Spring always brings with it a hint of nostalgia as Vancouverites shed their toques, rain jackets, and lace up boots in favour of bro tanks and bikinis. Even the dark rimmed glasses seem to disappear with the gray and grime of winter. Vancouver simply doesn’t seem, well, Vancouver.
This phenomenon reveals the intrinsic link between climate and the Canadian identity, which carries a heightened awareness of shifts in natural and environmental conditions. This is reflected in what we wear, how we live, and what we live in.
SweaterLodge - Canada’s 2006 Venice Biennial of Architecture and 2011 Museum Of Vancouver exhibition by Bill Pechet and Stephanie Robb - explores these closely related, yet distinct, concepts of clothing, shelter and home and how they function as a symbol of national, regional, and personal identity.
Although Robb and Pechet designed SweaterLodge as a reflection of “Canada’s vast wilderness, resourcefulness, dedication to sustainable living and collective enjoyment of outdoor recreation,” I must admit, my first impression wasn’t particularly positive. Not only was I dubious; I seethed for hours. This project fed into and confirmed every taunt I had been the recipient of as a child! Polar-bear-rider, tree-planter, poutine-eater to name the tamest of the bunch.
Only after serious contemplation of the giant orange polar fleece sweater (made of up-cycled pop bottles nonetheless) did I come to appreciate the installation. This wasn’t merely a confirmation of stereotypes, but a clever acknowledgement of the Canadian Persona as perceived and propagated by others; then, taking these expectations and perceptions and blowing them up to gargantuan, comical proportions.
A lodge, according to dictionary.com, is ‘a small, makeshift crude shelter or habitation’ or ‘a house used as a temporary residence.’ Yet the installation manages to transcend mere shelter and, despite the temporality of the exhibit, exudes a sense of warmth, of home. Although their stay is short-lived, visitors were fully embraced in plush-y goodness for the duration of their occupancy. Gallery-goers removed their shoes to meditate under the draped ceiling. Others rested on logs topped with matching orange pillows or rode stationary bicycles to view a video loop of the city. Afterwards guests were urged to take swatches of leftover fabric to craft into their very own orange DIY polar-fleece projects.
If this is meant to be a portrait of the Canadian Persona what picture does it paint? I would say at its most basic; adaptive and resourceful, inviting and giving, self-aware and confident. And, above all, cheeky. SweaterLodge is architecture at its most impish; providing us with a bitingly clever and an insightful reflection on both Canada and Canadians within a global context
For more design projects exploring the relationship between clothing and architecture check out:
1960s architectural critic Reyner Banham’s Inflatable Suit/Saloon here
Veasyble’s Privacy Shells here
Or, if you’re tired of reading, throw a party in a dress here
Researched and written by Mikyla [Mika] Futz. Honours Program, Environmental Design. University of British Columbia.