2023 RAIC Awards: SOCA
Winner of a 2023 RAIC Emerging Architectural Practice Award
The Toronto-based Studio of Contemporary Architecture (SOCA) is an architecture and urban design practice dedicated to inclusive city building and creating beautiful spaces. Founded in 2018 on the belief that architecture both shapes and is shaped by the contemporary condition, the studio is deeply engaged in research and the broader discourse of architecture’s impact on culture, the environment, and the shaping of cities.
Led by Shane Laptiste and Tura Cousins Wilson, SOCA includes an evolving team committed to exploring work that is rooted in place and carefully crafted. While the studio takes particular interest in housing and civic buildings, regardless of the scale, SOCA is passionate about the positive impacts of quality design. Understanding that architecture requires intimate collaboration and playful imagination, the studio begins each project by asking questions, discussing ideas, and encouraging its clients and team members to dream big.
SOCA’s body of work represents an intersectional approach to culture, heritage, urbanism, housing justice, and climate justice. As advocates for racial justice within processes of urban development, SOCA collaborated with Black Urbanism TO and Open Architectural Collaborative Canada on a report that documented the problem of transit-induced gentrification in Toronto’s Little Jamaica and highlighted the need to save culturally important retail spaces. In 2021, SOCA prepared an alternative design for the renovation of Alexandra Park public housing in Toronto, proposing the preservation of as many of the existing buildings as possible to prioritize equity and environmental justice; the project was published in AZURE. That same year, SOCA collaborated with architectural critic Alex Bozikovic on a speculative proposal to renovate and expand Toronto’s brutalist St. Lawrence Center for the Arts, which was then threatened with demolition. The scheme was published in The Globe and Mail and elements from SOCA’s approach appear in the current plans for the site.
Laptiste and Cousins Wilson are founding members of the Black Architects and Interior Designers Association (BAIDA). They both have lifelong experience of being supported by, supporting, and working in professional capacities with nonprofit organizations in the Black community. SOCA has provided architectural support, resources and services for the NCC Charles H. Este Cultural Centre in Montreal, Black Urbanism TO, Black Lives Matter – Canada, and Rebuild Foundation’s St. Laurence Arts Incubator in Chicago.
SOCA was listed in Wallpaper* Magazine’s 2021 directory of emerging architectural talent and, that year, was also selected as a leading emerging practice by Twenty + Change and Canadian Architect. The studio is one of the contributors representing Canada at the 2023 Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Jury Comments: The Studio of Contemporary Architecture (SOCA) represents a new voice in Canadian architecture that is approaching a wide range of projects with an acute sensitivity to social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. In addition to the modestly scaled opportunities for built work that are available for emerging practices, the principals are engaged in the broader urban architectural discourse in Toronto and contribute time to community organizations that include Black Urbanism TO and Black Lives Matter – Canada. Both principals are also founding members of the Black Architects and Interior Designers Association (BAIDA). In SOCA’s process, community engagement is both a design tool and an outcome, and the firm’s beliefs about architecture’s impact on culture and environment reflect a clarity of mission and thought.
The vision with which the two partners at SOCA established their practice is long overdue and incredibly exciting. It has provided their practice with a diverse portfolio of buildings and advocacy activities, all undertaken to demonstrate how the profession can participate in socially inclusive, relevant, and beautiful buildings and spaces. From Granny’s House to the speculative Alexandra Park Master Plan, they demonstrate their skill in recalibrating what constitutes a rich environment for architectural activity. SOCA is primed to develop into a powerful architecture firm that will make its mark on the Canadian design world.
The jury for this award included Stephan Chevalier, Juan Du, Francine Houben, Bruce Kuwabara, Michael Leckie, and Janna Levitt.