We Are Firm Believers in Communities | Helen & Hard Architects | Louisiana Channel

“Wood can connect the simple and the sublime.” We went to Norway to meet Helen & Hard Architects. With their insistence on community, sustainability and predominant usage of wood, they not only try to renew architecture itself but the way we live.

“Stavanger and the west coast have influenced us. Working and living here formed our approach as architects. We began transforming timber houses. The entrepreneur culture that permeates Stavanger due to the oil industry has also had an impact. There’s a will to transform, create and try out things. People here like to explore new ideas.”

“Nature is the biggest source of inspiration. We’re so fascinated by wood because it’s such a sensuous material. You can see the growth patterns and how forces have formed them.”

To Helen & Hard, wood consequently is more than a building material, but a philosophy: “A wooden construction is often our approach to architecture. It’s an underlying building principle, almost the DNA of the building. How it’s organised, how the forces in it and the flow of the building are. The atmosphere of the building and how you experience it. It’s calming. It reduces stress, as a matter of fact. Various sorts of trees have various effects. Wood can connect the simple and the sublime.”

“You can only enrich an environment through a holistic, systemic approach. You must include the possibilities, resources, people, materials and qualities in the process. You must co-create with all these elements.”

Consequently, Helen & Hard have focused on developing and establishing housing projects that foster a new way of living together. Their concept of ‘Gaining By Sharing’ seeks to combine a private, individual living space with common areas shared by a larger housing community: “We think it’s very important to create a sense of community. Creating community is also a design process.”

“In Scandinavia, one of the biggest health issues is loneliness. There’s also segregation. Certain segments of society aren’t easily integrated. A co-living project promotes integration. Community is key to solving many of the problems facing society today. The climate crisis, societal issues, segregation and inclusion. We must understand that we’ll always be part of a community. We aren’t separate individuals. We are formed in the encounter with others and our surroundings.”

Established in 1996, Helen & Hard is a Norwegian architecture office delivering architectural solutions that serve and inspire people to live sustainably. Working across their two locations in Stavanger and Oslo, Helen & Hard’s multicultural team creatively engage with sustainability, not only in the design of spaces but also in the conception and organisation of the design process. They extensively utilise and celebrate timber as a building material, with a portfolio including their Ratatosk project, which appears in London’s V&A museum. In 2021, Helen & Hard were selected to represent the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, exhibiting their co-living designs based upon their impressive Vindmøllebakken project in response to the question: ‘How will we live together?’

Siv Helene Stangeland is a Norwegian architect and researcher based in Stavanger, Norway. She studied at the Technical University in Barcelona ETSAB and at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design AHO, learning from renowned architects Sverre Fehn and Christian Norberg-Schulz. A graduate of the creative practise PhD at Århus School of Architecture under the Adapt-r program, Siv has extensive teaching experience, lecturing widely at AHO, NTNU (Trondheim), Chalmers University (Gothenburg), KTH (Stockholm), Sheffield University and Bartlett School of Architecture (London). Together with Reinhard Kropf, she founded the architectural office Helen & Hard in 1996.

Reinhard Kropf is an Austrian architect and researcher based across Stavanger and Oslo in Norway. He studied at TU GRAZ and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design AHO under renowned architect Sverre Fehn. Reinhard specialises in the design and construction of timber architecture and has extensive teaching experience, lecturing widely at AHO, BAS (Bergen), Chalmers (Gothenburg), Lécole dárchitecture (Paris) and Hust University (China). His work gained him a guest professorship at Kansas State University. Together with Siv Helene Stangeland, he founded the architectural office Helen & Hard in 1996.

Siv Helene Stangeland and Reinhard Kropf were interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at various locations in and around Stavanger, Norway, in August 2022.

Camera: Simon Weyhe
Edited by: Simon Weyhe
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2022

Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Fritz Hansen. This film is supported by Dreyersfond.

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