Lecture Recap :: Mason White


photo from www.holcimfoundation.org
Written by Alyce Packard, BID candidate

Mason White helped create an experimental design practice with Lola Sheppard called Lateral Office in 2003. White is an Assistant Professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, & Design at the University of Toronto and he has also taught at Harvard University, Cornell University, Ohio State University, and California College of the Arts. He was interested in creating Lateral Office because he is convinced that there are new roles for architecture out there. He thinks that we do not know because we are not really looking.

Lateral Office is a small firm consisting usually of 5 or 6 people. Some things they believe are: “design as a research vehicle to pose and respond to complex, urgent questions in the built environment,” and  engaging in the “wider context and climate of a project– social, ecological, or political.” Lateral office is working towards creating an architecture that is using today's technology. Their recent work focuses on the design relationships between public realm, infrastructure, and the environment.

White broke up his lecture into four chapters. Chapter zero was "Architect as a Detective," chapter one was "Post Natures," chapter two was "Wiring Enviornment," and chapter three was "From Site to Territory."

Mason says that there are two types of architects, those who wait for the phone to ring and those who create a need for the phone to ring. As the title of chapter zero says, he looks at architects as detectives. He gave us an example of how to research something, "You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don't know where the f*** it's gonna take you." -Detective Lester Freamon (The Wire).

Photo from archidose.org
Eventually, they developed something called Bracket which is a collaboration of Archinect and InfraNetLab. Bracket is "an annual publication documenting issues overlooked yet central to our cultural milieu that have evolved out of the new disciplinary territory at the intersection of architecture, environment and, now, digital culture." Their first issue which was influenced by the farmer's almanac is called On Farming. Like the farmer's alamanac, it is a prediction. On Farming is a collection of about 40 projects and it does not confine itself to buildings or finished projects. This publication doesn't just push one idea, it embraces multiple approaches to thinking about food in our future.

This next section was about water economies and ecologies. It looks at the big picture, and finds a role in which to participate. They wanted to start big so they looked at an over view of North America, where was population growth happenening the most? They found a valley in California that had a high demand on water. They discovered that population growth was in one of the driest regions. Why was it so dry? Because they had to get water into places like Southern California and L.A. and the only source of water they had was the Colorado River.

They then discovered the Salton Sea which was actually an enviornmental accident which slowly shrinks everyday. This sea is actually just a collection of agricultural runoff. The "All American Canal" feeds the Imperial Valley agriculture and then that runoff fills the Salton Sea. The problem is that the water is too salinated so the fish die and then the birds that ate those fish die. This was an inadvertant coast and it was once a tourist hotspot. The new question was, how could they let this thing die?

They thought about damming it up and letting parts of it dry up but when they did this with the Owen's Lake, all of the water dried up and it left behind way too much salt. This salt caused a huge health issue and ended up being a waste of money to over engineer something. Lateral Office felt that it was their job to come up with a solution. They wondered if they could create something that dilated itself according to oppurtunites.

They decided that each coast should have an identity. They needed a new shoreline interface, they needed to harvest fresh water and to separate the salt, and they needed a new land based program. Their solution was to create sets of pools on the water. There were four different kinds of pools and each one of them served a purpose either for habitat, harvesting, recreation, and production.

This is just one example that Mason White had time to explain of the many projects that Lateral Office has worked on. To see more of their work or learn more about them, check out their website at Lateraloffice.com.