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An Evening with a Celebrated Norwegian Architect

Thanks to the good people at Metro Performance Glass, we recently attended a presentation by Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, the celebrated Norwegian architect.  Thorsen co-founded Snøhetta, the international architecture, landscape architecure, interior design and brand design firm. Snohetta is based in Oslo and New York City, and has studios in San Francisco, Innsbruck and Singapore. It was a rare treat to have someone of Thorsen's standing with the the global community visit new Zealand and such was the level of interest in his Wellington presentation that the organisers had to change the venue three times to accomodate the swell of people interested in hearing him speak.
Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Oslo, Norway 2000-2008
All images here are some of our favourites from Snohetta's amazing portfolio that Thorsen shared with us throughout his presentation. Thorsen offered a fascinating account of how they create the necessary conditions in his open-plan Oslo office to enable effective creative collaboration among his staff. Central to this is the desire to group together Snohetta staffers on the basis of their shared personal interests - such as music or sport - rather than their common professional focus. The theory here is that this sort of integration encourages a special bond to form between colleagues, which can translate into better creative collaboartion. Indeed, promoting personal bonds between staff is a Snohetta hallmark.
Snohetta Office, Oslo, Norway
Thorsen enthusiastically spoke of the mountain trek to the Arctic Circle that up to one hundred of his staff - from around the world - embark each year. He explained that this exercise also underscores the inherent relationship Snohetta has with the environment within its design philosophy. Architecture, Thorsen proclaimed, should both contrast with and draw inspiration from the environment around it. This duality is most clearly reflected in Snohetta's famed Reindeer viewing pavilion.
Norwegian Wild Reindeer Pavilion, Hjerkinn, Dovre, Norway 2009 - 2011
Lofoten Opera Hotel, Lofoten, Norway - the project is ongoing and this image is a convincing rendering.
Thorsen also talked about how Snøhetta’s designs can make a social statement and help generate sustainable social change.  One way to do so, he argued, was to introduce into project design, good-sized public spaces that enable disparate communities to come together in an organic manner. Thorsen is certainly not officiously pious on the importance of social change and doesn’t come across as an insistent activist to the cause.  He is, after all, a designer by trade and it was our sense that he would rather keep to his lane.  Nevertheless, Thorsen accepted the power of good architecture to bring people together in a common and much loved space.  And from this, he contends, could spring sustainable social change in whatever form it takes.  

We believe that there is merit to this argument and it is clear that an abstract enthusiasm for social change is a design imperative in many Snøhetta’s projects, particularly in the Middle East. But also at home in Oslo, where the public lobby of the Norwegian Opera and Ballet (see at top) is open 24 hours, 7 days to let the people gather and enjoy the surroundings with each other.

The night, however, belonged to the breathtaking effect of Snøhetta’s design projects that left us enthralled and elevated.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt 1989 - 2001
Aesop Store, Oslo, Norway 2014
SFMOMA Expansion, San Franciso, California, USA 2010 - expected 2016
Words by Craig Greaves.
Photographs via Snohetta.