Twenty + Change: SOCA, Toronto, Ontario
As a practice, SOCA manages to live up to the name’s duality by remaining playful while addressing contemporary issues and social concerns.
Shane Laptiste and Tura Cousins Wilson met as early participants in the Black Architects and Interior Designers Association of Canada (BAIDA). They’re now combining their different experiences in practice and education into a shared vision. Laptiste (born, raised, and educated in Montreal) and Cousins Wilson (a Torontonian who studied in the Netherlands) believe that, as Laptiste puts it, “small firms can have large impacts, even if on small projects.”
The name of their practice—SOCA—is short for Studio of Contemporary Architecture. It is also an allusion to soca music, an energetic genre with diverse cultural influences from Trinidad and Tobago, referencing the pair’s Caribbean roots. As a practice, SOCA manages to live up to the name’s duality by remaining playful while addressing contemporary issues and social concerns.
One of the firm’s highly publicized early projects is the renovation of Cousins Wilson’s grandmother’s house. The use of yellow—her favourite colour—in the reconstruction of the building’s Edwardian porch brings a lively presence to the street. This sense of play can also be spotted in the firm’s proposal for a Dutch mosque submerged in water.
The practice is simultaneously committed to creating socially responsible spaces. This perspective is evident in their growing portfolio of civic and institutional projects, which push project mandates to increase inclusion and equity. They’re including gender-neutral washrooms in a municipal soccer clubhouse in Collingwood, currently in process (with Stephens Kozak Architects). For a conceptual project, they reimagined the ubiquitous strip mall typology as a pedestrian setting.
Since the firm’s inception in 2018, the partners included a commitment to exploratory proposals and research work in their business model. Cousins Wilson says that this approach has allowed them to continually “stretch our design muscles” and think through concepts in various scales and programs, while keeping a sense of idealism in their designs.
Part of SOCA’s success in diversifying its portfolio can be attributed to strategic partnerships with other practices. Recently, SOCA co-authored a report outlining a future vision for Toronto’s Little Jamaica, working collaboratively with Black Urbanism TO and Open Architecture Canada. The report addressed affordability, incremental densification, and cultural heritage, and in April 2021 was crucial in Toronto City Council’s designating Little Jamaica a Heritage Conservation District Under Study.
As SOCA grows, Laptiste and Cousins Wilson are eager for the challenge of scaling up their detail-oriented approach to larger projects—they recently worked on a proposal for reimagining Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts—with a team that expands beyond the two of them.
This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent.