If we pay enough attention to the ordinary, we see the extraordinary. The shipping container is an accidental icon of our modern age: the eight-foot-by-forty-foot corrugated steel box that brings the world to our doorstep. It brings all our hearts’ desires’, available for purchase. And it brings us complicity in the global supply chains, and all the economic, ecological, technological, and political systems that forge those chains, as those great container ships link maker and user, buyer and seller, China and America together across the vast distances of the lawless sea. The design studio LOT-EK is a visionary practice at the intersection of art and architecture, that specializes in upcycling, which is the art and science of repurposing, remaking, rethinking, reimagining. Of using old things in new ways. The shipping container is the thing that has captured their imagination for over a quarter-century: they have remade containers into homes, schools, galleries, libraries, and more. With hundreds of millions of obsolete and unused containers around the world, this is a new and necessary architecture of the future, that repairs and regenerates the unnatural environment that we have inherited from the past. WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND is a feature-length documentary of this vision, and of the soulful lifelong partnership of the people, designers Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano, behind it.

WE START WITH THE THINGS WE FIND shows us a way to be radically optimistic, creative, and constructive during times that can feel the opposite of all that. Director Thomas Piper’s acclaimed documentary feature Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf showed how the wild and unfavored plants could encourage audiences to live more responsibly with nature, and now he looks at living more smartly and sweetly with the effects of industry, infrastructure, and technology. Taking us from spark-filled workshops to a container ship sea voyage over a shimmering sea; and explaining all the prosaic and poetic design thinking behind how LOT-EK brings the container to life, the film shows how all we have can become all we need, how resourceful subsistence can feel like beautiful abundance, and how to keep going when we now know there is no such thing as a fresh start. The film is a humanist essay not only about a new kind of design thinking, but about a new design for life.




Design: 2022-2024
Size: 2,104SF indoor + 512SF deck area
Architecture: LOT-EK + WAACC
Landscape / DesignJones
Sustainability / Crystal Johnson
Structure / Silman
MEFP / Moses Engineers
Civil / Julien Engineering

The Black School (TBS) uses art and activism to transform social realities through Black love, healing, and self-determination. TBS is a Black-centered experimental art space for BIPoC and ally creatives to be agents of change through art & design programming based in radical African diasporic histories.

The Black School is currently developing The Black Schoolhouse as a community center in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward - a homebase to expand the work and deepen roots through long-term community engagements. TBS is working with a team of architects (New Orleans based, Black woman-lead WAACC and NYC-based LOT-EK) to progress this vision, taking care not to begin designing the actual building until community insight was collected. The building is currently under permitting and construction is expected to start in the fall.

In 2020, TBS raised $310,000 from crowdfunding to purchase the land and, on that ground, immediately began growing a public facing garden and offering free community programming. In 2022, TBS received $1.1 million from the Mellon Humanities in Place grant toward the construction of the Schoolhouse, including ADA-accessibility features, solar panels, and soil remediation. Due to inflation and construction cost hikes, the project faces a steep challenge being $400,000 over budget. TBS needs your assistance to close the gap. The community is greatly anticipating the completion of The Black Schoolhouse as a community resource to further its high impact in a neighborhood with explicit need. Funding will be directed towards completing construction costs and ensuring fair labor.

The design and construction of The Schoolhouse/Community Center embodies our vision for self sustaining community empowerment. The project incorporates sustainability and upcycling principles by using containers, solar panels, water harvesting and edible gardens on the site. TBS has intentionally incorporated key architectural features native to the regional architecture in the building design.

5 upcycled shipping containers form the main volume of The Black Schoolhouse. The new ground level, lifted 3-foot to protect from flooding, offers opportunities for social spaces on multiple sides, embracing the New Orleans patio experience. The main space is open and flexible for gathering and exhibiting, with a separate kitchen and library directly connected to an outdoor deck. The second level is the classroom space, with a meeting area and the artist-in-residence unit. Outdoor terraces face the widest portion of the garden with the planted raised beds, while a long balcony faces the street. Balcony, wood shutters, iron work, and greenery connect to the city’s rich heritage.

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The Black School ︎

LOAD IN / LOAD OUT at the Chicago Architecture Bienniale

LOAD IN / LOAD OUT is a staging area and stage for a theatre: LOT-EK THEATRE FOR ONE (T41), a spatially one-to-one environmental drawing for a deployable object that shelters a socially one-to-one performative experience. As a staging area the installation services the T41, a two-person performer/audiencer environment upcycled from “roadcase” musical/technical instrument case components, designed for deployment at urban sites (theater deserts) to catalyze intimately public performance art.

As a stage, the installation documents and contextualizes the T41 when it is deployed away from the Biennial gallery into Chicago communities. Jerry-rigged monitors, cameras obscura upcycled fromdelivery boxes, locate the project within LOT-EK’s body of research and design, and within their URBAN SCAN enquiry into the critical noticing and radical repurposing of abundant infrastructural artifacts, addressing and sheltering unrealized cultural, social, residential, and political occupations.

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Chicago Architecture Biennial︎


Client: Socrates Sculpture Park
Type: Art & Education
Location: Queens, New York
Size: 2640 SF
Design: 2016
Structure: Silman
Mechanical: JFK&M
Civil: Langan
AWARD: NYC Public Design Commission - 2017 Award for Excellence in Design

LOT-EK’s innovative design underscores the Park’s history of reclamation and revitalization, along with its mission of presenting contemporary public art, fostering environmental stewardship, and building community. The structure that has become The Cubes began its existence as a commission by The Whitney Museum of American Art. Then a 720 square foot structure, it comprised six shipping containers and housed the museum’s education programs in an annex sensitively installed into the museum’s famous “moat” at its former Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue. When the Whitney was planning its new home on Gansevoort Street, the Museum offered the structure as a donation to Socrates Sculpture Park. This extraordinary opportunity led to our expansion plan: to adapt the containers and fulfill the Park’s strategic and programmatic goals—including the creation of its first indoor space. Socrates Sculpture Park already utilizes shipping containers in an adapted reuse vision throughout our park, as equipment and material storage units for open air artist studios and education areas.

LOT-EK’s architectural concept has expanded and evolved the original design for the Whitney commission by adding twelve additional shipping containers for a total of eighteen, now stacked on two levels to form a singular structure. Continuous diagonal bands of glass along the sides and roof of the structure provide natural light and transparency, offering building visitors a view of the landscape and skyline outside, and offering park visitors a view of activities inside. These linear chevron windows curate those views while reserving ample wall space within the building for indoor exhibitions. Their striking V-shapes mirror the structure of the steel artist shed located nearby.

Located at the main entrance of Socrates Sculpture Park at Vernon Boulevard, “The Cubes” will house the park’s administration and educational programs, and will be the first permanent structure in the Park’s thirty-year history. The new facility will include 2,640 square feet of interior space with a 960-square foot flexible multi-purpose area for  indoor education programming, housing classes of up to 70 children and teens. It will also accomodate indoor presentation of videos, drawings, photographs and process source materials by artists on view in the park; plus 1,200 square feet of permanent office and administration space that will secure the park’s long-term sustainability. Also included will be a 480 square-foot shaded deck area for outdoor classes and programming. The roof will be outfitted with solar panels to provide renewable energy and to perform  as a teaching tool for sustainable practices.

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Socrates Sculpture Park︎