UPDATE: Our interview with Lateral Office is now up!
For this year's Venice Biennale, the Canadian Pavilion explored the ways modernity was absorbed in the extreme environment of Nunavut, Canada. As Nunavut is the newest, northernmost, and largest territory (with an area of over 2 million square kilometers) in Canada, Lateral Office hoped to shed on light on what Mason White called "modernity at an edge." Wowing the jury with their research and design, Arctic Adaptaptions: Nunavut at 15 garnered Mason White, Lola Sheppard, Matthew Spremulli, and their team a Special Mention during Saturday's awards ceremony.
The geographic and cultural "edgeness" of Nunavut is examined over different parts of the exhibition in three mediums: a recent past, a current present and a near future. Matthew Spremulli explained that Arctic Adaptions sought to "look beyond standards" to see how the fundamentals of architecture are impacted in an area like Nunavut. Given the specific and acutely unique challenges to building and designing in an environment that, understandably, resists being colonized by southern models, the curators presented a case for adaptation.
The curators begin by introducing the little-known Nunavut via a series of maps and diagrams. The other three parts of the exhibition are communicated through models since the team wanted to convey a degree of physicality. Mason White said that "Model making, in general, as a goal for the entire exhibition, was a powerful shared ground across disciplines and cultures that communicates in an equal way."
In the first part, twelve pockets, recessed into the wall, hold twelve soapstone carvings made by Inuit artists. The soapstone representations were based on scale-drawings provided by Lateral Office.
The second part, "Nunavut Settlements," documents the current conditions of 25 coastal communities. Made of Corian, they document every single building in Nunavut and show the respective relationships between settlements and the water. Each community is also documented in a photograph; these pictures were sourced from the community itself through photography competitions. Through these models and photographs, one begins to understand just how difficult the lack of modern connectivity and transport affects health care, education, etc..
Presenting a speculative projection of a 15 year future, the third section, "Nunavut Futures," responds to these issues of education, health, housing, recreation and arts.
Arctic Adaptations celebrates the possibilities for new solutions in an environment which has not absorbed modernity so much as it has adapted to it. By re-questioning many of the fundamental aspects of the current architectural character that grew in Nunavut's first 15 years as an organized territory, the curators deliver tools for imaging the potential for architecture in edge conditions.
From the Official Catalog of 14th International Architecture Exhibition. Modernity is often fearful of the specificities of place and the premise of "the local." Yet in a place with sometimes little to no daylight, temperatures averaging below freezing, no roads, and a people that live out on the land, modernity is pushed to its limits. A host of contextual particularities seems to resist modernism's universalizing agenda.
The climate, geography, and people of the Canadian Arctic challenge the violability of a universalizing modernity. Following the ages of exploration in the twentieth century, modern architecture encroached on this remote and vast region of Canada, sometimes in the name of sovereignty, aboriginal affairs management, resources, or trade, among others. However, the Inuit have inhabited the Canadian Arctic for millennia as a traditionally semi-nomadic people. Inuit relations with Canada have been fraught with acts of neglect, resistance, and negotiation. Throughout the last seventy-five years, architecture, infrastructure, and settlements have been the tools for these acts. People have ben relocated; trading posts, military infrastructure, and research stations have been built; even small settlements are now emerging as Arctic cities. Some have described powerful traits among its people--adaptation and resilience. Nowhere is the trait of adaptation in the face of modernity better exemplified than Canada's newest, largest, and most northerly territory: Nunavut. Nunavut, which means "our land," was separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999, following a land claims agreement established in 1993. Today, there are almost 33,000 people living in twenty-five communities in Nunavut, across two million square kilometers. Communities range in population from 120 in the smallest hamlet to 7,000 in Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, in a region above the tree line and with no roads connecting communities.
Arctic Adaptions: Nunavut at 15 surveys a recent architectural past, a current urbanizing present, and a projective near future of adaptive architecture in Nunavut. The exhibition documents architectural history in this remarkable but relatively little known region of Canada, describes the contemporary realities of life in tis communities, and examines a projective role for architecture moving forward. It argues that a modern Inuit culture continues to evolve that merges the traditional and the contemporary in unique and innovative ways. Can architecture, which has largely failed this region both technically and socially, be equally innovative and adaptive?