Holcim Foundation


Nunavut leads by example at Venice Biennale

A Canadian design project to “stimulate” future Arctic architecture will be the national exhibition at the Venice Biennale. The winners of the Holcim Awards Gold 2011 for North America, Lateral Office, will represent Canada at the 2014 Venice Biennale in Architecture with Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15 - an exhibition the firm has organized and curated.

As the Canadian province of Nunavut celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2014, Arctic Adaptations will present innovative architecture proposals rooted in Nunavut’s distinct land, climate and culture, reflecting local traditions of migration, mobility and seasonality. It will also explore how, in light of dramatic environmental, social and economic forces that are transforming the Arctic today, architecture might help nurture robust, prosperous and vibrant Northern communities.

The exhibition surveys a recent architectural past, a current urbanizing present and a projective near future of adaptive building techniques in Canada’s newest, largest and most northerly territory – Nunavut. While modernity often ignores the demands of “place” and the “local”, Nunavut offers little daylight and freezing temperatures, a unique place that seems to resist the global trends of modernization.

A11NAgoCA-prog14b-3603.jpgPrincipals at Lateral Office, Mason White and Lola Sheppard were the main authors of the Regional food-gathering nodes and logistics network project which won the Holcim Awards Gold 2011 for North America. The project was praised for its socio-architectural approach to overcoming the dependence of the Inuit community on expensive processed food products imported from the south. Lola Sheppard is also an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo, Canada, and will be a member of the Holcim Awards jury for Region North America in 2014.

The five themes that constitute Arctic Adaptations at the Venice Biennale - northern health, recreation, housing, education and arts - will each be explored and realized by a single design team, its members drawn from a specific school of architecture, a Canadian architect’s office and a Nunavut-based organization. For the pavilion’s presentation on northern housing for example, White and Sheppard are striking a collaboration among the Nunavut Housing Corporation in Iqaluit, Yellowknife’s Pin/Taylor Architects and the University of British Columbia School of Architecture in Vancouver.


By using Nunavut as an example of a place able to be flexible in the face of modernity, the display explores the movement’s legacy within the contextual particularities of the region. The exhibition documents the area’s architectural history, describes the contemporary realities of life in its communities and examines the projected role of architecture in the future.

The exhibition environment is comprised of three integrated elements: soapstone carvings of little-known, but significant works of architecture; topographic models and photographs of each of the 25 communities in Nunavut, and; a series of 15 architecture models with integrated animations projecting a 15-year vision for addressing current challenges in access and delivery of housing, health, arts, education, and recreation. The exhibition illustrates how a modern Inuit culture continues to evolve and merge the traditional and the contemporary in unique and innovative ways. Can architecture, which has largely failed this region both technically and socially, be equally innovative and adaptive?

A11NAgoCA-prog14b-01.jpg“Arctic Adaptations” was awarded an honorable mention at the Biennale Awards Ceremony with judges praising the design for “its in-depth study of how modernity adapts to a unique climatic condition and a local minority culture”. In response, Lola Sheppard commented: “This award is important because it highlights the key role that architecture has played and could play in the future, in a region where architecture and urbanism have been largely overlooked, except as tools of colonization. The exhibition celebrates the remarkable resilience, adaptability and innovative nature of Inuit culture, one able to bridge tradition and modernity in remarkable ways. To have this work internationally recognized is fantastic”.

Last Updated: June 25, 2014
Article Details
Venice, Italy
Related Information
Related Project
Regional food-gathering nodes and logistics network
Regional food-gathering nodes and logistics network

This socio-architectural project to create an Arctic Food Network (AFN) in Canada’s high arctic territory of Nunavut is a model to overcome...

Related People
Lola Sheppard
Lola Sheppard

Lola Sheppard is a Partner at Lateral Office, based in Toronto, Canada and was a member of the Holcim Awards jury for North America in 2014.

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