Snohetta, arhitektonski biro iz Norveške, jedan je od najpriznatijih arhitektonskih studija u svijetu. Njihovi najpoznatiji projekti uključuju biblioteku Alexandria u Egiptu i Operu u Oslu, za koju su primili Mies van der Rohe i Aga Khan nagradu. U sklopu Dana Orisa u Mostaru, održanih u maju 2018. godine, razgovarali smo sa gospodinom Taraldom Lundelvallom, jednim od osnivača i partnera u pomenutom birou.
Prevod razgovora na bosanski jezik možete pronaći ovdje.
Preveo: Edin Sarić
AABH: One of Snohetta’s motto’s on your portfolio says: „Our projects are examples of attitudes rather than designs.“ Could you elaborate on this more and explain how it iterates in your projects?
T: That is a good question,a question very difficult to answer in a short way, but I will try. Snohetta has always been very contextually oriented in creating architecture, at least we see our work that way. This means that no designs leaves our office before we know that it is not just a good design concept, but that the design is in good collaboration with the local building resources, local building knowledge and expectations.
For instance,when we were working on the The Alexandria Library in Egypt, we knew that we will cover this building with a huge circular stonewall. So we brought in a lot of modern, efficient and handy tools that are used in the Norwegian and Swedish stone industries, tools handy for making curves, forms or signs in stone. But it took very little time before we understood that one of the most valuable resources in Egypt are the Nubian stone carvers, people whose ancestors actually made beautiful stone sculptures throughout Egypt’s history. We quickly became very humble about it and said ‘this is a resource that we have to know how to use and learn their level of efficiency in dealing with complex problems’. So, that enormous stonewall was made with traditional Nubian stone carving knowledge and the workers worked so beautifully and efficiently. This combination of high-tech technology from a very sophisticated Austrian firm and Nubian stone carvers is an example of contemporary collaboration in creating something contextual, where clear and understandable design was managed in a local competence. This is a situation that relates to most of our projects.
AABH: Discussion about context in architecture is almost endless, particularly in the globalized world. With such high movement of capital, people and means of production, some would argue that cities lose their uniqueness. How do you in Snohetta approach the question of context? As an officially global company now, you try to work locally. Isn’t there a certain kind of disparity in this idea?
T: Definitely!And I think that is a very good question, because we now have rather serious and I would say, though discussions in our office on the same topic. How do we proceed deeper into contextual understanding with working on so many different places while so far we have been working within a more simple professional perspective on what we are producing?
But what we do now much more than earlier is to secure that we have enough information from different types of people who are part of one project, enough information on legal, political, historical and sociological aspectsof that very specific area where work in. Shift from global perspective to local perspective forces us to take our contextual strive to a higher level and go deeper into it and hopefully make a successful project. That is our main aspiration now, to go further in that struggle. If, for instance, we would do something in your country, there would be so many things that we have to get our hearts into and, in a more intellectual way into our heads, to be aware of what is going on here and then start thinking about a project.
AABH: Keeping on the same subject, as it also relates to some of your global projects, a lot of architectural and urban production is produced in a very speculative way today. You mentioned in your lecture in Days of Oris Mostar, that while working on projects in Saudi Arabia for example, they did not really care what is the project going to be but they did care about the investment. How do you see this approach to creating built environment and what is architect’s role in it?
T: Our experience with clients is that you have to be open, honest and follow your gut feeling as an architect, so we said to ARAMCO (our Saudi Arabian client) that we have to get to know each other better before we can accept the project. We asked them if they want to simply sit together with us at the same table and let us make sketches and talk about it, where we can see what he is thinking as well, and he was very surprised. They came in separate airplanes and cars to the meeting at our office in Oslo, and we invited them to do a simple workshop where we were very open about knowing each other better and goals of the project. We do that often with different investors and if that is not going anywhere from the beginning we say no, sorry we can´t work with you, because we can´t find common ground for going further.
We use this method of a naive and very open approach, to rich people in New York or billionaires in Hong Kong, and in most cases our clients get interested to follow our road as they get curious. But sometimes it doesn´t succeed, and I can tell you that working in a place like Saudi Arabia also gives a lot of internal discussions. A lot of our female and male architects were very clear about not wanting to work on a building in Saudi Arabia, because of the way they treat women, but also men over there. Then we had an internal process going on with the Norwegian Ministry of foreign affairs where we discussed about the official attitude towards collaborating with Saudi Arabia. In the end of the day, those who wouldn´t work on the project worked on something else.
The question of clients is dealt with by us in two ways: firstly, we are never bought into anything, we have ordinary Scandinavian contracts and don´t allow to be pressed into ‘special’ projects. It sound very brave, but it is really the truth. And secondly, that element of surprising them a little bit, inviting them to our country and showing that we have an normal attitude, inviting them to our office and playing a bit together with ideas always has positive benefits.
AABH: You work on a really different scope of projects, big and small scale, and can safely say that you are in a position to pick your projects. How do you choose projects to work on, what are your criteria? Is there any preference between small scale and big scale projects, like the Opera house?
