Robert Greenwood talks on the Snøhetta architects’ principles and the Russian North

Interview by: Иван Матвеев

Talking about the space it is always interesting to suddenly find some common points. What does unite people of different cultures, countries, religions? It is quite surprising to find some commonalities in people’s feeling of space they are living in. Talking about the North different people note the light as a special feature, that special light from the North that somehow unites that whole space.

— Today we’re talking with Robert Greenwood who is partner and managing director at Snøhetta architects. Hello and thank you very much, Robert.

— Well, my pleasure to be here in Gorky Park on a sunny day, talking to you.

— Yesterday at the lecture you made at Moscow Strelka institute, you were talking about some basic principles of the bureau; one of them is “bringing from the outside”.

— Yeah, you know we come from a little place the long way away on the periphery, on the edge of everything. And I think that’s a big advantage coming from the outside looking in.

We are working all the way around the world, we’re going out to meeting cultures, meeting people, meeting sites, projects, it’s very good not come from the center, exporting your culture, rather come from the outside and meet the people, you’re going to work with.

— But what about bringing from the inside? Are there any connections between the national Norwegian tradition (maybe through some feeling of the space, volume, form, etc.) in Snøhetta’s architecture?

— Yeah look we… definitely, we come from Norway, and our roots are in Norway and we’re very concerned about that. I think that is a very important aspect of our culture. We don’t export anything Norwegian, other than some basic values that I think are inherent in Scandinavian society and those values are… of openness, the values of dialogue and democracy, and those things we do carry with us. I think out into the projects we take part in.

— And what about the feeling of the space?

— Yeah, I think feeling of space is always very particular to the place and the culture that you’re working in. And I think that people feel space very differently around the world in different cultures. So our job is really to relate to that and to in some way feel that to create a project that is specific to the place and culture where we are working.

King Abdul-Aziz Center for World Culture © Snohetta architects

King Abdul-Aziz Center for World Culture © Snohetta architects

In the Saudi Arabia, we are now constructing the King Abdul-Aziz Center for World Culture. This is a very special project, it is one of the most ambitious projects we have been involved in, and I think challenging in many ways. Challenging because we are in this case meeting a culture that is very different to our own culture, so I think it demands a lot of our people to really relate to that particular environment culturally but also climatically. It is obviously a desert — it is hot, it is dusty, and we come from the cold North. So I think there are many things that we’ve had to struggle with and relate to, and big challenges that I think can result in a project that can we hope be a step forward for the Saudi Arabia.

— Can we say it’s a bit Nordic?

— I don’t think you can say it’s necessarily a bit Nordic. I don’t quite know really what that would mean. It doesn’t look Nordic.

— Stones?

— There they are stones, so that’s a bit Nordic, yeah. Bit to get stones everywhere. So it’s not specifically Nordic. What we would like is that building is very open and embracing, and it creates a space for the public, space for people to meet, talk, discuss, to have a dialogue. And if that’s Nordic, then yeah — it’s Nordic.

King Abdul-Aziz Center for World Culture © Snohetta architects

King Abdul-Aziz Center for World Culture © Snohetta architects

I do understand though, that Russia is at least partly from the North and I think that everybody who lives in the North near the Northern Arctic Circle, in that light from the North, definitely has some of the same experience, some of the same perception of space you talk about. The dark winters, the dark nights, the cold.

Russia is at least partly from the North and I think that everybody who lives in the north near the northern Arctic Circle, in that light from the North, definitely has some of the same experience, some of the same perception of space you talk about

How you change your life, how you change the way you use spaces, the way you use buildings, the way you use cities in the North during the different seasons. Definitely, I think we have some commonalities there. And we can see that, I think in… in some of the attitude.

— Some of that magical light of the North?

— Well, the light is really important and that’s obviously what’s really special about living in the North. This understanding of the low sharp light. And I’m sure in many parts of Russia it’s just the same. So we do have that in common.

Tverrfjellhytta, Norwegian Wild Reindeer Pavilion © Snohetta architects

Tverrfjellhytta, Norwegian Wild Reindeer Pavilion © Snohetta architects

— You’re now working on the renovation of Moscow Garden Ring. Please tell us more about the project.

— Well, it’s a real privilege to have been invited by Strelka KB to take part in their project and collaborate with them on what is just a very small part of a very large project. So we have a great admiration for Strelka, great admiration for taking on this project, partially initiating this project and undertaking it. It’s happening very fast. It’s something that really is happening. It’s very important for Moscow. I think, that addressing the big boulevards, the traffic, the city life, the way you use the city, the space for the pedestrians the urban quality of life is so important, that this this cannot be overstated. So our role in this is fortunate, but unfortunately only very small, but we’re very honored to be working together. We like to do this as a partnership.

MAX IV Laboratory Landscape © Snohetta architects

MAX IV Laboratory Landscape © Snohetta architects

It is a little piece of a very much bigger project, but I think it’s very smart of Strelka to invite other architects into this project. It is obviously so big that there’s room to bring other people in, room to bring in many voices, and that’s going to add a richness to the project when it’s finished. But I think it will be very interesting to see where you can move from one space to another, to the next, in a connection. Experience different architects’ vision of what this could be.

— Thank you very much.

— Thank you.