THANKS TO the myths surrounding Frank Lloyd Wright and Howard Roark (the fictional architect-superman in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead), we assume that the successful architect is a lonely genius with an ego the size of a skyscraper. It's an image that Craig Dykers can't stand.
The 42-year-old American architect, based in Norway, literally builds mutual cooperation and inspiration into every project undertaken by Snohetta, the Oslo firm where he is principal designer. At Snohetta -- named for the mountain where Vikings believed heaven is located -- Dykers isn't the boss; he's one creative force among many. 'They say you can't make great design by committee,' he says. 'But you can, and you should. Buildings are used by many people, and many people should have input into how they are created.'
The firm was even formed cooperatively. Dykers, an Army brat born in Europe, was living in Los Angeles and trying to get an architectural practice going when he learned of an open competition to design an enormous new library in Alexandria, Egypt -- a modern replacement of the legendary library that burned more than 1,500 years ago. He created an ad hoc alliance of young architects around the world that won the competition and built the library, which opened in 1999. Dykers decided to join the Oslo contingent of his far-flung 'firm,' and Snohetta was born.
In all the firm's work, fearless ingenuity fuses with an almost spiritual feel for how the project fits into the natural and cultural world. Snohetta redesigned a tiny garden in a working-class district of Oslo (see photo) for the convenience and pleasure of the owner's pet cat, and they're working on a major museum in Margate, England, dedicated to the 19th-century painter J.M.W. Turner. Turner's bold, almost abstract seascapes inspired Snohetta to expose part of the museum structure to the open sea, where waves will actually break upon it.
Snohetta's work is so sensitive to its context, in fact, that it has no signature 'look,' and that's just fine with Dykers. 'In our design world, who the architect is is almost impossible to tell,' he says -- and you sense that that's just the point.
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