Thirty years ago, a group of American and Norwegian architectural graduates jointly developed the winning proposal in the prestigious competition for the Alexandria Library. A legend was reborn and during the uprising of 2011 its users formed a human chain to protect it from vandalism. The collaborative spirit of that venture remains the hallmark of a global practice that has expanded from its bases in Oslo and New York and they’ve created this book in-house to celebrate their anniversary and their way of working. It’s a handsome monograph that emphasizes the firm’s populism—their desire to make buildings widely accessible and to create public spaces—so it’s a pity that the price puts it out of reach of students who would find inspiration in that message.
The line-up of projects is impressive and ranges from a tiny sheep farmer’s cabin to the hugely popular Oslo Opera House and Ryerson Student Learning Center in Toronto. Both these institutions are publicly accessible, and they are shaped by patterns of use. Snøhetta recount their experience with a sheepdog whose instinct to herd animals found expression at the owner’s parties, where the dog gently nudged guests until they found themselves huddled together. In contrast, their scheme to reconfigure Times Square employs long granite benches to separate pedestrians walking through from those who want to linger while using bollards to protect them from traffic. A great notion, but the horde of tourists and vendors overwhelms the space and it remains a chaotic intersection that most residents seek to avoid. Far more successful is Lascaux IV, the Centre for Cave Art in southwestern France, which recreates and explains the Neolithic cave paintings that the public can no longer visit. The simulation is convincing, the elucidation engaging, and visitors are cleverly spaced out to avoid congestion.
The 24 featured projects, grouped in three thematic sections, include the September 11 Memorial Pavilion, a brilliant addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a fish market in Oman and the new Norwegian banknotes. It’s a hugely impressive and diversified body of work, guided by ideals that every architect should share.
Snøhetta: Collective Intuition. Snøhetta. Phaidon, $79.95
Author: Michael Webb
Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.