Lola Sheppard and Mason White are the principals of Lateral Office, a design and research firm based in Toronto since 2005. The firm ranges from two to eight staff (depending on the project), but its areas of research and practice have remained consistent: bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary life, permeable political borders, and questioning conventional categories of architectural design. “We are equally moved by completed projects, unrealized work, and the entirely speculative,” White says. “They all can enter the consciousness of practice and discipline.”
We think that architects should be reactive to real-world game-changing events and interests. The larger interest of our practice has always been to pursue an architecture more entangled in its wider environment. We think pressures that are outside the building proper are exciting opportunities to reconceive architecture more generally. Designing for resilience deals not only with ecological and environmental challenges, but economic and cultural ones. We try to ask, “Can architecture become a programmatic and typological instrument for supporting these transformations?”
Our project for the Chicago Architecture Biennial is called “Making Camp”—an observation on the tradition of recreational camping. We made a very large model with five landscape conditions commonly found in mid-Canada. Within those sites, five designs offer new forms of collective camping that react to opportunities and challenges in the environment and the culture of camping. We see this as a provocation on minimal living, our over-suburbanized environment, and new notions of collectivity and nature. The myth of Canada and North America is one of retreating to the great outdoors, and camping has been the means of doing so for many people. Yet today camping is often a suburban experience in which the car, the RV, the campground, and the equipment mediate and dull one’s experience of nature. “Making Camp” seeks out a more intense and immersive experience of nature.
To us, a good idea in architecture is something that just might be possible. We hope that it pushes boundaries of what is commonly accepted as possible, without tilting toward pure fantasy. We do have ambitions to build more, but we don’t intend to sacrifice testing what architecture can do—and what an architect is—for the sake of realizing any given work. In other words, we don’t begin with “What can we build?” but rather with “What could change the way we think of our environment?” -As told to William Richards
Lateral Office is one of more than 60 official participants in the Chicago Architecture Biennial (Oct. 3, 2015–Jan. 3, 2016), sponsored in part by the AIA. Learn more at chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org.