In the last decade or so, the architecture firm Snohetta has come up fast, owing to its unique approach to community building. One of the firm’s most famous buildings is the Oslo Opera House, whose roofline slopes into the ground, making the entire building a promenade for people to enjoy views of the surrounding waterfront. The architects’ masterplan for Times Square transformed the iconic space from a forbidding maze of traffic into a pedestrianized urban park, with benches that let people lounge, lean, and even work.
Those projects belie a massive amount of public buy-in, which Snohetta bakes into their designs. At this week’s Fast Company Innovation Festival, Snohetta gave three dozen attendees a peek at the process that the firm uses to kick off every project it does. The so-called Concept Workshop is meant get stakeholders thinking like designers so that they can both contribute to ongoing discussions and feel ownership of the product. Snohetta uses them both with stakeholders—such as City Hall and the New York City Firefighters, in the case of the Times Square project—and its own staff. (The most illustrious participant in one of these design sprints has been President Obama, who did so when Snohetta was competing to design his presidential library.)