Architects Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano: LOT-EK (New York and Naples)
LOT-EK (read “low-tech”) founding partners Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano have gained high visibility for their groundbreaking approach to construction, materials, and space and through the adaptive reuse (“upcycling”) of existing industrial objects and systems not originally intended for architecture. They have famously turned shipping containers into retail stores, offices, museums, restaurants, and other habitable spaces; the drum of a cement mixer into a media lounge; and the tank of an oil truck into rooms of a New York City apartment.
Inspired by the contradictions in the urban landscape, the two architects begin, as they say, “by looking for the dirt: for the backstage objects, products, and artifacts that enable architecture to exist. We look at the wrong sides of things. We look under tables and under cities. We scan for hidden messes. And hidden systems. The manufactured objects that interest us include: air-conditioners, airplanes, antennas, billboards, highways, jetways, and tunnels; boats, booths, boxes, coils, cranes, ducts, lifts, lights, strips, scraps, stacks, shacks, sheds, and trucks; packaging, parking, plumbing, scaffolding…”* This approach, which LOT-EK refers to as “Urbanscan”—also the title of a 2002 monograph on the firm’s work written by Tolla and Lignano—forms the foundation of LOT-EK’s design methodology.
|Cover of LOT-EK: Urban Scan, 2002 (Princeton Architectural Press)|
For Designers & Books, the partners provided a joint list of books that highlights what attracts their attention “as architects, educators, thinkers, and people of the world.” So we find on the list Marc Levinson’s The Box, on the origins and implications of the shipping container; and City of Darkness (“The hyper-incarnation, in hyper Hong Kong, of all places, of a human, social, physical, and architectural common condition. A building as a city, a city as a building. Ad hoc, spontaneous”). There is Richard Marshall’s book on Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist who is described as “an engineer of layering, accidents, and color”; and Gianni Rodari’s Grammatica della Fantasia (Grammar of Fantasy), which offers “a methodology for writing based on productive and compelling collisions—very parallel to our own work in architecture.”
Tolla and Lignano also include In Praise of Shadows (on the book lists of David Adjaye, Tom Kundig, and three other contributors as well) by Jun’chiro Tanizaki. The partners comment, “The fantastic tension between the perfection of imperfection and the imperfection of perfection is probably the greatest contribution of Japanese culture to modern/contemporary aesthetic culture. This tension is what LOT-EK’s pathos is all about.”
In their book list introduction they tell us, “There were two distinct reactions as Tolla and Lignano were deciding on which books to include: passionate accord or sharp disagreement. There is no middle ground about what resonates with LOT-EK. As with the work they produce, or the projects they decide to pursue, things either resonate, or they simply do not.”