/txt/ ANNALS OF ARCHITECTURE THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SPACE
Can a Norwegian firm solve the problems of Times Square?
BY DAVID OWEN JANUARY 21, 2013
ANNALS OF ARCHITECTURE about Snøhetta, a Norwegian architecture firm, and its plans to redesign Times Square. The firm, whose first American commission was for an entrance pavilion at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, was chosen by New York City to, in effect, redesign Times Square—one of the city’s most famous landmarks and, for residents, perhaps its most despised one. A third of a million people pass through the square daily, yet the visitors are mainly tourists and their predators, and when the big theatres let out on summer evenings the human crush can seem cataclysmic. Among Snøhetta’s goals is to reconfigure the space in such a way that city residents will stop walking blocks out of their way to avoid it. Construction is expected to begin this summer. Snøhetta is named for an object (a mountain in central Norway) rather than for a star partner or partners. There are two principals, both in their fifties: in Oslo, Kjetil Thorsen, who is Norwegian; and in New York Craig Dykers, who is American but has spent most of his life in Europe, including sixteen years in Norway. Both downplay their personal contributions to the firm’s designs, and neither has an instantly recognizable style. Dykers described Snøhetta’s approach as “collectivist,” and said that “anyone can suggest anything about anything.” Thorsen called the firm’s ethos “open, direct, accessible, egalitarian—strange value words that don’t mean anything until you see what they do.” Describes a number of the firm’s other projects. The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, in Oslo, resembles a glacier that’s calving great wedges of glass and white marble, and its roof—which slants upward from the harbor and seems to emerge from the water—has become a busy public square. Parents push baby carriages to the top; tourists pull suitcases from the train station; swimmers, sunbathers, kayakers, and swans treat the western edge as a beach. During the building’s inaugural performance, a young couple were discovered making love above the auditorium. One of the architects says he considered their act both a compliment and the building’s “consummation.” Describes the firm’s design for the new Library of Alexandria, in Egypt; for the new World Trade Center Pavilion; for an addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and for the Norwegian Wild Reindeer Center Pavilion, in Hjerkinn, Norway. Discusses the firm’s approach to crowds: much crowd behavior is predictable, Dykers said, but it isn’t perceived consciously by the crowds themselves; this informs Snøhetta’s sense of how people move through unfamiliar spaces. Mentions Dykers’ brother, who suffered a cerebral aneurysm and, as a consequence of surgery that was intended to repair it, lost his ability to remember new things. He has inadvertently helped Dykers in his work as an architect, because his brain injury, Dykers said, makes him a perfectly naïve test subject. “He can’t rely on memory to navigate through spaces…. So I watch him, and try to understand what clues he’s using to move through unfamiliar surroundings.” Writer walks with Dykers through Times Square, and learns about the changes the firm plans to make.