Norm Architects

Designing Across Borders: A Conversation with Norm Architects’ Founding Partner Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen

As humanity and nature grow closer, we’re witnessing a renewed connection between man and the natural world. This shift towards a deeper bond prompts a captivating exploration of how architecture will evolve in the next decade.

In collaboration with Norm Architects, a Copenhagen-based firm dedicated to improving spaces for people since 2008, we delved into their unique approach to design. Our discussion ranged from their holistic design philosophy to the intriguing concept of timelessness.

Thank you for joining us, let’s dive right in. Could you share with us how your 15 years of international experience have influenced your approach to design and architecture?

In our 15 years of creating architecture and design, we have learned that just like the weather, the atmosphere of our built environment has a profound effect on how we rest, think, feel, work, eat, and socialize. Spaces and objects must certainly be functional, but if they are to truly serve us, they must also attend to our bodies and emotions. At this moment in design history, we believe it’s necessary to go beyond strict rationalist and modernist doctrines to re-sensualize the built environment with a hapticity that embraces the whole human being; that addresses our perception of space and all of our sensory faculties. This requires slowing down the process to consider design from the perspective of human experience. To us, good design transcends utility and aesthetics to become a sensual and social exercise: to create a framework for the essential human needs of safety, identity, belonging, and purpose. 

Our practice starts from this point. Guided by the body and mind rather than by trends or technology, we aim to create designs that not only look good, but also feel good. It is about accommodating people through empathic design, rather than treating them as mere spectators of an aesthetic creation. We consider our work as a facilitator of well-being, as a distillation of aesthetics that resonate with the given person and place, and as a system that supports universal human needs. Each project—whether architecture, interiors, or design—is imbued with this intrinsic quality: a simplicity that carries bigger ideas. We have dedicated the last 15 years to the pursuit of human-centric architecture and design and, project by project, we have honed a philosophy and international design approach that we call “soft minimalism.” With humility, we have built our ideas on thousands of years of aesthetic evolutions, and on the incredible insights of master architects and designers working before us and beside us. These lessons merge with those we have learned along the way and with the influences of our Scandinavian context. Our hope is to offer a chapter in the story of good design that will continue to be written far into the future.   

Founded in 2008, Norm Architects has become synonymous with minimalist design that seeks to enhance the human experience. Can you tell us more about how you aim to achieve this through your work?

In an effort to think holistically about our built environment, soft minimalism cross-pollinates concepts from the fields of design, philosophy, psychology, biology, and anthropology. We believe that each mode of thinking plays an important role in good design. We have found solutions to the problem of aesthetic overstimulation in texts on evolutionary psychology. Neuroscience has guided our curation of earthy color palettes and orderly compositions. Investigations into biology and physiology have strengthened our embodied understanding of solid and void. Philosophy has inspired our thoughtful approach to narrative design, and sharpened our understanding of the meanings embedded in certain forms. 

Patterns emerge from these combined studies to reinforce our conviction that design must be functional, personal, and multisensory. Through our reading, thinking, and work, we have sharpened our ability to find the balance between richness and restraint; order and complexity; that leads to meaningful design. Our Danish heritage provides us with an uncompromising standard of craftsmanship and a sense of history, as well as optimism for the future of our industry. Underscoring all of this is perhaps our greatest influence of all: nature. We find ourselves returning again and again to the natural world—the primordial home of the human race—for guidance in the pursuit of timeless beauty, simplicity, and connectivity. In this realm we have found particular value in universal aesthetic truths derived from human nature, which, when combined with culture, context, and expertise, can give rise to profound outcomes. 

Norm Architects is well-known for its holistic approach to design. Can you elaborate on how this philosophy guides your projects and the overall impact it has on your work?

Today, many thinkers agree that this desensitization has contributed to feelings of isolation; to a spiritual void and the prevalence of illness in contemporary societies. The situation charges architects and designers with the urgent task of re-sensualizing our relationship with the world; of using space and matter as mediators between body and mind, ultimately nurturing the whole organism. 

