Snohetta is more than a cool name

Snohetta is more than a cool name

James B Hunt Library – image courtesy of Snohetta

is more than a cool name….
by Dar Dowling

Viking lore has it that Snohetta, the highest mountain in Norway, is the resting place for their most heroic warriors, but it’s also the name of one of the most renowned architect firms in the world launched by Craig Dykers and Kjetil Traedal Thorsen. But Snohetta is more than a cool names their inspiration, so the pair climbs its snowy peaks every year as a part of their design process. Snohetta was born after Dykers formed a collective, to enter and ultimately win a competition to take on a legendary project the design of the Alexandria Library in Egypt. The original was destroyed over 1,500 years ago.

The team used a breathtakingly design thats very much in tune with the landscape, and the people who use the space a trademark, that along with their collective approach remains part of the Snohetta aesthetic. When I caught up with Craig Dykers who was on a short break from his summer travels, he peppered the conversation, which included the low down on some very exciting new projects, like the James B Hunt Library in North Carolina, with “us” and “our” rather than mine. The reason for this is pretty simple, both Dykers and Thorsen, want their buildings to stand on their own.

Oslo’s Norwegian National Opera and Ballet – image courtesy of Snohetta

By all accounts the James B Hunt Library is dynamic, bright and vibrant, creating a bridge between the conservative aesthetic of the area, and key modern design aspects, making it a hit with the locals, so much so that nine months prior to opening, which will occur in the next few months, they began giving tours of the site. The building came in on budget, quite a feat considering the buildings minimal energy needs, due to their of green and sustainable technology, receiving an energy code rating coming in just under gold.

According to Dykers the collective approach allows for dynamic solutions to come out around communal tables and work sessions, which may not emerge any other way giving equal weight to the newest and most long term members of the team. The initial success of the Alexandria Library has been repeated time and time again, including the design of Oslo’s Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, a building that is a contemporary take on the countries ice age like look.

9-11 Memorial Pavilion – image courtesy of Snohetta

Clearly Snohetta has been extremely successful, a success that eventually led to their opening an office in NYC, where they are making a very real impact on the city’s landscape, starting with taking on the World Trade Center Memorial, which has been a hit with city dwellers and tourists. But that’s not all they’ve taken on a series of projects that include redesigning the outdoor spaces and plazas in Times Square. While the area is almost always a source of delight for tourists, Dykers points out that for many New Yorkers over the years it’s lost its appeal, but Snohetta wants to change all that. While creating their design, according to Dykers, they were looking to turn back time to return to New Yorkers the love they once had for Times Square.

Back in the day, when there were fewer marques, and yes, people, New Yorkers loved Times Square, so to restore that love, part of the design process included studying the human flow patterns in the area, so that everyone, whether a tourist, a worker, or a resident, could thrive and move in and out of the area with ease. Having a dialogue with the people who actually use and pass through the space, was a key part of the teams research.  A huge undertaking, when you think about the significance of Times Square in terms of the landscape of NYC, but harking back to their Viking roots, Dykers and Snoetta embraced the challenge.

image courtesy of Snohetta

Harmonizing the ground and sky, the very landscape of Times Square, is also part of the dynamic solution they developed, which involves using what Dykers calls a muscle design, meaning that the ground space will be solid, dark and heavy, having lots of mass. Thereby balancing the light provided by the marques, so that the sky is anchored, replacing the washed out ground space of the not so distant past, with that ambiance that New Yorks used to love about Times Square, while retaining the excitement that tourists expect. You might say that Snohetta is Feng Shui-ing Times Square.

Snohetta also has some really exciting new projects starting in the city, including designing community based libraries in the Bronx and Far Rockaway. Communities where you might not have thought you would find Snohetta, but Craig Dykers is very excited about these projects and getting the design process for both up off the ground. While Snohetta is well known for their large scale work, they also enjoy working on smaller scale projects, like these, especially ones that will make a very real difference in the communities they are built in and these libraries definitely will.

During our talk Far Rockaway is definitely on Dykers mind, and he’s keenly aware of the areas rich history, and changing cultural landscape: Before air conditioning, before the Hamptons, the Rockaways were where New Yorkers pursued their lighthearted dreamy escapes. The same peninsula, the same city limit, the same seaside remains, but now populated by a far more diverse culture than we could have been imagined a century ago.

image courtesy of MIR

One of the more compelling aspects of Snohetta designs and buildings is that they reflect not just the geographic landscape they are built in, but the cultural one too, and this will very much be the case in the Rockaways – We are working to make a new place, a library, that recognizes its exceptional setting alongside the Atlantic beaches, but which is enlivened by the many cultures that now energize this urban edge of our city.

We can’t wait to see to see the library designs once they are ready for release, but also watch for news of some upcoming commercial projects in NYC too Snohetta is definitely in a New York state of mind these days.




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