Knut Longva. An Interview

We met former founder Knut Longva on a Friday afternoon during one of his few time slots. We asked him about his practice, his work and thoughts. After a fun time he spent passionately introducing us to different projects his firm designed since its creation, we had to leave him working through the weekend…

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– How did you start the office

We started after we won a competition, for Olympic Games in Lillehammer, long time ago, in 1994.

– And after the competition, you thought it was the right time to do so?

We bought a telephone, and a sign on the door.

– Was it hard to start an office at that moment ?

We just got the permission from the Olympic Games. Not what we had expected, but we got the site plan. Not very much really, but we started. We did some renovation work  in attics also.

– Are there some common principles behind all the projects you’ve done ?

The way we work is more or less the same on every project. At the time we do mostly, or only, public work.

– Is there a reason why ?

Yes, maybe. The projects we do, most of them are kind of professional giants. I think I prefer that. It’s been also coincidence. When we began, we got into it. We are not into housing. We’d like to be, but we never make it. We do public work, very different public work. Also, that’s a bit of coincidence, we’ve done much for the defence ministry. Because we won the competition long time ago, then we got the new commission, and they were satisfied, and then a new commission and so on. And that’s a very good client. Because the former principal of the school was kind of the advisor to the ministry. So it’s a good client, still is.


– So, about these defense-related projects, is it something that interested you at first ? 

No not particularly, it was a possibility at that time to do it with big commissions.

– Also, it looks like industrial architecture is something that is at the core of your designing process ?

We do much of what we call ‘functional buildings’, buildings with a kind of special program. It is also kind of an incident, we do one and then we get qualified for another, but often we like this kind of challenge and many of the commissions that we have offer new programs that we don’t know about, that’s kind of interesting.

– One thing we noticed on most of your projects is the facade treatment, being a lot of steel-cladding, bricks, you also use a lot of shed lightning. It looks kind of industrial in a way. Is it because of the essence of the projects themselves, do they need this kind of treatment ? Is it because of their location ?

Mostly all these things it’s the climate, the use, the economic things. All these things melted together so we can’t say one reason is why. It’s all these many aspects, talking about cladding. But very much, one big aspect is always the context and then the functional aspects of course.

– Also you seem to have a big interest in wood, as most of the practices in Norway.

Yes that’s kind of natural if you live in Norway. It’s a very common material, it’s kind of our heritage to use wood and that’s important, it’s cheap and it ages with a kind of dignity.

– What we mean is that, for example in Nord-Østerdal high school, the giant wooden footbridge and even the structure look like they could be built in steel and we were wondering maybe why did you choose wood instead of steel ?

We chose wood because of many reasons. One reason obviously is that this part of Norway is known for wood industry so it’s like a local anchoring. And the other reason is that it’s a room for students and wood is nice to touch and has this kind of quality that steel doesn’t have.

– Because in the end, to us, it looks really industrial, the inside, even the beams and everything.

Do you think it looks industrial ? For me it’s more like if you come inside a jacket and you see the smooth and warm surface and you want to touch it. So in my opinion it’s not that industrial. The dimension is kind of huge though.
Also the place where it was built, it was two schools before that were torn down, and in the middle there was a big tree and this tree was very important for us in the competition. In the first plans the old tree was in a middle of a garden, and it didn’t function so we wanted to make a new tree. So it’s kind of the old tree that was here before, rebuilt with wood.

bandeau 21-Eik Nursing Home                                         2-Accident Investigation Board                     3-Smestad Recycling Centre

– Which characters do you find so fascinating about architecture that motivate your architectural practice all those years?

This is the only thing I can do. You choose a profession. I had to do architecture. Of course in normal days, it’s not so interesting, but in the end, you can feel satisfied thanks to some nice buildings you’ve made, to do things that you like.

– Also we saw that Nord-Østerdal was nominated for the Mies van der Rohe award. Did it have to fill a list of requirements to be selected ? Is it the first time ?

No I don’t think so, countries choose buildings they consider to be good architecture.
Yes, we are really honoured, we didn’t expect to be nominated.

– So the last question. Maybe you have some suggestions for the next generation, for us?

Well… the first thing would be try to find a good office to start. I think it would be smart to start around a small practice. If that is possible. Because then you tend to learn more. And the most important advice, I think, is that you try, if there’s a possibility, that you do all the process, from site plan to details. You should have known all the process.

Qing Lu & Caroline Vaussanvin