I recently had the opportunity to visit Finland, representing ArchDaily on an architecture press tour organized by the Museum of Finnish Architecture. This was a chance for me to see firsthand some of the recent architecture projects built in the last several years by young architects.
I would like to share with you some of the lessons and best practices I learned from Finnish architecture that I believe we could apply to our work as architects (especially in Latin America, where I am from).
1. Although architecture in Finland is closely linked to the landscape, nature and climate, what impressed me the most was the special attention to details and how the design of a particular space can turn it into something elegant, without becoming pretentious. In this regard, wood is a fundamental material as it is a simple and sustainable construction technique.
I spoke with the whole group about how in my country, Chile, there is still a bit of apprehension about the possibility of building in wood, and that it’s mostly used in beach houses or in the countryside. There are certain prejudices regarding the use of this material inside the city, either due to fear of it being a fire risk or because wood seems like it is a non-solid and weak material.
In Finland, as I was told, this prejudice also existed until younger architects began to use this material both inside and outside the city. Recently, the construction of tall wooden housing was approved and we had the opportunity to visit OOPEAA‘s new housing project, comprised of eight floors made of timber modules.
To design a building like this, each space is carefully planned out in terms of complying with laws and safety regulations. Each room has a fire system and the design also incorporates a natural and eco-efficient ventilation system.
2. Architecture has an important cultural role in Finland. Architecture is a fundamental part of education and culture in Finland, a factor that is physically reflected in the construction of several new buildings for cultural programs: libraries of the highest quality and innovation in their designs; a variety of museums that, in addition to exhibiting artworks, are able to convey emotions through their own spaces; and schools where the architectural design is essential for the proper development of the educational system and for children to thrive in their activities. All of these ideas could be seen when we visited the Saunalhati School by Verstas Architects in Espoo.
Quality architecture in public and educational spaces is fundamental for engaging the public and citizens with their built environment, making them even more conscious about the quality of the spaces that they can demand.
3. Architecture is promoted at a national and international level through organizations and institutions. I was impressed by the number of organizations involved in the diffusion of architecture, construction and urban planning information to make people aware of these issues. These organizations work both independently and together, creating interesting activities and opportunities to express and share their culture and history. The trip in which I participated, is part of a program organized by institutions like the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Alvar Aalto Foundation, and the Architecture and Information Centre Finland SAFA (Finnish Association of Architects). These organizations also conducted the first national award of Finnish architecture event, which we were able to attend.
What most caught my attention was the fact that the winning project (Museum of the History of Polish Jews) was chosen by Sixten Korkman – an economist, not an architect – with the aim of judging the projects not based on the technique or the eye of an architect, but from the point of view of the user, someone outside the field who gets to determine the winner based on experiencing the building. I think this method was a complete success and the winning project really reflects great qualities in architectural terms, both in its design but also in its functionality, relationship with the public space and user experience.
Including people who relate more to the use of buildings and not just their technical aspects in these decisions is definitely a factor that we could implement when evaluating architecture in our territories.
The trip was a great experience to see these architecture examples and references up-close and to be able to take-away a series of lessons. In my opinion, Chile still needs to overcome certain prejudices in design and construction, but it will be hard to achieve this if we don’t have institutions that can aide in the diffusion of architectural information, where everyone can learn from the possibilities and the potential of our built environment.
As Sixten Korkman said “users accept and do not demand”. Our citizenship will hardly demand improvements in the quality of public and urban spaces if we aren’t aware of the importance of architecture in our lives and the value of the buildings we interact with every day.
*Fernanda Castro is an architect from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She is currently the Built Projects Editor of ArchDaily and Plataforma Arquitectura, while remaining informed of the latest works of architecture being built in the world.