Architects Hakon Matre Aasarod and Erlend Blakstad Haffner, partners behind Fantastic Norway, believe architecture can be more democratic than we’ve seen it. Recently named laureates for the prestigious Iakov Chernikhov International Prize for Young Architects, which honours the most promising and progressive young architects, their work promises the merging of community and a strong narrative.
Full of light, often literally, stories and a respectful attitude towards culture, the rising duo and their work seem to be the next big thing in architecture. In his conversation with Dazed, Erlend Blakstad Haffner discusses shops, light and the necessary layers needed to create rich, modern structure and ideas…
Dazed Digital: What do you hope to achieve with your work?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: We hope that our work can help you to see in a new way and make you feel included. We've traveled around Norway in a red caravan, talking with people and it showed us what we could do with architecture. It is, after all, for people. I don't think people are afraid of architecture but the way it's sometimes introduced can be alienating at times. We hoped the people we spoke with will combine some cultural layers with our ideas and that this would have a fantastic outcome. Our goal is that people can engage in their surroundings somehow, even if it appears unintentional.
DD: As the Light Portal seemed to do. Why do many of the projects deal with and use light?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: It's a simple idea but we wanted to see how we could show something delicate in the city. It can be animated and change throughout the day, constantly reinventing itself. It's a fantastic way to animate the buildings and let them evolve as the day progresses according to the sky and atmospheres. The main reason may simply be the darkness and available natural light in Norway, which can be quite extreme.
DD: What is the mood in architecture right now?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: In this part of the world, people have very specific and essential needs in terms of what they want to develop and this is why I think a social layer in the work is so important. People want more than just these needs. They want community. They want to know the baker on the corner, the shop owner and for these things to be more than what they seem. There is a localism.
DD: Projects like ‘Fantastic Kolstad’, in which you have changed the waterfront of Kolstad, Trondheim's largest satellite town, feels like a community.
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: That project is in an area with strict zoning laws, so we tried to bend and twist it and use that to our advantage. We wanted to find out, through visits, debates and the local newspaper, what the locals want and need. We also wanted to make the waterfront public, a diverse space between the buildings. It isn't always a boardwalk. It goes over and under and behind. We hope it will offer a rich and balanced experience with the water.
DD: How do you find the balance between the natural and the new?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: The projects are like a living organism. It isn't a finished product for delivery. It's a dialogue and at one point the user takes over. As an architect, I think you need to take people's cultures seriously. Try to reinvent and twist historical references. If you combine these two with modern expressions, people can relate to it easily. There should, hopefully, always be layers in it that make you feel something.
DD: The goal is to make architecture more democratic?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: It should be! It's for people in the long run and it's important to think of that when you design. We want to give something back. If it's a big commercial project, like we are doing now, we wonder how something can be more than a shop, for example, and give it a social quality.
DD: You've also undertaken art installations. Are you working on any installations at the moment?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: We're working on a project that has to do with the Norwegian constitution. We want to create a pavilion and to suggest that each municipality create a piece of it and that it travel throughout Norway and collect stories along the way. It could be a living story of Norway.
There is also a project, called 'Soundscape', and the idea is that it would introduce people to experimental contemporary compositions. It can be hard to relate to this kind of non-harmonic music. We decided we could have this pavilion where people could interact with this sound world.
DD: The work often tells a story. The pavilion, the sound, it's about a story.
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: Absolutely. Architecture can and should tell a story. We're very interested in that. Stories are important for people and so they are important for us. Sometimes a story can be stronger than a building. The outcome can even be a song! I think the basis of it all is that if you want to introduce something to people, you need to give them the language and desire to comment on it.
DD: What other projects are you working on in the coming year?
Erlend Blakstad Haffner: We're developing something in a rough neighbourhood of Oslo that is practically on the verge of becoming a ghetto. We'd like to change this area into a kind of hydro water park because the water there's quite polluted. We have new water treatment systems and there are many freeways that travel through the area so, hopefully, it can connect these by creating some green connection points. It's positive, but positive can be a very strong word. Maybe we are naive but it seems, if you are too rational, nothing happens.