by Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher
Snøhetta, the international design office, is not the first architecture firm to undertake site-specific design, but it is among the pioneers whose architecture purposefully recalls beloved local splendor. Much of Snøhetta’s built work makes a visual connection to an iconic cultural or natural condition inherent to the site. The firm’s Opera House for the city of Oslo pierces the city’s waterfront like a steep, icy slope edging a fjord. Its library in Alexandrina, Egypt, has a granite facade of etched characters recalling ancient hieroglyphs. Concretizing beloved local phenomena in municipal architecture, Snøhetta’s buildings hardly recede into their surroundings, but rather introduce a restrained, but recognizable, iconography.
Other architects have addressed ideas of nature and culture within their work. The San Francisco (by way of South Africa) architect Stanley Saitowitz, whose work is very site-considered, wrote about San Francisco’s streets “running like waterfalls over the city’s hills.” The New York–based architects Diller, Scofidio and Renfro designed and fabricated a building with walls of misted water as a temporary installation for the 2002 Swiss Expo. Named the Blur Building, its form was in constant flux depending on how the wind was blowing. In this way, the architecture was the natural element, rather than a representation of it.