As with culinary innovations like Korean beef tacos or the Cronut, architecture often benefits from cross-cultural influences. In the case of Casper Mork-Ulnes, his Norwegian origins combined with a California upbringing—thanks to a diplomat father—have turned out to be a happy fusion. “[We] Scandinavians are very stoic and practical,” he says. “But from living in California, this emphasis on functionality is cross-pollinated with a sense of optimism and playfulness. My architecture isn’t monastic in its simplicity.”
This freewheeling West Coast spirit comes across in the architect’s primarily residential practice. Mork-Ulnes designed a getaway in rural northern California that is essentially three periscopes pointed at different views; he reimagined a barn with an expressive butterfly roof and enough reclaimed barn siding for several hipster cafés; and he created a curving concrete dining pavilion with plants growing through holes in the floor and nicknamed it “the Amoeba.” It’s easy to imagine these buildings—along with the rest of the architect’s body of work—beginning as simple but evocative sketches. The 42-year-old architect originally attended San Francisco’s CCA (California College of the Arts) in the mid-1990s with the intention of becoming an artist or graphic designer. But his imagination was captured by some Aldo Rossi drawings, and a studio class with California modernist Jim Jennings led him to pursue his studies in architecture instead.