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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 and design firm. Snøhetta 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 within the global architecture community speak to a New Zealand audience. Such was the level of interest in his Wellington presentation that the organisers had to change the venue three times to accommodate the growing swell of people interested in hearing Thorsen speak.

All images here are some of our favourites from Snøhetta's amazing portfolio that Thorsen shared with us throughout his presentation.
Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, Oslo, Norway 2000-2008
Thorsen offered a fascinating account of how Snøhetta creates the necessary conditions in its open-plan Oslo office to better enable creative collaboration amongst staff. Central to this is the desire to group together Snøhetta workers in the office 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 collaboration. Indeed, promoting personal bonds between staff members is a Snøhetta trait.
Snøhetta Office, Oslo, Norway
Further to the subject of staff bonding, Thorsen spoke enthusiastically about the mountain trek to the Arctic Circle that up to a hundred of his staff from around the world embark upon each year. He explained that this exercise also underscores the inherent relationship Snøhetta has with the environment within its broader design philosophy. Thorsen believes architecture should both contrast with and draw inspiration from the environment around it. This duality is most clearly reflected in Snøhetta'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 talked about how Snøhetta’s designs can make a social statement and generate sustainable social change. He argued that this could be achieved by incorporating into project design decent-sized and inviting public spaces that enable disparate communities to comfortably come together in an organic manner. In his presentation, Thorsen was not pious on the importance of social change and did not 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 appreciated the power of good architecture to bring people together in common and much loved spaces.  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 enthusiasm for social change is a design imperative in many of 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 opening images) is open 24 hours, seven days to let the people gather as a community and enjoy the surroundings.

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