Just by looking at the mind-boggling New Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo, an architectural cliff on the edge of a fjord, you might think there’d be a lot of dense archibabble floating around at the firm Snøhetta. We have been paying closer attention to them out here in San Francisco, after hearing rumors that they are in the running for the SFMOMA extension in partnership with locals EHDD.
So it was doubly refreshing to hear one of the two principals, Craig Dykers, give a presentation about the firm last Friday at the AIA SF offices that was not only highly intelligible but often humorous: many choice quotes have been posted elsewhere on the Dwell blog.
I started thinking about what it was that made the presentation (and the firm) seem so accessible, and came up with a few points (which I will take to heart myself the next time I am called upon for some sort of exposition). Because we all have to work at making ourselves and our ideas compelling to people who don’t know who we are; and as in any business, our success depends in part on our ability to connect with clients.
1. ) A portfolio is more interesting when it shows both the most impressive projects but also examples of humbler work. Dykers showed pictures of the Opera House and the library in Alexandria, but also photos from a small act of activism where they installed birdhouses everywhere to see how many they could put up before being stopped by authorities (they got to 42).
2. ) There are professional accolades, and then there is the reaction of the public at large. Dykers searched Flickr and YouTube to find photos and videos that people have taken of the firm’s buildings, including one (very daring) video of a stunt cyclist climbing the opera house.
3.) Show, don’t tell–especially if you are saying something that everyone says. Dykers had a fun way to show the office in action: Koyaanisqatsi-style time-lapse video of one long table where everyone comes together for lunch, an “ampitheatre” where the whole office can gather, and an espresso machine in heavy use. He could have spent a lot of time going, “We’re a very collaborative office and believe in sharing ideas,” but the audience would have glazed over.
4.) Sincerity and commitment can be displayed on many levels. Talk about transparency: Dykers shared the company’s salary range (entry level is $68K, while his own salary is $168K) and how they go to great lengths to keep the genders precisely balanced (the 110 staff members are 55 men, 55 women). Whatever you may think of Snøhetta’s designs, you can’t say that the firm doesn’t have strong principles.
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