Office visit: Snøhetta New York

Walk from the elevator bank to Snøhetta’s Lower Manhattan office and you’ll find yourself in a large multipurpose common space. With no front desk in sight, you may strike up a conversation with whoever happens to be around, whether it’s an intern or a partner, to determine your next step.

This cheerful bit of social engineering, a holdover from the firm’s previous New York space, exemplifies the open, familial atmosphere that Snøhetta prides itself on. “It’s a little bit more like coming to someone else’s home,” said architect Marc-Andre Plasse, who led the design of the space. “If you’re a guest, you’re not going to be greeted by the typical desk with the receptionist. You come in and you’re directly with us.”

“Us” can in fact mean “the entire firm” most days around 1pm, when employees gather at two long, custom-designed tables in the common area. “We’re all encouraged to take lunch at the same time,” landscape architect Amanda Coen said. “That’s a huge part of the culture, fostering that informal side of what happens here.”

Lunchtime at Snøhetta’s new office, which opened in July 2015

Lunchtime at Snøhetta’s office, which opened in July 2015

Social space for team lunches and events was one of the firm’s top priorities for the office; another was a workshop. Snøhetta’s designers regularly use tools ranging from paper to 3-D printers to help develop and communicate ideas about projects.

Mario Mohan in Snøhetta’s model shop

Mario Mohan in Snøhetta’s model shop

This emphasis on physical experimentation sets the company apart within the industry, architect Jeff Cheung said. “A lot of firms are shying away from models since computer-generated renderings and images are becoming more and more available. But for us, model-making — and just making in general — is more than just a presentation material. It’s really integrated into the way we design.”

Jeff Cheung

Jeff Cheung

For Elaine Molinar, a partner and managing director for the Americas, this emphasis on physical experimentation is simply an acknowledgement that humans evolved to do more than stare at screens. “It’s a very, very old idea that you cannot only think with your mind; you have to think with your body as well.”

Credit: Charles Aydlett

As projects take shape, design teams use the office in different ways. Architects move pinup boards and tables into different configurations and mark up the floor and walls with tape to get a more intuitive feel for issues like size and spatial relationships.

Credit: Charles Aydlett

“We purposely didn’t overdesign the space so that we can rearrange things, it can evolve through time,” Plasse said. “Also we kept the main working space with very raw materials so it doesn’t feel too precious. It’s a tool that’s part of our process; it’s not something untouchable that we should be scared to play with.”

Credit: Charles Aydlett

Many brainstorming sessions spill into the large common space, which also accommodates meetings, presentations, and the occasional impromptu music session. (Two glass-fronted meeting rooms and a separate room for the human resources and finance teams offer privacy when needed.)

For architect Chad Carpenter, the openness and flexibility of the space has a strong impact on the firm’s output. “It really does affect how you work if what you’re doing is always visible and in the middle of what everyone else is doing.”

 

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