Note: This is a summary of a talk given at Postopolis!, taken in real-time, with minimal editing. Reader beware! Postopolis! was organised by BLDDBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, Subtopia, and the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, and ran from May 29th-June 2nd 2007. Flickr group for photos here. YouTube videos uploaded here. All Postopolis! posts here.
LOT-EK, represented here by Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla, are a New York-based architecture firm whose projects always seem to be bursting with ideas. I get the same buzz as from Andrew Maynard or Future Systems, say. They're witty, vital and often thrilling projects, and Lignano's and Tolla's performance here at Postopolis! is pretty much the same.
It's almost a performance piece, a tag team, working from a script, with the microphone (taped to a water bottle) switching between the two of them. When Lignano's talking, he runs through a series of rapid-fire photos, punctuated by descriptive words and concepts, too rapid-fire for me to capture, so here's a couple of quick movies from my camera. Their website currently gives a sense of the imagery - trailers, mobile homes, vernacular housing etc. 'Scuse the poor quality:
When Tolla's talking, she describes a specific project, to illustrate a particular theme,. Then, with a wry smile, she announces "LOT-EK BLOGS LOT-EK. POSSIBLE BLOG TOPICS." Here, she reflects on the issues raised in this project, posing a series of questions to themselves. Such as, "Do you really need an architect to build with shipping containers?"
Speaking of which, LOT-EK have long been associated with the 'prefab movement', perhaps unfairly, as they point out their work doesn't emerge from that angle. However, they show a couple of great projects based around modular units: one with reconfigurable shipping containers (more later); and a project in China, under construction, for which Kengo Kuma has done the masterplan.
In this latter project, as the vast development will be constructed for years, they've nodded to the construction still in progress by encasing the external structure in blue mesh, an elegant indication of 'building site'. This rectangular structure is then punctuated with housing units, almost like air-conditioning units parasitically stuck on the windows, but obliquely angled outwards. These, at various times of day, can be also used billboards or large light boxes, say.
Lignano talks again, showing a series of photographs of mobile homes, caravans, prefabs - with verbs like 'transitory', 'temporary' etc. Following this, they really get into their prefab home project, CHK (Container Home Kit), where containers are stacked and can be configured in numerous ways e.g. 640sq foot one bedroom, stack a few together and you get 1900 sq ft three bedroom etc. The particular alignment and orientation can be customised, generating a variety of configurations which can integrate relatively easily the landscape around. They say this is "Coming in 2007".
When asked about their methodology in respect to working with prefabs or containers, they state that they enjoy the process of developing "not from a blank screen", always starting with something. If you "start from an object, there is a given presence, with structure, texture, space, formal connotations... (We) always find a lot of interest in engaging with that ... in a form of dialogue with these objects. The clash between program and object is a very interesting moment."
It's not necessarily just building on the given object either: you can "violate the object, when you bend it, or modify it."
So they "enjoy the learning ... (in terms of) recycling that intelligence (inherent in the object or building), more so than just the object and the materials per se ... (and the) balance of that with a very forceful and violent injection of a new program." This is interesting. To think of existing objects, structures having an inherent intelligence and history, which you can draw from – or 'violate' – in subsequent iterations.
However, they're clearly a bit worried about being typecast in that prefab movement, or generating "recycling projects". They always get labeled with this, they complain. Indeed, their projects are wider in reference, function, and execution than that.
When asked about the 'Coming in 2007' statement, around the CHK housing project, they note they need a real business partner for this. "We are architects," Lignano says. (Is it mutually exclusive?!). He continues, "the Important thing is to convince the money people and the business to follow you ... and also vice versa. You can't just take your theoretical ideas to a world which is looking for a bottom line. You need a true collaboration."
To LOT-EK, it's increasingly Important to pursue this idea of "thinking about architecture as a product. Something you can sell as a catalogue ... CHK is the first time we're trying to make a product - a real repeatable product." So they're definitely pursuing it, but it will need to be a separate business, formally, legally.
It was good to hear some practical matters of business, and of winding business in with the creative/theoretical processes. It's interesting that our speakers from Arup and SOM, say, didn't really go near these issues – perhaps it's all too differentiated at that scale – and that these insights came from a smaller practice. Anyway, I'm a sucker for schemes like CHK so it was also good to hear their theoretical interest in adapting, and making adaptable, found objects like shipping containers.
Also, they're pretty funny.
Here's Storefront's video of their talk: