It is without doubt that Many Norths is a timely and critical contribution to design research on the Arctic and underscores how little currently exists. In total, there about four key books within which to situate Many Norths: Eb Rice’s Building in the North (1975), Boris Culjat’s doctoral thesis Climate and Building in the North (1976), Vladimir Matus’s Design for Northern Climates: Cold-Climate Planning and Environmental Design (1988), and Harold Strub’s Bare Poles: Building Design for High Latitudes (1996). Of these, Many Norths stands alone in its breadth and scope. By foregrounding spatial practice, Sheppard and White include a much broader perspective on design, ranging from building components to continental systems, from cultural identity to economic realities. Its lineage can be traced back to early seminal works whereby observation, data, and the synthesis and spatialization of large amounts of data and information from a wide range of disciplines became part of the means of architectural production. This mode of operating has roots in the work of Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi’s book Learning from Las Vegas (1972), which was essentially a treatise on “learning from everything.”2 Later examples took this idea to a logical conclusion whereby the volume and form of information and data were literally expressed via physical weight and density of information, such as the Harvard Graduate School of Design Project on the City books in collaboration with Rem Koolhaas/OMA (such as The Great Leap Forward ), and Endless City (2008), where data literally spills out on the cover of the book and the emphasis on cultural, social, and political contexts becomes as important as the design of cities and buildings themselves. What Sheppard and White have done is dialed back the excess and condensed their research and synthesis into a well-tuned volume that is accessible outside of the design profession, which has grown accustomed to research books that are gravitationally challenged. For this reason, and the effortless negotiation between rigorous scholarship and practical illustrations and case studies, Many Norths is accessible to a broad audience that includes both specialist and nonspecialists; Sheppard and White have accomplished a daunting task that will no doubt have a long-lasting and far-reaching impact. As we seek to develop new ways of designing and adapting buildings and cities globally as a result of the impacts of climate change, the Arctic—and the research presented in Many Norths—will provide an important framework and reference. Coming from a region where people have lived and thrived for millennia in extreme and dynamic conditions, the lessons that are learned in the Arctic will undoubtedly have implications for designing smarter and more resilient cities globally.
Ralph Erskine, “Architecture and Town Planning in the North”, Polar Record, Vol 14, 89 (1968): page 165.
Venturi, R., Scott Brown, D., & Izenour, S. (1972). Learning From Las Vegas. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. page 3.
How to Cite this Article: Jull, Matthew. Review of Many Norths: Spatial Practice in a Polar Territory, by Lola Sheppard and Mason White, eds. JAE Online. February 23, 2018. https://jaeonline.org/issue-article/many-norths-spatial-practice-polar-territory/.