Movers & Shakers

Kjetil Trædal Thorsen

From the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion to SFMOMA and Norway’s opera house, Snøhetta’s portfolio of thoughtful, landscape-inspired works is growing at speed. Founding partner Kjetil Trædal Thorsen shares the practice philosophy


Read on turning pages | Download PDF | sign up to CLAD

Snøhetta – the Oslo-based integrated design practice – was established in 1987 when a number of young architects and landscape architects set themselves up in an attic studio. Two years later, one of the group’s members, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, together with fellow architect Craig Dykers, founded the shareholding company Snøhetta Architecture and Landscape AS.

Snøhetta was named after a Norwegian mountain, reflecting the firm’s core philosophy. A mountain, according to Thorsen, is both an object and a landscape, and therefore a perfect representation of the firm’s commitment to integrating architecture and landscape architecture in a single design process.

Two years after Snøhetta was born, the firm won its first big commission: the Alexandria Library. With two main studios in Oslo and New York, the practice now employs more than 160 people from 28 different countries.

The recent extension to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), the Oslo Opera House, the 9/11 Memorial Museum pavilion and an ongoing collabroation with AESOP are among the firm’s major projects.

Why did you become an architect?
My art teacher recommended I become an architect. I was interested in drawing, in art and in the sequence of producing things, whatever they might be: models, painting, sculptures or scratchboards. I had an interest in creating things, which led me to believe my teacher was right.

What were your aims when you set up Snøhetta?
We had seen the need for collaboration between different professions dealing with our physical surroundings, such as urbanism, public art, landscape architecture and interior design. We were interested in trying to co-locate these disciplines in a profession-free environment where there could be broader collaboration – especially, in the beginning, between landscape architecture and architecture.
The idea was that the borders between the professions would start to become a little more blurred, and one would influence the other. Landscape architecture would no longer just be the leftovers of whatever the architect did – the spaces between the buildings, filled with whatever was left of the budget. We started to look at more integrated ways of practising all the design disciplines related to our physical environment.

How does it work in practice?
It’s a workshop-based process. We invite people from a range of professions from both within and outside Snøhetta, and sometimes from the client side as well. Then when you start doing the creative work, you leave your profession behind. It’s like a kind of roleplay. The process releases you from your basic responsibilities.

We call it transpositioning here, when the landscape architect becomes the architect, the architect becomes the artist, the artist becomes the sociologist, the sociologist the philosopher. For instance, when we were working on the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, it was the guy writing librettos who more or less defined the movement of the public on their way to the opera house as part of a non-processional movement, which would on one hand be individually experienced and on the other hand collectively.

What did the 9/11 Memorial Pavilion project mean to you?
The 9/11 Memorial Pavilion has been a massively important project for us. When you design something like this, it is not about substituting the loss; it is rather a way of reacting to a possible future presence – for the public actually coming there, and going in, and looking at it.

We also knew there would be a lot of different opinions as to what should be done and how it should be done. So from the very beginning, we said this would be a negotiated project – it would be more negotiation than design. And we set out by saying our intention with the pavilion was to reflect the present, whereas the two waterfalls going into the footprints of the two towers reflect the past. In that sense, it would be a more dynamic building, creating an immediate connection between the public and what was happening on the site.

Snøhetta has designed the expansion of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. What are the main aims of the project?
Creating more social interactions and closer relationships to the surrounding streetscapes, giving more connection to outdoor and indoor areas and, of course, expanding exhibition areas and making it possible to show more art.

What was the aim of your recent redesign of Times Square?
It’s a way of giving Times Square back to the people of New York, by removing traffic and creating a new floor for both citizens and visitors. When you move into an urban space where there used to be only cars you experience it in a new way. You have a different speed, a different height, a different location, so you perceive the surroundings, surfaces and façades in a different manner. It encourages new activities – sitting, standing, doing yoga – but it also has an infrastructural element to it, by providing better drainage, new wiring, lighting and benches.

What are you working on at the moment?
One project under construction is the Lascaux IV Caves Museum in France, which includes the recreation of the Lascaux caves and their 10,000-year-old paintings. That is scheduled to open in December 2016. We’re also building The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture in Dhahrab, Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest building we’ve ever done – it’s a huge cultural centre housing the country’s first public cinemas as well as a library, a concert hall, an exhibition hall and a lifelong learning centre.

We have several projects happening in Norway, including the Bergen National Academy of the Arts, and we’re just starting the expansion of the Ordrupgaard museum in Copenhagen. We currently have about 12 projects under construction and 40 on the drawing table.

Which other architects do you admire?
Among living architects, I think Frank Gehry made a huge difference to how architects are perceived. You can like or dislike the repetition in his work but there was a turning point in history, where architects started gaining overall importance again.

