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Andreas G. Gjertsen, co-founder of TYIN, talks about social sustainability trough their project in underdeveloped areas: architecture where everything serves a purpose, buildings that follow necessity.
Interview by Flores Zanchi
Considering the works you have realized so far, it seems that Tyin Tegnestue’s vision is led by the idea of “low key” architecture in terms of materials and technology. Would you tell us something more about it?

I always say that our architecture is a reaction to some sort of restlessness. I have been working in Norway as a student and we used a lot of time, money and resources in projects that might not be that important in a bigger sense. When we went outside of Norway we wanted to go outside of our comfort soil. When you work in the middle of the jungle or in the middle of a slum area you really don’t have a choice, you have to think simple and all the choices should lead to results that are actually usable and necessary. We do not consider sustainability in itself but we think it is the obvious choice when you have limited budgets. We don’t want to make buildings for the rich classes, we want to make them available for the broader public.

You anticipated another question: recently you won the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture so I think you are the right person to tell us what does “sustainability” mean today.

I always go back to the real sense of the word “sustain”, which is to be able to uphold a state for a longer period of time. For me that is really important. If you build something and use money and resources on it, it should be something that will sustain in the situation you are in for a longer period of time. Currently we are led by the “trow away” mentality that you can buy something and if it doesn’t work you can buy a new one. As you said, the biggest problem with the word sustainability is that it has become a fashion word, something that you use as a stamp. We shouldn’t mix what we call “advertisement sustainability” with the real architecture sustainability.
For us sustainability is a lot about the social issue and project, because it needs to be connected to people’s dreams and visions in the local situation. It is not my idea that will be important or the student’s we work with, it is actually the people’s idea using that place. We used the term “social sustainability” more than a technical or energy sustainability.

You were talking about social sustainability and I think your latest project for the Klong Toe Community is an important example. Would you tell us about this project? How it was born and which are the solutions you developed for the slum area of Bangkok?

Before we started this project we did another project in Bangkok, the old market library. Our contact Kasama Yamtree, a Thai architect, was working in Klong Toe for quite a long time, she was actually told by collegues that she should stay away from the area because it is unsafe and you won’t be able to do anything sustainable in the social sense. The good thing for us was to have this local architect and a team of german students that really wanted to do something in the slum area. In a way we just combined these two networks and we were able to do a lot of work in a short period of time.
The interesting part was that, when we came there all together, we didn’t have much time to think about all the aspects of the project. We decided to focus on making something that was usable, trying to find functions in the playground that was not as hard as for the rest of the area. There are a lot of violence and drug use in this area and the aggression in the society becomes the main focus. That is why we wanted to make softer spaces for conversations, meetings and homework. I think in Thailand the sense of public space is not in people’s mind, probably because the government doesn't put that much effort to built public spaces. We really wanted to make a place where people could meet and interact in a social way, not only in a practical or business way.

Do you think that an aesthetic of “low budget” architecture exists? As an architect your mission is to find a beautiful solution to social problems?

We have been thinking a lot about that. I think the typical western arrogance that we have is to believe that culture, art and aesthetic are something exclusively for the elite. If you have enough money you can buy art, you can buy architecture and beautiful houses. In our mind aesthetic is not a necessary part of making our projects sustainable because we believe in projects that help people interacting in a social sense. We hope we can find some kind of universal aesthetic that will make the projects more easy for the people that live in the area. As an example, the Klong Toe Community project has been published on the cover of very reknowed Thailand magazines. Suddenly it became a tool for them to talk to the government and say “we have resources, we are here and we are part of the society”. We have to do this differently if we are going to succeed in developing this in a positive manner.


One of your latest projects is the trout boathouse, historical hallmark of Norway’s coastal regions, located in Aure Kommune. Focusing on materials and methods of construction, do you think your intent of keeping the historical and cultural heritage of the building was achieved?

Both me and my collegue Yashar Hanstad are very moved by vernacular architecture, constructions built hundreds of years ago. The boathouse is an example of something that is in us, we are just used to this model of coastal architecture that are well adapted to the climat. We have a long coast line and the buildings change in a gradual manner throughout the coast: in the North you can have the boathouse follow a specific pattern and in the South they would be different. Also some of them are built with legs of wood and and some of them have a stone foundation. You really see this kind of architectual development in the coast and for us it was just a matter of translating the idea of using local aesthetics and adding a new trait to it.

You work both in Norway and in under developed areas of the world: where is the link between them in your work?

We don’t really separate between how we work here and there. We try to take care of the user of the space, it is really important that their dreams and their thoughts on this space are taken into account. I think it is our role to translate their ideas into the real world.
Even though nowadays Norway is a very rich country, we have a well functioning government, very prosperous economy, we were the poorest country in europe in the fifties and I think it sticks in our culture. We are very pietistic, we want to do things simple and pragmatically, there is not that much flair to what we do. That relates quite well to how we think about development, it doesn’t necessary need to be flashy, to be good and high quality. Precision is important for us not for the sake of being precise but for the sake of adding value to what we do.

At which project you are working at the moment?

We are working on several projects now. We have recently finished the cinnamon factory administration office in Sumatra and in Norway we have some commissions we are evaluating.
The client wanted to build the factory and I think he has planned several thousand square meters. We worked on six hundered square meters destinated to basics functions such as offices, some classrooms, kitchen and laboratory. It is basically quite similar to the project we have done for the Klong Toe Community but bigger in scale. We have also been using quite a lot of cinnamon wood in the project which we feel is one of the success factors of this projct because we managed to use the leftover of the cinnemon production.

Photo: Pasi Alto

Related Articles: TYIN tegnestue Norway

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