T: My answer to this question, and again maybe a bit brave is that today we want to be, or at least help those who are, game changers – those who are serious about improving conditions for humans. Ideally we can take big projects and we like to do so,if we feel we are helping to make a difference. We do however avoid drawing villas or small delicate things. For example, the sub water restaurant project is not a type of a project we live on, it is very interesting but it is side work. We want to make a difference, we want to be change makers.
AABH: What are the biggest challenges for architects in striving to be game changers today?
I think the most important thing for architects now is to understand, accept and be trained in schools and universities, is that architecture is a territorial-bound activity.Therefore, you have to learn to love different types of knowledge on local or regional situation. The future lies in you being able to understand types of processes that go on in an area you live in or work. That is the biggest challenge on a personal level, and the reason for me saying this is that most of architectural education in Europe still is run as they were in the 20th century after the WWII, where idealistic, pure form was the most important thing.
Today, the challenge is to understand that processes from the local perspective must be understood, before the pure form.
AABH: Is this an attitude that you had from the beginning? That it was maybe something that pushed you to grow to where you are now?
T: We have an enormous amount of resources of all kinds of different people, different genders,religions, political attitudes, nationalities, cultural backgrounds, and then we see clearly that we want to do different things. Some of us, maybe the younger ones, would like to work with smaller things because that is good for training and learning. And then we say ok, that is interesting, let’s do this and give the responsibility to a younger group in the firm. Or like the very complicated project in France, the huge dwelling which is complicated even for me, where we even established an office in Paris and have architects from there and our Norwegian colleagues go there to work. We always hope to have a team that is motivated. In principle, we started as an office doing cultural buildings, today we do more or less everything, except from villas.
AABH: Snohetta’s most famous projects are the Opera house, which is at the same time a successful building and public space, and Alexandria, public library. How do you see the role of public space in contemporary architectural and social projects, are public spaces decreasing in cities?
T: After the WWII whole Europe had to be reconstructed, both the private and public spheres came up with interesting projects, town houses, dwellings, schools and kindergartens,all for public use. I think that it was easier to be an architect in the 50s and 60s, which I was not a part of, I am not that old (laughter). Today you have this growing differences in needs and hence approaches to building, wherein some places people are desperately in need for public investment or cultural buildings as public spaces, while in other places dwellings and private space are still the most important because of migration to cities.
AABH: What was the biggest challenge – as an architectural project, working for Snohetta, and your biggest success?
For the firm,obviously, it was the Alexandria Library because we were only youngsters. The project was designed and managed in the early 1990s, and there was some political havoc etc. We learned a lot on that project. We had a very strong concept that won the competition, but were not grownups and had so much to learn, so many new factors to fight and to understand.
On a more personal level, I would say that it is the Opera project – at the same time a sit is a ‘warming’ thing to look back on it now. I worked on it personally from the first sketches for the competition and then as a project manager for eight years after the competition. We were roughly 25 architects fully occupied in our team in Snohetta through 8 years working on the Opera. It was a big challenge in regards of how do you organize, how do you keep everyone ambitious, how do you inspire each other, how do you deal with ministries and governmental agencies, and at the same time how do you defend the strongest qualities of your idea because the egalitarian society of Norway doesn’t automatically accept people as geniuses. You have to prove it all the time, again and again.But with Opera, we managed to finish it 4 months before the National Assembly set the deadline and 400 million Norwegian kroner cheaper than the budget.Overall, it was a very tough project to work on.
AABH: Statistically, and from the perspective of many other European and world countries, Norway is an example of high development,standard of life and equality. Working and living in there, what are the challenges that you are faced with?
I have to be realistic, I have been travelling a lot and of course Norway is a very good society. Also, a very good society to be an architect in.
AABH: Why do you think that is – is the law set in such way that it recognizes the role of architects in one society?
To some extent,yes. Building codes in Norway declare that certain things definitely need an architect and no one else can do them. But perhaps more important is the fact that architects have historically been involved in 20-30% of all building activity at least for the last 100 years. Another factor is also very good educational system, rich society because of the oil which has been held in public ownership. So, I can’t really complain on the country or role of architect in it.
AABH: Lastly, Norway and other Scandinavian countries are very well known for the equality of their society. On the other hand, there is huge rise of inequality in the world at the moment. Do you find that architecture is following this dialogue and responding to problems of inequality in cities, particularly housing? What is the social role of architects today?
You are really asking a relevant question now. Personally, I am not pessimistic, but I can see that late liberalism and late capitalism really allow for great inequality and bad distribution of resources which is threatening mankind.
Again, the answer will lean on some other statements I made, because yes on the national or local level the architects should as urban planner and address this problem, use very practical examples to point out that things should be done differently to increase the welfare for everyone. For instance, Snohetta says no if we see or suspect that the building site is run by underpaid personnel. This is our way to address the problem and point it out to the client. I think all architects should be more open and free in public argumentation. The problem is that most architects live from payments from rich clients, which is reality, but makes them a bit more silent than they should be because they really are in a position to follow and see the money. We are in a position from time to time where we have a possibility to raise our voice and point out certain things, and it is time we start doing it.