Join Cranbrook Art Museum and University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture & Community Development for a screening of We Start With the Things We Find a film by Tom Piper featuring Ada Tolla and Guiseppe Lignano of LOT-EK, a New York City based architecture studio. Following the screening Tolla, Lignano, and Piper with be joined in conversation by Kimberly Dokes, Dokes Design Architecture, and Andrew Blauvelt, Director of Cranbrook Art Museum, the conversation will be moderated by Tadd Heidgerken (CAA M.ARCH ’08), Associate Professor of Architecture and Community Development, University of Detroit Mercy.

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 cross 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 construc-tive 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 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. 

Filmmaker Thomas Piper is an award-winning filmmaker specialized in documenting contemporary artists and designers. He has directed, photographed and/or edited more than 25 films on painters, sculptors, photographers, architects, and writers. His most recent film, Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf, won the 2018 Polly Krakora Award for Artistry in Film from the DC Environmental Film Festival, and was in global theatrical release through the pandemic. His film, Ellsworth Kelly: Fragments, won Best Film for Television at the 2008 International Festival of Films on Art (FIFA) in Montreal. As an independent producer, he was commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum to make Art, Architecture, and Innovation: Celebrating the Guggenheim Museum, a documentary marking the 50th anniversary of the Frank Lloyd Wright museum building. His feature length documentary, Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Reimagining Lincoln Center and the High Line, was broadcast on PBS affiliates around the country, and accepted for over 25 festivals around the world. Other subjects have included the artists Julie Mehretu, Sol Lewitt, Kiki Smith, Alex Katz and Vija Celmins, the writer James Salter, the art historian Vincent Scully, the architects Peter Eisenman, Steven Holl, Jean Nouvel and Thom Mayne, and MacArthur “genius” grant winner, Jeanne Gang. 

LOT-EK are Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano. They have Masters Degrees in Architecture and Urban Design from the Universita’ di Napoli, Italy (1989). After graduating they completed post-graduate studies at Columbia University, New York (1990-1991) as Visiting Scholars. They founded LOT-EK in Naples, Italy in 1993 and opened up LOT-EK’s New York studio in 1995. Besides heading their professional practice, they also teach at Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning in Cambridge, MA. 

LOT-EK is an award-winning architectural design studio renowned in the architecture/design/art world for its sustainable and innovative approach to construction, materials and space through the upcycling of existing industrial objects and systems. Their work has been exhibited in major museums, including MoMA, the Whitney Museum, the Walker Art Center, the Guggenheim and the MAXXI.


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