Lai was born in Taiwan and raised in Toronto, earning his M.Arch from the University of Toronto. After graduating, he lived in a shipping container in Rotterdam while working for the artist Joep Van Lieshout and then in the offices of OMA and REX. He founded Bureau Spectacular in 2008 while teaching at Ohio State University. “For me, it was really important to be in the academy and have a practice,” he says.
For the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, Lai designed the Taiwan Pavilion, building nine “houses,” each devoted to a single function such as sleeping or eating. Called Township of Domestic Parts: Made in Taiwan, the houses were colorful and graphic—almost postmodern. He was playing with scale, architectural models, furniture, and the standardization of the domestic program. Lai, who maintains Taiwanese citizenship, flew to Taipei and “presented the project plan with my broken Mandarin” for the chance to design the pavilion. “I wanted to see if there was a way for me to contribute to Taiwan through architecture,” he says. He told his parents, who are not architects, “Consider it to be the Olympics of the sport.”