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“Forget the stroke of genius of the individual”

From the first underwater restaurant in Europe to the spectacular opera house in Oslo: Snøhetta is one of the most successful and innovative architectural firms in the world. Director Jette Cathrin Hopp explains the work ethic behind the projects and how the construction of tomorrow works.

© Pepe Lange

Interview: Silke Roth

stilwerk: What topics are architects concerned with today?

Jette C. Hopp : Urbanization, digitalization and climate crisis. Even before the pandemic, the world was facing a series of global transformations in the field of construction and architecture. With the world population expected to reach 10 billion people before the 22nd century, the construction sector will need to understand the megatrends reshaping our planet. On a finite planet where unlimited growth is expected to feed our growing population, these times require major changes.

stilwerk: How does Snøhetta approach these topics?

Jette C. Hopp: Our work aims to strengthen the perception of the environment, identity and relationships with other people and the physical spaces we inhabit. No matter whether they are natural or man-made. With more than 280 employees from 32 different nations based in Oslo and New York and offices in Paris, Hong Kong, Innsbruck and Adelaide, we integrate architecture, landscape, interior design, product and graphic design into our projects. Collaboration between different disciplines is a key driving force in how we work. The content approach comes from a long-standing Nordic tradition, which is based on humanistic values such as openness, equality and generosity. That's why every project begins with a workshop. The ideas and values developed thereby lead like a common thread through the entire course of the project.

stilwerk: This approach to content is also reflected in the company name, right?

Jette C. Hopp: Right. For over 30 years, Snøhetta has borrowed the name of a Norwegian mountain that is 2,286 meters high. We describe Snøhetta as a place where no one comes from, but where everyone can go. This image very clearly describes our collective attitude, which began as a collaborative architecture and landscape network and has remained true to a transdisciplinary way of thinking since 1989.



stilwerk: Let us take part in this in practice. What does transdisciplinary thinking mean specifically?

Jette C. Hopp Our work ethos is open, direct and accessible. We practice one

transdisciplinary way of working, in which individuals from a wide range of professional backgrounds - from architects to artists to philosophers and sociologists - change roles in order to be able to take on different perspectives as unbiasedly as possible and beyond applicable conventions. We refer to this methodology as “transpositioning.” This promotes an open exchange between roles and disciplines within the office. Architects, landscape architects, interior architects, artists and designers work together in an integrative process to represent diverse perspectives and priorities from the start. This approach is also reflected in our work with clients and their project participants. The builders briefly become architects and the architects become builders. Meeting at eye level creates space for a mutual understanding of goals and requirements. Reversing roles expands your comfort zone in a constructive way and replaces any narrow-minded approach. The quality and strength of our designs, which always reflect a specific identity, are achieved through intensive research. We consciously distance ourselves from the “master thinking” that is still widespread in German-speaking countries. The focus of our work is not the stroke of genius of one individual, but rather the result of the collaboration of many.


stilwerk: Do you currently have a project close to your heart?

Jette C. Hopp : My personal “favorite projects” are the latest Snøhetta projects, which are still in development and in the making, because the different processes can influence the relevance of a project for society. In addition, I am interested in orders that contain an innovation aspect. So projects that transcend the boundaries of the conventional, question standards and established “truths”. Innovation is achieved by pushing the boundaries of conventional ideas. This means defining new ways of interaction between people, adding new functionalities and forms of use, and thus creating new architectural typologies that can bring about social change. The Oslo Opera is a good example. Opera houses usually have clear historical references. We wanted to rejuvenate this typology in order to make the opera and ballet arts part of a possible future. This thought led us to design a building that would appeal to an audience not specifically familiar with opera, thus creating an object with a more general character. The building itself became an instrument of interactive dialogue between a larger public and the arts. The roof is freely accessible and by enabling such an intimate relationship between visitors and the building we achieve a sense of public ownership of the object.



stilwerk: How are architecture and design today changing the world of tomorrow?

Jette C. Hopp : The contribution of the construction industry and architecture is crucial to achieving global energy and environmental goals. At the same time, better quality and more energy-efficient buildings increase people's quality of life and bring additional economic and social added value. Awareness and commitment to protecting the environment on our planet has grown and architecture must meet strict environmental standards in addition to its fundamental commitment to social sustainability. Our work must also go that extra mile to minimize the negative impact on the environment. Particularly with conscious awareness of the peculiarities of a given place, whether it is a coastline, the stark beauty of a rocky land or a historic city. We try to complement the respective environment, reflect it through its design aesthetics and use the forward-looking technologies of construction to solve or prevent ecological disasters.


stilwerk: What inspires you in your work?

Jette C. Hopp : My children, colleagues, beautiful spaces, art, Venice and the fjords.


stilwerk: What expectations do you have of yourself as an architect?

Jette C. Hopp : In addition to clear sustainability goals, you should try to understand the project from its overall context as a design of living space and not as a single object. A new project always has the potential to generate social added value. As a developer, you have both the opportunity and the responsibility to make the project contribute positively to its surroundings, without this attitude having to have consequences for the construction budget. If one understands architecture as a social instrument in this sense, that architecture contributes to social changes and ideally improves them - then all new projects, in a wide variety of places, can create social interaction.

Top from left: Snøhetta Oslo Office, © Marc Goodwin | Under, © Snøhetta | Under exterior view, © Snøhetta // Below from left: Powerhouse Brattorkaia, © Snøhetta | | King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture, © Frans Parthesius | King Abdulaziz Center for Knowledge and Culture, © Frans Parthesius

The interview was conducted by Silke Roth and first appeared in the stilwerk magazine “ReFraming” in August 2022.


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