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Sustainability as a process: interview with Peter Zöch from Snøhetta

Sustainability as a process  
Interview with Peter Zöch from Snøhetta by Anastasia Gorbulina and Michela Mondino

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Today, sustainability is considered to be a process rather than just a result. When it comes to it, our actions have a profound impact on the planet, nature, and other global concepts. Achieving sustainability is an ongoing process that demands rigorous research, testing, and implementation of effective solutions. This requires the collaboration of numerous specialists, considerable time, and learning from past failures.

“We don't believe that creating the perfect solution is more important than continuously experimenting, learning, and refining over time to achieve justice and effective approaches.”

The question is, how can we redefine sustainable built environments with small gestures, caring for the planet and nature? Is architecture on the verge of becoming selfless?

   “The most sustainable way to do architecture is not to build it at all, but it is not the solution.”

During our thought-provoking interview, we discussed the similarities between exhibition design and landscape architecture. Although they may seem unrelated, they share the importance of understanding the site and its challenges, as well as conducting thorough research for any project. In both processes, the goal is to minimize interference and create a neutral space. For exhibition design, this means showcasing the content of the exhibition, while for landscape architecture, it means emphasizing the natural elements. By comparing these two fields, we can better understand the architect's role in the design process and how to integrate sustainable measures into every project design.

“If we just talk about landscape architecture, we can say that the process is straightforward, but the projects themselves are intricate. For instance, our Studio has created a pathway of stones on the Norwegian coast that appears and disappears with the tide to symbolize the passage of time. Our specific project is an example of how complex situations can be interpreted in a simple yet sophisticated manner without requiring any experts.”

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This project called the Traelvikosen Scenic Route project, is a true testament to sustainable architecture, and its main purpose is to connect people with nature. The beauty of this project lies in its simplicity—a reminder that sustainable architecture doesn't always require complex technologies or grand gestures. Using Zöch’s words, sometimes, the most sustainable approach is to work with the natural environment, using minimal interventions to create meaningful experiences.

As Kvamme Hartmann aptly stated, "If we truly want to take better care of our nature, we also need more people to see and learn more about it."

This raises the question of the evolving role of architects in promoting sustainability through small, mindful steps with a long-term view.

“The topic of retrofitting existing buildings is becoming increasingly important in the field of architecture. However, it is crucial to consider how this is done. While retrofitting can make building operations more environmentally friendly in the short term, it may not be sustainable in the long run if the same buildings need to be retrofitted again in 30 or 40 years. This can be tricky again in the future.”

To summarize, we believe the interview highlighted that sustainability requires architects to consider things from a long-term perspective. Achieving it involves implementing a variety of techniques and minimal interventions that can create valuable experiences. It also involves adopting complex technologies and making grand gestures. The more diverse and rich the path towards sustainability is, the more genuine the grand gestures will be.

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