Our surroundings move us deeply. Contemporary neuroscience confirms that it is the senses, with their acuity for pleasure and pain, that teach us how to navigate the world. Our senses are inextricably linked to our existential experience; our feeling of being in this exact place, right now, with these particular things. Working in concert, the skin, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue decode thousands of stimuli, forming an immediate interpretation of, and reaction to, the environment they meet. After taking in the whole atmosphere, perception narrows its focus, using the collaborative insights of the senses to explore details of shape, surface, density, light, sound, and so on. A holistic understanding of the world derives from these inputs resonating through body and mind. The interdependent system merges stimuli from different senses, cross-pollinating a smell with a memory, an image with a movement, or a texture with a certain emotion. It’s a skill we practice from birth, and one that strengthens our awareness of internal and external realms and their boundaries. We learn to feel pleasure when our bodies resonate with a given substance or space, while others make us feel uneasy. A lifetime of these embodied encounters become embedded in our memory, and form our unique senses of comfort, protection, and home.

For human-centric architecture and design to reconcile our relationship with the world and enhance quality of life, they must engage all senses holistically. We ask ourselves, “How should this space or object make someone feel?” The answer guides the selection and arrangement of interrelated design elements, each with a sensory role to play in their cumulative aim. The process requires that we, as designers, draw on our own embodied experience of space and matter, as well as practicing empathy for the human who will encounter the work. We combine our own sensory memories with curiosity about those of others, and through imagination, we envision spaces and objects that will hopefully feel sublime.

In striving for a re-sensualised built environment, how do you see the role of natural materials and the integration of nature in your projects?

Throughout human history we have evolved to survive and thrive in the natural realm and are consequently dependent on its elements. These deeply embedded preferences haven’t progressed as quickly as urban technology, creating a disharmony between us and our new, built environment. After all, we have inhabited nature far longer than we have occupied man-made structures. Sunlight, water, air, and plants still give us life. Regardless of progress, our physiology chooses the natural over the artificial. We instinctively enjoy the feel of wood more than that of plastic, and find views of the sky or a lake more pleasing than skyscrapers. We need sunlight to give way to darkness so we can wake, eat, and sleep, whereas artificial light unbalances our system. Deep down we know these natural elements are nourishing, and they therefore evoke safety and well-being. Nature is so embedded in our psyche that we have also evolved a habit of projecting human, animal, and plant forms onto the environment. By overlaying our modern world with natural animations, we can read and relate to it as we did eons ago, in the wilderness. Rather than suppressing these primordial instincts, architects and designers can delve into behaviours learned over millennia, and harness evolutionary psychology to create good design. We can find solutions in form, scale, and materials that breathe life back into the urban, rewinding our man-made habitats.

We listen to nature’s story of artistry, optimism, imperfection, and impermanence, and bring these poignant qualities into the work. We create spaces and objects with natural materials and organic forms that feel of this world; that help us transition through the stages of life and connect us with the continuum of time. Such profound understandings are suggested by a humble stone plinth—unearthed from the deep, speckled with ancient sediment and fossils that have grown faint after years of use. We sense the age of the earth and watch as the materials slowly return to dust. We can relate, and we can take comfort in knowing that we are part of something greater than ourselves. In this way, bringing natural elements and their inevitable patina into our modernised lives can remind us of our place in nature. 

As the bond between humanity and the natural world strengthens, we’re witnessing a profound resurgence of our primal connection. Looking ahead architecturally, how do you envision this symbiotic relationship evolving over the next decade?

Living in a modern urban society often means living with constant noise: consumerist city streetscapes fill our view with layers of advertisements for objects of questionable value, while the digital space vies for our attention with endless streams of content and a cacophony of notifications. Life moves fast, and it accumulates complexity, things, and data along the way. Existing in this environment leaves us overstimulated, exhausted, and gasping for breath. We may recognise a correlation between a growing material wealth, and a declining state of physical and mental health as we suffer from chronic cognitive fatigue. 