Then there are architects like Herzog and de Meuron who produce fantastic projects. You also have small companies like the Austrian firm marte.marte or the architect Fernando Menis from Tenerife, who are doing extraordinary things. However, it’s about more than being inspired by architects, our inspirations come from elsewhere – from writers, from philosophers or people from the art world.

How do you relax?
I go skiing or mountain-climbing. That gives you a very intimate relationship with the landscape you’re performing within.

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: Barr + Wray Ltd
Founded in 1959, Barr + Wray is recognised as a world-leading provider of spa design, engineering and pool+ spa equipment.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
Parks and public spaces are reported as ideal places for reflection and inspiraton
Tom Lindblom
"Public spaces support the widest diversity of experiences"

At last concrete proof that design is the critical factor that turns good experiences into great ones says Gensler’s Tom Lindblom

A bronze mesh allows sound energy to reach the hall’s walls, improving the acoustics
"It’s a privilege to have completed a scheme of such importance to the cultural identity of Antwerp - Stuart Mills"

SimsponHaugh’s latest project

Tom Emerson collaborated with students from ETH Zurich to build the Pavilion of Reflections
"You could have cultural events and museums that go from city to city. It’s a new way of thinking"

Rising sea levels and a shortage of land are leading to increased interest in floating buildings. We take a look at some fascinating projects

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
features
Archaeological relics will be stored and exhibited at the museum
Theoni Xanthi Partner XZA Architects
"The design concept is to create a museum that evokes a transition in time, in space, in memory"

The vision for the New Cyprus Musuem

The West 8 leadership team from left 
to right: Edzo Bindels, Martin Biewenga, 
Daniel Vasini, Claire Agre and Adriaan Geuze
Adriaan Geuze
"The profile of landscape architecture has been raised by international cities competing with one another"

How the West 8 founder is using the healing power of nature on a Korean site with a turbulent history

FaulkerBrowns’ Russ Davenport has worked 
on the project since 2012
"Whenever you’re looking at it, the elevation is running away from you, so it never looks quite as big as it really is "

FaulknerBrowns’ Dutch sports facility

features
Alison Brooks
"The profession is changing"

We need to help the public understand that architects are on their side, argues The Smile designer

Spa concept: Explore the Icelandic spa retreat inspired by surrealist folk tales
"We want to create the illusion that guests are entering another world when they arrive at the resort"

An Icelandic spa retreat inspired by surrealist folk tales

At the Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, reclaimed brick walls create multiple courtyard enclosures
Rossana Hu studied at the University of California at Berkeley, where she met Lyndon Neri
"Interior projects carried out by architects have a depth that’s generally lacking today"

Neri & Hu’s latest project

cladkit product news
Empex Watertoys partners with Singapore architecture firm on new splash park
Buds is a new splash park that caters to children aged 12 and under
Lauren Heath-Jones
Empex Watertoys has partnered with Singapore landscape architecture firm Playpoint Singapore Pte to create Buds, an exciting new splash park ...
Parkside opens flagship Chelsea showroom
The showroom is designed to inspire its clients
Lauren Heath-Jones
Parkside, a designer of contemporary porcelain and ceramic tiles, has opened its first showroom in the UK. Located in Chelsea ...
Ben van Berkel launches UNSense startup to boost health and wellbeing in built environments
Kim Megson
Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and his design firm UNStudio have launched a tech startup to “improve the health and ...
cladkit product news
Dornbracht debuts Rainmoon wellness shower concept at  Salone del Mobile
Rainmoon is a multi-sensory wellness experience designed to revitalise and reinvigorate the user
Lauren Heath-Jones
Dornbracht, a German-based luxury bathroom specialist, has launched an innovative new shower experience, Rainmoon. Slated as the next generation of ...
Kvorning wins contest to design aquaculture exhibit at Norway's Coastal Museum
The exhibition explores the history of Norway's fish-farming industry dating back to 1970
Lauren Heath-Jones
Copenhagen-based design studio Kvorning Design and Norwegian advertising agency Vindfang have won a competition, organised by Museums in Sør Trøndelag ...
Hotel Crescent Court opens new spa following multi-million-dollar renovation
Hotel Crescent Court has reopened its spa after a multi-million dollar refurbishment
Lauren Heath-Jones
Hotel Crescent Court, a luxury hotel in Dallas, Texas, has reopened its spa and fitness centre after completing a multi-million-dollar ...
cladkit product news
FAÇADE award winners 'diverse and remarkable', says SFE board member
Ramboll was awarded for the Blavatnik Building, Switchouse Extension of the Tate Moder
Lauren Heath-Jones
A trio of British leisure facilities have been honoured in the Façade2017 awards. Established in 2013 by the Society of ...
London's new pollution-eating living wall has air purifying power of 275 trees
CityTree is a living wall that reduces particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in the air by 30 per cent
Lauren Heath-Jones
The Crown Estate, a London-based commercial real estate company, has partnered with Westminster City Council and cleantech specialist Evergen Systems ...