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What’s in a name? A lot when it comes to Snøhetta Architects, one of the few young architectural practices whose moniker is neither an amalgam of surnames nor some fashionable abstracted techno-speak. Oslo-based Snohetta take their name from a mountain in central Norway – not just a beautiful peak but also the seat of the Norse gods.
Mysticism, metaphor and mountain, indeed landscapes generally, come together in the work of the practice, established in 1987 for the competition to build a new library in Alexandria, Egypt – a building to replace one of the wonders of the ancient world. They won.
Snøhetta Architects is an international architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and brand design office based in Oslo, Norway and New York City. Craig Dykers and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen are the two principals of the company. In addition there are five partners, architect Robert Greenwood, architect Ole Gustavsen, architect Tarald Lundevall, and landscape architect Jenny Osuldsen and Martin Gran. Gustavsen and Varbanov fulfills the role of Managing Director for the company. In 2010, Snøhetta has approximately 120 designers working on projects in Europe, Asia and America.
In 2004, the company received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Library of Alexandria.
In 1987 the landscape architects Inge Dahlman, Berit Hartveit and Johan Østengen contacted landscape architects Alf Haukeland, and architects Øyvind Mo and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen to join together to make a collaborative studio. The idea was to incorporate architecture and landscape architecture into one design process. The studio was placed above a “brown” beer hall in Storgata in Oslo where they used to hang out. The beer hall is called “Dovrehallen” which means the “Dovre’s Hall”. Dovre is the mountain area where Snøhetta is the highest peak. The collaborative took the name Snøhetta Architects landskap.
Early in 1989 a convergence of events occurred. Kjetil Thorsen in Norway and Craig Dykers in Los Angeles had independently discussed working on the Egyptian Library of Alexandria Competition together with their mutual colleague Christoph Kapeller from Austria, who was now living in Los Angeles. By the summer of 1989 Snøhetta registered for participation in the design competition. At that time Craig had established his own small practice focused on collaboration amongst architects and artists in Los Angeles and had considered carrying out the competition design with another group. However, after further discussion, this group then agreed they would work on the competition together as a team.
During the period from 1989 to 2006 the company underwent many changes including changes in the basic structure leading to the arrangement in 2006 of two principals and four partners.
Snøhetta Architects designed a model building with Lego’s Architecture Studio pieces in a Wired (magazine) project in 2013.
Snøhetta Architects reject society’s artificial hierarchies in favour of the wider horizons of the natural environment. This is reflected in the organization of the practice, run by three partners: American Craig Dykers (born 1961), Christoph Kapeller (born 1956) and Kjetil Thorsen (born 1958). They work in an integrated way as landscape designers and masterplanners as well as architects. Everybody can work simultaneously on a web-based hyper-file that holds, updates and synchronizes the projects. Connection is central to their way of working.
It is hard to detect recurrent motifs in the buildings – while each creates its own topography, they are too attuned in both material and form to their own locale – although Snøhetta Architects do have a knack for cornering spectacular edge-condition sites. The location for their Norwegian Embassy in Berlin (1999), just south of the Tiergarten, is more prosaic but they have made a Norwegian landscape of it. The embassy’s south wall is a single, 120-ton, monolithic slice of grey Norwegian granite. Another wall comprises glass louvres designed to hint at the verticality of forests and the cool of glaciers.
A new landscape will emerge on home turf when Oslo’s National Opera House is completed in 2008 – a fractured mountain of a building, rising diagonally out of the fjord. Again, for Snøhetta Architects, landscape and building fuse into one universal whole.