Arkitektkompaniet: An architectural conversation
For 35 years, Arkitektkompaniet has, from its base in Drammen in the south of Norway, drawn pretty much everything and anything with walls and a roof. Armed with a down-to-earth attitude and a ‘nothing is impossible’ philosophy, the company has built everything from thousand-square-metre shopping centres to cosy little cabins in the rural mountains of Norway.
The 12-person firm are based out of Drammen but have made their architectural mark all over the country. It is keeping with the idea that no task is too big or difficult, that has kept the firm afloat. “I think we first and foremost are problem solvers,” CEO Bjarte Ågedal sums up. “Over the years, we have come to not be afraid of the difficult tasks. Those big projects, with level upon level each requiring a different analysis. In fact, often we find those projects to be the most fun,” explains Ågeland.
Ågeland speaks from experience. Since he started the firm 35 years ago, he has, together with his team, come to be well-known in both his field and region. Arkitektkompaniet has had its fingers in a lot of pies; churches, retirement homes, private housing, shopping centres and the odd cabin. There is somewhat a fierceness in the employees of the Drammen firm. “We are modernists seeking to build houses from and for our time. Some dwell in nostalgia, but we want to build houses for the people of today,” Ågeland explains. And let us not forget, houses have changed. We live differently than we did a hundred, 50 or even ten years ago. “It has been exciting to experience such a change in clients’ knowledge and requirements when it comes to awareness in building sustainable houses,” Ågeland continues. The revolution in the consideration of energy and the use of space has not escaped the Drammen firm, though it is not just with solid architecture that it makes its mark on the industry.
In today’s climate we can find ourselves working in a high gear. Things needs to happen fast and there is an urgency to many aspects of our life, personally and professionally. At Arkitektkompaniet, the firm wants to sit down with a client and truly take the time to listen to them, and this has become one of its defining features. “We aim to go into new projects with a fresh outlook and an open mind. It is almost as if we press a reset button when venturing into something for the first time. It is not that we put aside our experience and the knowledge that comes with that, but we find that the ability to truly listen, and that gives us an opportunity to tailor what we are making, to everyone’s different visions, dreams and needs,” Ågeland explains. There is beauty to this: the idea that regardless of who you are or the size of the project, there is at the base of every conversation a curiosity and care. If we imagine this ethos going beyond an initial discussion and travelling all the way into the very houses that those initial talks are about, is it not then we start making not only houses, but homes?
“We have a lot of ideas − too many, in fact. Half of the work is chucking the bad solutions out of the window and asking, if not this, then what? I think as a team, we are always looking for the best options and that always requires ‘killing your darlings’, as it were,” Ågeland says. The attitude of holding on tightly whilst letting go lightly is one first introduced in the initial meeting with clients. “When venturing into something new and big, we often sit down with a client and try to figure out what is it actually that we are going to build here?” Norway can be a tricky place for building. Challenging plots, unforgiving seasons and a whole lot of unpredictable weather make for a variety of obstacles when it comes to putting a house together. Ågeland knows this all very well, however, and concludes: “There is a whole spectrum of challenges to be met with when putting something together. Somehow though, we find that those challenges make for a more fun and interesting process. When the easiest option is not an option at all, it is all the more rewarding when you get to the finish line and see it all come together.”
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