THANKS TO the myths surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright and Howard
Roark (the fictional architect-superman in Ayn Rand’s The
Fountainhead), we assume that the successful architect is a
lonely genius with an ego the size of a skyscraper. It’s an image
that Craig Dykers can’t stand.
The 42-year-old American architect, based in Norway, literally
builds mutual cooperation and inspiration into every project
undertaken by Snohetta, the Oslo firm where he is principal
designer. At Snohetta — named for the mountain where Vikings
believed heaven is located — Dykers isn’t the boss; he’s one
creative force among many. ‘They say you can’t make great design by
committee,’ he says. ‘But you can, and you should. Buildings are
used by many people, and many people should have input into how
they are created.’
The firm was even formed cooperatively. Dykers, an Army brat
born in Europe, was living in Los Angeles and trying to get an
architectural practice going when he learned of an open competition
to design an enormous new library in Alexandria, Egypt — a modern
replacement of the legendary library that burned more than 1,500
years ago. He created an ad hoc alliance of young architects around
the world that won the competition and built the library, which
opened in 1999. Dykers decided to join the Oslo contingent of his
far-flung ‘firm,’ and Snohetta was born.
In all the firm’s work, fearless ingenuity fuses with an almost
spiritual feel for how the project fits into the natural and
cultural world. Snohetta redesigned a tiny garden in a
working-class district of Oslo (see photo) for the convenience and
pleasure of the owner’s pet cat, and they’re working on a major
museum in Margate, England, dedicated to the 19th-century painter
J.M.W. Turner. Turner’s bold, almost abstract seascapes inspired
Snohetta to expose part of the museum structure to the open sea,
where waves will actually break upon it.
Snohetta’s work is so sensitive to its context, in fact, that it
has no signature ‘look,’ and that’s just fine with Dykers. ‘In our
design world, who the architect is is almost impossible to tell,’
he says — and you sense that that’s just the point.
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