Having arrived at this perhaps paradoxical junction, we seek ways to muffle the noise, declutter our vision, and carve out corners of stillness. We find ourselves wishing to be freed from the weight of too many things and too much information; wishing to live only with what is essential for well-being. At this moment the question becomes selective and reductive: “What can I live without?”  

This realisation can arrive at any point in life, and the idea is far from modern or unique. Many ancient cultures across the globe have preached the notion that simplicity leads to inner peace and contentedness—that the human mind needs quiet to focus on what is truly meaningful and joyful. In the highly developed metropolises of today, this idea feels out of reach. Over thousands of years, the steady progression from modest village life to populous and hierarchical civilisations has increased the value of the material, arguably at the expense of the spiritual. We’ve been taught to prioritise temporary pleasures and acquisitions, repeatedly, until our lives are anything but simple. This path has led to the minimising of fundamental, immaterial human needs such as connection to others, a sensory relationship with nature, a feeling of security as well as autonomy, and clarity about our role within the wider community. 

Essentialism, or soft minimalism, as we refer to it in architecture and design projects, can be reached through this kind of deep reflection on what matters; by adding and reducing elements until equilibrium emerges; and by remaining attuned to the atmospheric and autonomous potential of space. As engagement with nature is essential to human well-being, natural materials and forms, natural light, and quiet acoustics become synonymous with haptic design. We use sensory materials that remind us of nature and therefore calm us. An essentialist mindset also urges us to create well-made materials and spaces that last, rather than succumbing to passing trends or construction shortcuts. If the design reduces itself to its essence and nothing more, and if it is made intentionally, we’re choosing a more sustainable path for the future.

Can you share a recent project that exemplifies Norm Architects’ commitment to re-sensualizing the built environment?

Designed to fit seamlessly into the vibrant spirit of the Japanese Oku-shibu district, our new TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI PARK boasts a relaxed, human-centered ethos. While aesthetic choices harmoniously reflecting the laid-back, yet sophisticated, vibe of the neighborhood, the concept of ‘Urban Recharge’ is at the heart of the project – a pivotal theme weaving together the city and nature, tradition and modernity, leisure and festivity, as well as the local community and visitors. 

Drawing inspiration from Tokyo’s varied hues and moods, the project encapsulates the interplay of contrasting yet harmonious elements. It mirrors the relaxed Yoyogi Park, the surrounding city blocks, and the famed Shibuya Crossing. It’s the epitome of modern and traditional lifestyles converging. From the raw and refined to the melting of Japanese and European craft traditions, the design embodies this delicate balance. The verdant embrace not only enriches the exterior aesthetics but also symbolizes the commitment to offering a sanctuary amidst the city’s bustling energy. So, as you wander through this retreat, you’ll discover a place to find both solace and stimulation, forging a path to enduring vitality.

Another recent project is Sjöparken in Southern Sweden –  a sanctuary of understated luxury immersed in the embrace of nature. Drawing inspiration from the elegance of Nordic simplicity, the timeless traditions of Japanese design, and the tropical allure of resort living, this architectural gem emerges as a hybrid – a blend of distinct influences that converge seamlessly within its walls. Each corner tells a story of simplicity, unity, and the spirit of the place, creating an experience where thoughtful design and nature come together in perfect harmony. 

Nestled in the serene beech forests of Halland, Sweden, Sjöparken redefines the essence of tranquility and luxury. With an architectural vision to create the ideal setting for intimate rituals of self-care and harmonious living amidst nature’s embrace, these lakefront retreats exude an honest simplicity without sacrificing warmth and tactility. 

At the heart of the concept are seven villas, perched delicately on the lake. Each villa seamlessly intertwines four hotel rooms through glass corridors, offering a poignant homage to the site’s history by creating the sensation of strolling through an open-air village. The intentional design blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces, amplifying the intimate connection with the surroundings. 

Whether taking a refreshing dip in the private bathing jetties nestled in the lake, unwinding in the in-room saunas, or indulging in the tranquility of lying in bed and gazing through expansive windows, each moment unveils an unparalleled communion with nature. As integrated architectural elements and bespoke design optimize space, the minimal, peaceful rooms create a framework for immersive experiences, focusing on stillness, togetherness, and well-being.

