Gessato Speaks with Architect-Lumberjack Torsten Ottesjö

This month, Gessato had the opportunity to speak with Scandinavian architect and lumberjack Torsten Ottesjö, known for his conceptual and experimental style. This is illuminated in some of his most renowned works like Hus-1, Hönshus-1, 17, and Kloster, which range from actual building structures to clever systems of organization. His work has been featured in TIME, Huffpost, dezeen, Archdaily, JET, and The Daily Mail, among others, and he even spoke at TEDxGotenburg in 2012. Despite his exploratory spirit, Ottesjö’s work as a whole stresses the importance of space efficiency, the use of sustainable materials, biomorphism, and the creation of designs that can be universally loved. With a focus on environmental architecture and an innate ability to challenge preconceived notions of how we interact with space, Ottesjö is pushing the boundaries of modern design; he is changing the way we think about spatial relationships, both physically and conceptually.

Efficiency’”and “laziness” are closely related for me, and it’s really a matter of creating a place where things can be simpler, where design is formed around the experience of using.

GESSATO: So much of your architecture seems to create an experience. Would you say that your goal is to create such a convincing experience that the intentionality behind your designs goes unnoticed? To what extent does the inability of the viewer to identify the intention demonstrate a design’s success?

TO: I think it’s more a matter of not knowing where to look. The purpose is always to solve practical issues, but these are also psychological… We think of shelter as a shielding from the elements, but the more fundamental needs behind these (those of security, comfort, presence, awareness etc.) can be addressed in a lot of ways. These are complex needs with complex solutions. So it’s not just putting a roof over someone’s head, that’s easy, it’s finding out what types of forms and structures lend themselves to building up that sense of security.

G: You always seem to be striving to make your work more “efficient” regarding issues such as space and material. What, to you, defines efficiency? Why is it such a central element in the development of your body of work?

TO: I’m lazy, and a lot of people around me are lazy, so I’ve ended up designing for people who don’t like to spend a lot of effort doing something, especially boring repetitive tasks. When I say lazy I mean adding to quality of life, making a setting where we can be relaxed, happy, and enabled. If you remove the friction from an action, people will be more likely to act. Even if this requires a complex solution on my part. So the user’s comfort is in focus, to create a situation for them to be lazy in the future.

G: How do you apply your architectural and conceptual principles to your everyday life?

TO: I don’t think of architectural principles in my everyday life. I mean of course I do, but not explicitly.

G: As you strive to meet the needs of the viewer, the inhabitant, the consumer what are some of the first thoughts and questions you consider as you approach a new project?

TO: What the client’s needs are, and how they could better meet those needs. I don’t look to them for solutions, but problems, and how I can solve those problems by redesigning the spatial assumptions we bring into them. “Efficiency’”and “laziness” are closely related for me, and it’s really a matter of creating a place where things can be simpler, where design is formed around the experience of using. For example, I have a wood burning stove under which I’ve placed a small hatch where I can fill up wood from the outside, without having to trek through the house. This is a small solution which took a couple hours to make, but which makes my life easier afterwards. These are the types of solutions I want to provide.

G: How do you occupy yourself in the rare moments that aren’t spent working?

TO: I like to watch American TV shows. Recently it’s been Better Call Saul, it’s a better version of Breaking Bad. Also eating food, talking with friends, the usual…

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

Lizzie Wright

​Lizzie Wright is an aspiring artist and designer with a passion for the written word. While she works on her BFA in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), she spends her (rare) spare time riding around Providence on her trusty Cannondale and drinking lots of coffee. She is especially fascinated by the dichotomy between aesthetic form and function, which has an immense influence on her work. As a lover of the natural world, Lizzie plans to focus on Nature, Culture, and Sustainability Studies to pursue a more efficient future for design. Read more by visiting her website