between urban design and landscape and. The downside is that there is no deadline to it. I sort of think we have no choice. we’re asking much larger questions like ‘How do we interface with our environment?’ This is what we’re exploring within our work. but more about the new potentials if we expand our scope of design – what new horizons – maybe this draws back to your question of new territories. LS . I was hoping to lay claim to the territory of infrastructure.Design competitions were a really fruitful early investigation for the studio. Above: Map of proposed mobile Arctic University network showing classrooms moving in response to community needs. Through the diagrams. did you have something that you wanted to add. there is a form of detective work being done in the design-research work in the Canadian North. an economist would be called the architect of the Euro or something to that effect. across those camps mentioned by Mason. My profound hope is that they bring this curiosity and willingness to engage in issues that are challenging. but I remain optimistic that there will be a shift in the bulk of things that architects tackle. landscape seemed to want to be more urban design-ey. For architects. We’re looking for interesting experiential research–based overlaps that produce new territories. Also there was a openness by which the term architect was being ascribed to many different kinds of people. Mason. we’ve found it more fruitful to generate our own work. . but then. and we were able to move forward and develop a second phase and that was a valuable operation. being an architect. there will be a shift. extending the role of architects and how we might pre-empt the project rather than come in at the tail end. LS – One thing we are very conscious of recognising is when a problem has a spatial or architectural implication or when it’s really an issue of policy or legislation. We are actively seeking these overlaps of things that may be left behind in a kind of systemic research. Lola and Matthew. The glory of trying to actually win the competition was a false hope so we gave up. so we could almost say the rules of engagement are still being written and that’s a powerful place to be operating. you can be sued if you call yourself an architect without actually carrying that licence. Another interesting idea that we’ve been drawing from lately is that the designer is also one part detective. How do you set about finding your work? Do you follow your heart and find someone who will pay you for it. or do you find a brief and then turn it into something that you are interested in? MW . lately. in terms of scale and complexity. you reference it as this idea of a ‘new frontier’. that an architect did have a stake within infrastructure and its design investigation. they fit under the categories of design in the public realm and design related to infrastructure. but I think it will be very slow. maybe the role and the sites where architects intervene – I don’t know to what degree this is wishful thinking and to what degree I fully believe this will happen – I think there’s a kind of generation of young architects being trained in school that are asking some really good questions. I was trying to locate the term infrastructure. we have been interested in working in these territories that have been overlooked by design professions. Can you explain the diagrams you used to locate disciplines? MW . In North America. and those are. I think there would be some – the Reykjavik urdban design project was one – in which we were shortlisted from a very large group. If we take the project Caribou Pivot Station. I was trying to write about this as a useful thing rather than a problem. This brought up the possibility that there was this internal feeding happening within the various disciplines. as well as curricular opportunities to pursue studies in the field.From the start. of course. architecture wanted to be more landscape-y. and urban design wanted to be more architectural. Previous page: View of classroom cluster showing units raised to provide protected entry and offer space for equipment storage. but that it is a really truthful opening up or acknowledging of the possibility of the role of an architect.When you describe the Arctic. Through projects and research. They were useful for their deadlines. well. in some ways. In very a popular medium such as the newspaper. which is the traditional model. Opposite page: Section of classroom showing integration of local and imported building technologies. Some of the responses might be. one part scientist. we came across your article ‘Disciplinary Thievery’ and it reminded us of when we were trying to get a spatial understanding of the discipline of landscape architecture. But I think. It’s less about ‘this is how we should interpret things for our environment’. There is a freedom to say that noone really knows what to do in this context.About five years ago. leading on from the last question? How might design continue on its current trajectory – do you envisage a grand shift? LS – I think. Of course. an early observation was that certain caribou species were disappearing for assorted reasons. Responding to those terms more directly is what matters. We haven’t been teaching for enough decades to have a sense of how different that is from ten or twenty years ago. What we’re interested in is this role of detective. you need to change the policy or you need to change the environmental pollution happening in those regions. MW – In a way. How do you identify these new territories? MS – Our projects are posing questions in their most honest way. Let’s say. there was this interesting envy happening within the design disciplines of other disciplines.