Objective: Design and build a temporary installation for Ottawa’s first annual Nuit Blanche Art Festival

Response: The ultra-temporary nature of the one night event lead us to explore the potential for meaning in ephemeral architecture while embracing the convenience of conventional building materials and techniques. The lamellar structure was CNC cut from twelve sheets of rough-cut spruce plywood and fastened with nothing more than standard plastic cable ties. After disassembly we were invited to adapt the project for a slightly more permanent position at the school of architecture. Using the same lamella pieces, we simply replaced the fasteners with a more lasting connection in stainless steel bolts and created a new skin comprised of typical 1 x 4 spruce lumber. Each build was completed in one day by the three team members with little more than simple hand tools.

The Lamella is an expression of the optimism that activates our critical approach to both architecture and architectural education. Designed as a temporary and re-locatable shelter, the structure is meant to use the public’s natural curiosity to combat the occasional esoteric nature of the design community. Erected first as a part of Ottawa’s inaugural Nuit Blanche Art Festival, we saw an opportunity to demonstrate architecture as a democratic component of our culture. The site was located directly next to one of the city’s larger homeless shelters while the festival attracted artists, academics and the like. This was not our attempt at small scale social engineering, but a celebration of the most fundamental human qualities that not only do we all share, but that architecture can appeal to.

The shear informality of the one-day build entertained the most eclectic of audiences. It truly engaged us and our process with the community in a meaningful way. Some people were curious about the construction, and some about the concept. Some folks wanted to know who we were and some were just glad to have a seat that was sheltered from the rain. It was these moments that cannot be communicated through writing or photos, and quite honestly, would not hold the same meaning if it was not for the ultra-temporary nature of the structure.

Following the one night festival, it was deconstructed in thirty minutes and brought to the Azrieli School of Architecture. Fabricated with the intent of reconstructing it in a variety of places, we wanted to test the same ideas in a completely different context. The Architecture building exists on the Carleton Campus as somewhat of a mystery to many. Students and Faculty have often displayed a ‘Fountainhead’ attitude — almost proud of the building’s precious social autonomy. We saw an opportunity to at least hint at a more inviting character with the installation of the structure under the front entrance canopy of the building. The space was a strange space — although clearly outdoors and in the public realm, it was rarely occupied by anyone except the odd smoking architecture student. If common interest brought together PhD’s and homeless people in our last build, we imagined it could operate in a similar manner for our school and the rest of campus. Following another one-day build, that curiosity quickly began to emerge. People began to look and [eventually] inhabit the space. As time went on, the structure went from being a new and fresh spectacle to becoming a familiar occupied space that was regularly enjoyed. What began as an exercise in simply going beyond classroom, evolved into an invaluable lesson in teamwork, pragmatism and the universal language of public space.

The lamellar structure was CNC cut from eleven sheets of standard rough-cut 5/8” spruce plywood. Each piece is identical and they were initially connected with nothing more than 50 pound plastic cable ties. The benches were fashioned out of used dimension lumber, screwed together on site. The structure was assembled in each instance by three students in less than one day with little more than rudimentary hand tools. There were virtually zero drawings, much of the logistical aspects were simply figured out on site.

Completed: January 2013

Collaborators: Shane Dalke, Peteris Lazovskis