Landscapes hold wondrous power. They connect human and non-human worlds; they can comfort or confront, inspire, or frighten. Landscapes are simultaneously young and ancient; they will always exist and continue to change regardless of design or intervention. Yet, while landscapes can be shaped by an accumulation of forces and time, they can be imagined through image, text, and storytelling. Snøhetta’s landscape architects perform within this dynamic medium, conducting the invention and design of projects from ecosystems and parks to pavilions, plazas, streetscapes, and masterplans.
Our work considers the interconnectedness of human life with both the visible and invisible characteristics of nature to reveal latent qualities and unrealized possibilities of all that may be constructed. In our studios around the globe – from the prairies of Canada to the Eucalyptus forests of Australia – qualities of flora, fauna, and the geophysical, geological, climatic, historical, and cultural are specifically and uniquely regarded. Engaging this breadth of participation comes with challenges and requires creative translation to relate to the scale of a human user. At this point of translation, it is here that narrative is most vital.
Storytelling is an instrument used to cross or blur the threshold between the cultural and the physical, and to blend the past with the present and the existing with the proposed. Landscapes are full of ideas, information, and possibilities for each of us. With practice, landscapes can be "read," often revealing languages, idioms, and dialects unique to the specific context of time and space. Like storytelling, landscapes can tell the stories of past and present, of cause and effect, of people and culture, and of the complex and symbiotic relationships intertwined throughout these networks.
Humans are, by nature, social creatures. The places where we spend time are the places where we observe, collaborate, and interact with the world around us. Our work neither stands alone nor is context-free. This encourages us to embrace and explore site complexity: from sites shaped by existing infrastructure and constructed ground to those composed of three-dimensional layering of geology, water, structures, and cultural histories, to often-overlooked spaces of the in-between or forgotten territories: to stepping into the vast expanse of the once-wild lands across the globe.
We begin by questioning assumptions and by considering the context of environmental, cultural, and historical conditions of the sites and the people we engage. We design by making physical and digital models and drawings of all kinds. We evaluate ideas by writing and discussing them, and we inform and refine these explorations by bringing them to the site during the design process. We consider ourselves as editors, as optimists, and as curators that shape the land to realize potential.
The landscapes we shape take on various formal identities, express performative qualities, offer invitations to others, or explore unseen relationships.
From transforming the privately-owned public space at 550 Madison to the reconstruction of Times Square in New York City, these urban rooms have reshaped existing public spaces, enlivened by both the human and non-human residents of cities across the globe. The Orchard in Austria and the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota invite visitors into regenerated landscapes and call attention to the cultural, physical, and performative qualities of the places we encounter and affect.
Landscapes are ephemeral and often formed by an amalgamation of complex geologies, constructed grounds, layered histories, and changing times and seasons. The simple notion of a "path" can offer an immersive journey through place and time. In Austria, the Path of Perspectives introduces a select sequence of moments. The stepping stones at Trælvikosen in Norway invite visitors to pause and be part of the wonders of the tide. The complex three-dimensional Willamette Falls Riverwalk, shaped by editing the existing constructed landscape, reveals what is already present but underappreciated.
Lastly, one of the most compelling opportunities we share as landscape architects and architects is establishing a conceptual and physical approach to our work. Fundamentally, rather than working to erase the distinction between buildings and land, we are interested in the emergence of relationships informed by the site, the context, and the people we engage with along the way. Across the full spectrum of our work, we deeply value explorations informed, and that inform the experiences and intentions of people, places, plants, and animals. Our work is expressive of our collective curiosity. Such values, when given a voice, provide shared ideas that can stimulate wondrous hope and positive intention in the landscapes we envision.