Co.Design

A Poetic Idea For Living Atop The Shifting Snows Of The Arctic

Toronto-based firm Lateral Office proposes new building typologies for the changing landscape near the Arctic—a city built on top of 4,500 wooden dowels.

Yes, the Arctic permafrost is thawing, Tea Party talking points notwithstanding, as sinkholes and capsized houses provide some very obvious visual evidence of a changing landscape. But what kind of structures should be built, then, when the ground is unstable in unpredictable ways? This question led the Toronto-based architectural firm Lateral Office, run by Mason White and Lola Sheppard, to offer a potential solution by building a model Arctic city on top of thousands of wooden dowels, high above the land.

The model contains five separate typologies directly tied to the needs of northern cities—the "next north," as they call the area that will be soon open for development if the warming continues at current levels. One is a combination airport and hospital system for more efficient evacuations and lifts; another is a caribou station that will allow the animals to scrape away the tundra surface and get at the grasses beneath. Still another is an ice road truck stop that harvests electricity from the tidal waters beneath the ice.

Part of the "Landscape Futures" exhibition going on now at the Nevada Museum of Art (previous coverage here), the installation is actually smaller than the studio exhibited at the Cambridge Galleries earlier this year, which had 20,000 wooden dowels. But the point is the same, says curator Geoff Manaugh, who articulates a theme that runs through the exhibition. "What forms of architecture are appropriate for a radically shifting landscape?" he asks. "And, if the landscape itself is shifting, dynamic, and unpredictable, what does that do to the architectural forms we build upon it?" In these examples, he says, the architecture becomes more interactive and adaptive, intended for an unstable earth.

See more information about the exhibition here.

[Images courtesy of Jamie Kingham]

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