Lateral Office's Prix de Rome

Lateral Office. Emergent North, 2010The Canada Council has announced this year's Prix de Rome: it is Lateral Office, Lola Sheppard and Mason White, who have proposed a research project called Emergent North.  They are off to Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Greenland to find and document northern settlements: 'the public realm, civic space, landscape and infrastructure emerging from a unique geography'.

Good, and grand.  At last a Prix de Rome which is not dependent on going off to Europe or Asia, and while we are at it, might we also not shed the colonial name Prix de Rome and call it Prix d'Ottawa?

There are three components of Lateral's proposal.  In Ice Road Truck Stops, ice road reinforcement mesh acts as a self-maintaining road building process and a support habitat for lake fish. 
Caribou Pivot Stations are installations which provide feeding oases for migrating caribou (which find it hard uncover moss and lichen under an increasing number of ice layers in the snow pack).  These micro-climates are made by a building which manipulates snow and wind to keep a clear feeding field throughout the winter. 
Liquid Commons is a water-borne education system of school boats that operate between eleven Nunavut settlements: the opposite to the aggregate medical and educational facilities in the north that draw people out of their communities to a central hub.

The projects are a combination of ecological, social and infrastructural propositions.  Yes there are physical things drawn out that one could call buildings, but which really are less relevant than the ambitions of each proposal.  This is profoundly political architecture, moving the very definition of architecture from stylish spatial modulations of surface – especially in the north of metal siding in bright colours, to charts of concerns and how they might be addressed.

I think it is the first significant and independent Prix de Rome we have had.