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Building the future

Lofoten Opera Hotel
The Lofoten Opera Hotel © Snøhetta & MIR
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Snøhetta’s Jette Hopp on architecture as social change maker.

Every now and then, we all think about the future. We want to know whether it’s going to be that different from what we know now. How will we live? What problems will we face, and what solutions are going to be invented? We don’t know yet, do we?

Norwegian architect Jette Hopp, who spoke at this year’s me Convention about the value of architecture in creating community, may have some answers. The me Convention is a new conference format by Mercedes-Benz and South by Southwest (SXSW) that brings technology, design, and creative industries together to talk about the future. “New Urbanism”, one of the five conference topics, gave us a glimpse of how we might live in the future, and we met Jette to find out more.

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  • Jette Hopp
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    Jette Hopp © Snøhetta
  • The inerdisciplinary team at Snøhetta
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    The interdisciplinary team at Snøhetta © Snøhetta
  • Social Change Architecture
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    Social Change Architecture © Lorne Bridgman

Working for the architecture and design company Snøhetta, Jette Hopp follows the philosophy that architecture can contribute to solving our society’s challenges. At the same time, it also has a strong impact on the way we live as a community. Jette works with the interdisciplinary team that realized one of her masterpieces, the “Powerhouse Kjørbo” outside Oslo, Norway – the first office building in Norway that produces more energy than it actually uses.

We are here at the me Convention, and we’ve already listened to many thoughts about the future and how to “create the new”. How do you feel about the future?

As an architect, I have to be rather optimistic about the future. But certainly, there are some urgencies when it comes to sustainability, the increase of population and its complexity. Architects have a big responsibility when it comes to contributing solutions to these new challenges. It can make the world better when we shape our environment in a responsible way. But I also believe in the beauty of this art form.

King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Saudi Arabia.
King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture in Saudi Arabia. © Snøhetta & MIR

One part of that future is the idea of “new urbanism”. What do you think would need to be created?

We have to deal with a larger field of complexity and it’s not only related to architecture. It is also about being able to analyse and read all levels of the context – looking at it in a political and social way. We need to look at it what it requires to create the thing what we call a “city”. First of all, we need to have the knowledge to be able to transform the needs and urgencies when shaping urban environment. It is a big field of different expertise that requires to take up all of these challenges. And secondly, this knowledge has to be carried to the next level.

Times Square reconstruction
The Times Square Reconstruction transformed a notoriously congested intersection into a world-class civic space. © Michael Grimm

Do you feel you’re one step ahead with projects like the sustainable “Powerhouse Kjørbo”? Or do you rather feel one step behind as there already is a requirement to build all buildings in a sustainable way?

We have to reduce our carbon footprint. This should be one of our major urgencies and tasks at the moment.

Sometimes, however, I do feel a bit overwhelmed. But I try to keep an optimistic view in these moments and look at challenges in an entrepreneurial way. I believe it is all about turning obstacles into potential. And a question that arises then is, “How can we use a problem to generate answers?” I have the eagerness to solve this question. That is what drives me.

The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet
The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet: its accessible roof and open public lobbies make the building a social monument rather than a sculptural one. © Jens Passoth

Why do we need cutting edge technology to build sustainable houses?

Technology might not be the only solution to solve the challenges we’re facing, however, it is part of the overall approach. For instance, solar energy is very sustainable, but we wouldn’t be able to use it without the technical tools. It goes hand in hand.

From my perspective, we also need the “sketching hand”. It represents the relation between the body and the space as it certainly is a different experience – a physical experience that supports our way of thinking.

“The 7th Room”
“The 7th Room” is part of a hotel in Northern Sweden. © Johan Jansson

Speaking of the future, new technologies, and forward-thinking ideas: what can we learn from the past?

In terms of sustainability, we can definitely learn from the past. Old churches, for instance, were built to last forever. What can be more sustainable than that? It’s about the value of space and material.

The long-lasting aspect of all materials is something we should consider from former architectural creations. Today, we are doing the opposite, and as soon as we have created a new building, we think about how we could demolish it when we don’t like it anymore.

The speed at which today’s cities are being built should be reduced a little bit. Cities that had the opportunity to grow slowly impress us today with the beauty of their public spaces – they enable people to meet up and communicate, and this eventually creates communities. We use these examples for our work and analyse what makes them special. The question that arises is, “How can we borrow those timeless qualities for a new development?” We’re trying to adapt, rewrite, and use this information to put it into a new context.

Thank you, Jette!