Two Minutes With // Snøhetta

Hi there! We are excited to release our recent interview with Ian Colburn, of Snøhetta. Snøhetta practices a self-defined trans-disciplinary process in which different professionals — from architects to visual artists, philosophers to sociologists — exchange roles in order to explore differing perspectives without the prejudice of convention. Snøhetta’s working method practices a simultaneous exploration of traditional handicraft and cutting edge digital technology — a serendipitous relationship that drives their creative process. Be sure to check out their website for more.

Images courtesy of Jeff Goldberg / ESTO.

VT: The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech along with many other Snohetta projects have geometric patterned façades contrasting curvilinear interior structures. What influences this decision within your design process and how does it impact the overall atmosphere within the space? What allows this spatial impact among a variety of work to ultimately remain consistent from project to project?

SNØ: The influences for each project are unique in regards to what emerges from the design process, client workshops, and the design team. The resulting atmosphere in each space tends to be a response to these factors and not of preconceived ideas. In terms of contrast in forms and shapes, straight vs. curved, this is born from the functionality of the parts. The spatial impact allows the inhabitant to appreciate the focus and attention to detail, while the space itself yields a comfortable ambience.

VT: Most of your work requires a deep, contextual understanding of place, history, and species. In what ways have you honored the natural environment through design? How does this admiration impact the process of your work?

SNØ: We often spend a lot of time on the site, working, interviewing, and spending time with locals in the early stages of the projects. We always have a local architect and landscape architect to help gain a better understanding of the materials and detail language of the place. A direct connection to the local landscape and vernacular architecture is a must. The admiration for social human interaction in a natural or built environment is highlighted, tested, and pronounced in the resulting work.

VT: Designing installations such as Stillspotting Guggenheim or Sup-Plywood require attention to detail that goes beyond building design. These works are designed and installed with an understanding that an individual’s experience is predicted, not guaranteed. How does the challenge of this uncontrollable elements change your design process? How is this similar to traditional architecture?

SNØ: We have always been involved down to the detail in our projects. The knob on the front door is a building’s welcoming handshake. Beyond the practical and predictable we are very much interested in the social experiment. We relish the opportunity to provide ‘play’ within the uncontrollable elements and invite the users to discover. As long as safety is covered, unpredictability can be a door to creativity.

VT: Many of Snohetta’s projects are research-based and conceptually driven. By constantly pushing the boundary of design, your firm creates a higher standard for the future. What influences from our present time encourage this dramatic shift forward in design?

SNØ: Our design strategy, if we could consider that we have one, is to not have a strategy. Each project is approached holistically with open minds and the ability to edit. We rely on the design process paying attention to the interaction with the clients and consultants, our influences from the site, and the climatic factors to help the project take shape. Should a shift forward occur, it is purely and positively accidental.

VT: Snohetta’s projects define small details and require extreme precision when constructed. What technology, software, or other construction methods play a role in your design process to ensure that each element is developed exactly as the design intended?

SNØ: Keeping a sharp pencil in graphic representation is a must. We pride ourselves on keeping our tools up to date, using the precise tool for the right task while testing their limits. We often beta test software with the manufactures learning the best techniques through trial and error. Tight control over the project management has allowed for the execution of precise detailing as well. Eliminating unnecessary materials, middle men, and/or time delays helps to steer the project and team to a tight conclusion as well. In this regard being on-site during construction is of utmost importance.