“While we’re a profoundly value-driven company, we are cautious not to impose predefined values on individuals. We hold the belief that people should discover and define their own value.”
What is your background and how did you first join Snøhetta? (Martin Gran, Partner at Snøhetta)) I’ve been with Snøhetta for 15 years and been working in architecture design industry for 30 years. My background includes studies in management, organisational behaviour, psychology, sociology, scientific methodology and philosophy from University of Oslo and Bergen. I’ve been working in the industry for very long time. In 2009 I started Snøhetta’s additional discipline, graphic design, digital design and product design. Snøhetta has always prioritised high degree of competence in creating strong concepts, emphasising meaning over immediate design. We often refer to ourselves as thinker, collective thinkers. I’ve been working in strategy, communication and leadership for a considerable period, and I’ve come to realise how logic, common sense, and strategy influence people’s behaviour. Snøhetta, as an architectural entity, possesses a tangible quality that surpasses many aspects of the creative industry. It holds an inherent power to influence people when coupled with care and meaningful concepts.
What makes it learning about human behaviour so interesting? (MG) I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind and behaviour. I have a particular interest in understanding the correlation between thoughts and actions—trying to decipher why we do certain things. Humans are complex and intriguing beings. Exploring how architecture and design shape us as humans is interesting to me. It’s a blessing to engage with this every day at work.
What is the most prioritised value in Snøhetta? (MG) I believe we are a true humanistic company, where humans stand as the most important factor defining our architectures and designs. It’s self-evident that architect and design are inseparable from people; they define and are defined by them. While we’re a profoundly value-driven company, we are cautious not to impose predefined values on individuals. We hold the belief that people should discover and define their own value. Where we prescribe three to five core values, individuals tend to internalise those values and become the values we defined, potentially losing their authenticity. Our goal within Snøhetta is to encourage individuals to become more of themselves. We’ve observed introverts embracing their introversion and extroverts amplifying their extroversion when we’ve made the right strides. It’s hard to pinpoint a single value or attribute as the most critical. In essence, humans are complex, and condensing their essence into one dimension is difficult. However, when we attempt to articulate our foundation, we base our discussions on the Nordic model, rooted in democracy and generosity. These principles foster a culture of freedom, enabling people to evolve without fear of mistakes, which significantly impacts our creativity and innovation.
“We chose to emphasise collectivism, aligning with the Nordic model, represented by ‘Snøhetta,’ a mountain in Dovre, Norway. The choice of a company name derived from a natural element rather than an individual signifies our belief in the importance of the collective over the individual, a value that remains significant today.”
Why do you think the company is so successful today? (MG) We strive to create optimal working conditions for individuals at Snøhetta. Rather than imposing motivation, which is crucial for individuals to self-generate, we focus on inspiring them. Our aim is to inspire individuals to discover their inner drive, indirectly fostering motivation to perform their tasks. In explaining how Snøhetta has evolved into what it is today and attributing to our success, I believe several factors played pivotal roles.
(MG) In our inaugural project, we deliberately utilised it to forge a new collective identity for Snøhetta. At the time, it was uncommon for architectural firms to adopt names other than individual ones. However, we chose to emphasise collectivism, aligning with the Nordic model, represented by ‘Snøhetta,’ a mountain in Dovre, Norway. The choice of a company name derived from a natural element rather than an individual signifies our belief in the importance of the collective over the individual, a value that remains significant today. Additionally, our decision to involve landscape architects from the project’s inception was unconventional but integral. We’ve always believed that the context of the landscape influences architectural concepts. This inclusion paved the way for embracing diverse cultural thinking within our organisation.
(MG) The third factor contributing to our evolution was our early emphasis on social sustainability. We embedded clauses in contracts ensuring provisions such as constant access to cold, fresh water and regular safety equipment distribution on construction sites, aiming to eliminate hazards. This commitment resulted in our project in the Middle East being among the first construction site where no fatalities occurred. Our endeavour not only exported architectural and design thinking to Egypt but also ingrained social sustainability. This commitment to people’s well-being has been a recurring theme in all our projects, potentially contributing to the success we’ve achieved.
“Just as a mountain is collectively owned, our ethos at Snøhetta is about embracing inclusivity.”
‘Snøhetta is a place nobody is from, but anyone can experience’ – What does this mean? (MG) Snøhetta, as a mountain, is accessible to all, yet it remains unclaimed by any individual, belonging instead to the collective. Just as a mountain is collectively owned, our ethos at Snøhetta is about embracing inclusivity. We refrain from dictating absolutes of right and wrong; rather, we aspire to open ourselves to various perspectives, involving our partners, clients, engineers, artists, and all contributors in our projects. This inclusive approach reflects a high level of self-confidence in our work process. By inviting diverse viewpoints, we demonstrate a willingness to explore different angles, a principle echoed in the symbolism of the mountain’s name. Our website echoes this sentiment with the phrase ‘everyone can experience together with us.’ Our aim is not exclusivity but inclusivity with the world.