Timelessness is a key pursuit in your projects. How do you balance modern innovations with the timeless aspects of design to ensure your works remain relevant and enduring?

We can say it is an imperative for good architecture and design to work with time, rather than against it. The created works must connect with their users and evolve with them, remaining relevant as time passes. Beyond this, design can also help us connect with the passing of time itself by keeping us in sync with the days, seasons, and eras that make up our lives, keeping us simultaneously present and aware of the finite nature of existence. 

Conversely, architecture, interiors, and objects whose sole aim is to parade the ideas and styles of a brief, specific moment in time are unlikely to remain relevant in the long term. Once its initial novelty has worn off, the trend-based design is in danger of becoming a relic. If design should exist to serve its user—and to serve society overall—it is necessary to consider the culture of the day as well as the timeless needs of the human being. This way, we can offer works that are aware of time. They contribute to the evolution of design and to the betterment of the people who will engage with it.

If our aim is to create timeless design that outlives passing fashions, we need to dig a little deeper to find aesthetic inspiration and value. Good design must feel good to live with and it must age gracefully. Otherwise, it won’t matter that it exists or ages at all. We can find the basis for many feel-good designs in the natural world—which is, after all, our evolutionary birthplace. The soft, organic shapes of the animal and plant kingdoms provide familiar forms and materials that speak to the senses and place the body within its broader environment. They transcend the visual—the realm that trend-based designs momentarily satisfy—to instead attain enduring relevance through multisensory virtues that are instinctively appreciated. We rarely tire of experiences that make us feel secure, comforted, and connected, such as the soft texture of wood in our palm, the stability of stone underfoot, the peaceful sound of falling water, or the warm embrace of wool around our bodies. We could return to such sensations year after year, regardless of what is in fashion—perhaps experiencing more pleasure with each encounter. 

Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future of Norm Architects? How do you envision the studio evolving in the years to come?

Looking ahead, our hope is to continue our path and vocation to re-sensualize the built environment and hopefully create ripples in the water, as part of a larger movement to create high quality human-centric design. We could maybe even go further and create sustainable bio-centric design, that was not solely focusing on human needs, but on the well-being of nature as such. If we want to change ourselves, we change the spaces around us. Architecture and design must facilitate us in all aspects of our lives—it must be dependable and useful, but it must also be empathetic. By understanding that spaces shape us as we shape them, we can create sensitive works that offer safety, stimulation and sustainability. 


  1. Norm Architects. Sjöparken. Halland, Sweden, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  2. Norm Architects. Fjord Boat House,  Southern Denmark, 2020. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  3. Norm Architects, AIM Architecture. K House. Southern Province, Sri Lanka, 2018. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  4. Norm Architects, AIM Architecture. K House. Southern Province, Sri Lanka, 2018. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  5. Norm Architects, AIM Architecture. K House. Southern Province, Sri Lanka, 2018. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  6. Norm Architects, AIM Architecture. K House. Southern Province, Sri Lanka, 2018. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  7. Norm Architects, Keiji Ashizawa Design. TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI PARK. Tokyo, Japan, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  8. Norm Architects, Keiji Ashizawa Design. TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI PARK. Tokyo, Japan, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  9. Norm Architects, Keiji Ashizawa Design. TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI PARK. Tokyo, Japan, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  10. Norm Architects, Keiji Ashizawa Design. TRUNK(HOTEL) YOYOGI PARK. Tokyo, Japan, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  11. Norm Architects. Sjöparken. Halland, Sweden, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  12. Norm Architects. Sjöparken. Halland, Sweden, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  13. Norm Architects. Sjöparken. Halland, Sweden, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  14. Norm Architects. Sjöparken. Halland, Sweden, 2023. Photography by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.
  15. Norm Architects x Brandt Collective LEAF hardware collection. 2024. Photography by Christian M. Andersen. Courtesy of Norm Architects.

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