Recently Lateral Office / InfraNet Lab was announced as recipient of the Gold Award for the 2011 North America Regional Holcim Awards for their Regional Food-Gathering Nodes and Logistics Network in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada. This is the third annual competition for sustainable projects and visions run by the Holcim Foundation, which "aims to build awareness of the importance of sustainable construction among professionals and the public." For the 2011 Awards over 6,000 sustainable construction projects were submitted for all five regions, though the nine-member jury for the North American Awards had to wade through only 229 entries. The Silver Award went to Swift Lee Office for a Zero Net Energy School in Los Angeles, and the Bronze Award was given to Julie Snow Architects for an Energy and Water Efficient Border Control Station in Van Buren, Maine.
The project by Lateral Office / InfraNet Lab, led by Mason White and Lola Sheppard, envisions "an Arctic Food Network (AFN) in Canada’s high arctic territory of Nunavut [as] a model to overcome the dependence of the Inuit community on expensive processed food products imported from the south." By responding to issues of health and poor living conditions among the Inuit, the project further "intends to secure mobility between the scattered Inuit communities, allow a better distribution of local foods and serve as a series of bases for the reinforcement of traditional hunting – while also establishing new foundations for a sustainable, more independent economy."
Our study on mobility, food security, and health in this region led to the pursuit of a network of small structures that acknowledge the Inuit tradition of temporary enclosure in a cold climate. -Lateral Office / InfraNet LabAFN, like much of White and Sheppard's output (Pamphlet Architecture 30: Coupling is a good place to see a number of their infrastructural designs), takes a studied look at the macro scale and presents their research and design in an elegant manner, combining the best of mapping with an Edward Tufte-esque "visualization of quantitative information." Further their designs carefully balance the macro with the micro; the latter is comprised here of various small buildings, what they call stacks, sheds, mesh, and poles. These structures, which provide shelter for various uses geared around obtaining and preparing food, are an interesting synthesis of contemporary, vernacular, and industrial buildings.
The project is also illustrative of sustainable approaches today, in that it responds to local place and identity while incorporating 21st-century technology, all in relation to the ills of last century's industrialization. AFN does not propose a technological fix to the influx of manufactured food products that is supplanting the knowledge of "country hunting," but it layers this technology into buildings and a larger network that allow for the Inuit's prolonged self-sufficiency. For example, the smoke stacks that enable the smoking of game meats are also rigged with data transmission infrastructure for internet, cell, and satellite devices powered by solar cells and battery storage. This may seem like an odd disconnect, but one thing the project addresses is the young Inuit population, or as the jury put it, "[these interventions] bridge between the traditions of the Inuit and the expectations of the young generation thereby providing an opportunity to create an improved future."