“We try to start every project with what we consider our absolutely the most important tool: dialogue. We firmly believe that once a line is drawn, immense power is wielded, and we consciously delay this step for as long as possible.”
How does the team work? What is the creative process? (MG) We try to start every project with what we consider our absolutely the most important tool: dialogue. Dialogue forms the cornerstone of our process; we engage in extensive discussions to ensure we gain comprehensive and varied insights. It’s crucial for us to talk extensively, gathering vertical insights and established a contextual understanding among all team members. We firmly believe that once a line is drawn, immense power is wielded. There’s great potency in drawing, and we consciously delay this step for as long as possible. In today’s tech-driven landscape, particularly with the ease of visualisation aided by AI, the allure and pressure of speed can make this restraint challenging. While it’s not feasible to maintain this approach consistently across our nine offices with almost 400 people, it embodies the philosophy that guides our work methodology.
If you were to compare the office in Oslo with the one in New York City what would you said is the most significant difference? (MG) When you visit any of our offices worldwide, you’ll notice a common thread in the atmosphere—a familiar feel with shared elements like spaciousness, long tables, expansive reception areas, and direct access to the studio. However, these spaces, while creating a unified identity, aren’t identical. The most distinct difference lies in the prevailing world culture of the city or country where the office is located. When we established SnøhettaNew York as our second office, we initially replicated our organisational structure entirely, including holiday rights and other policies. However, this approach didn’t resonate with the work culture in New York. We had to adapt and embrace the local context, leading to a slightly more hierarchical structure in New York compared to Oslo.
“I believe the Nordic style reflects a strong sense of rationality. At Snøhetta, we don’t adhere to a specific style.”
What defines the Nordic style, or Nordic way? I believe Snøhetta wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t originated in Norway. (MG) I believe the Nordic style reflects a strong sense of rationality, possibly stemming from our harsh natural surroundings and the Nordic winter. Historically, our survival mode has dictated that everything must be functional. Therefore, the Nordic style can be characterised by a need for rationality and functionality. At Snøhetta, we don’t adhere to a specific style. We prioritise uniqueness in our projects, emphasising content over style. By being content-driven, our designs are shaped by the content itself. While our body of work may now reflect recognisable elements associated with us, we maintain our focus on content-driven approaches. Incorporating Nordic values such as political ideologies, societal aspects, and concepts of generosity, transparency, and democracy are crucial drivers evident in our projects. Hailing from Norway but crafting international projects from the outset—commencing with endeavours like the Library of Alexandria—we prioritise education and culture as our foremost categories of work. Our integration of Nordic thinking and a multidisciplinary approach serves as a solid foundation for creating projects worldwide.
“Through continuous dialogue, all of our disciplines became involved in the Under project, transforming it into more than just a restaurant or interesting architecture. It evolved into a hub for marine science, biology, and fish behaviour.”
What was the origin of the idea behind Under, Europe’s first underwater restaurant come about?(MG) The Under restaurant is a fantastic project involving all of our disciplines simultaneously. Initially, when the project was brought to us, it was intended as a commission solely for the interior work, with the architect already having drawn up plans and the owner having figured out the hotel’s external aspects. When asked about handling the interior, we suggested engaging in dialogue, given our belief in its paramount importance. Through discussions, we proposed placing the restaurant in the North Sea to connect it with nature. This suggestion pushed us to pursue a more meaningful concept, leading to architectural changes. Subsequently, through continuous dialogue, all of our disciplines became involved in the project, transforming it into more than just a restaurant or interesting architecture. It evolved into a hub for marine science, biology, and fish behaviour. Through these discussions, we explored the project’s purpose and its potential societal contributions. These elements became intertwined, resulting in the project becoming what it is today.
The environment, buildings, and weathers all influence how we think, dress, and consume. Architecture has played a significant role in shaping civilisation. What are your thoughts on the future of architecture? (MG) This is an important topic. I believe architecture and design will significantly influence our way of life and how we shape society in the future. On one hand, particularly in the Nordic region, especially in Norway, we’ve been fortunate to harness significant energy from natural resources like oil. However, we cannot continue solely on this path. I believe that the ability to create remarkable architectures connected to people will be crucial. Moreover, there’s a pressing need to enhance social interaction through architecture and design. Another critical global factor is the environment. Buildings currently account for 50-55% of energy consumption worldwide. Developing environmental strategies in architecture can lead to better design and, hopefully, contribute to addressing the environmental crisis we’re facing today. Therefore, the roles of architecture and design are pivotal in shaping our tomorrow.