Tag Archives: finland

Niemenranta Elementary School

Niemenranta Elementary School in Oulunsalo, Finland, by alt Architects + Architecture Office Karsikas, 2012.

The following text and images are courtesy alt Architects. Photographs are by Ville-Pekka Ikola and Kalle Vahtera.

Niemenranta Elementary School is located in a new residential area in Oulunsalo Municipality, surrounded by detached houses and other small-scale houses. Most of the area is still in construction phase. The school center is the only public building in the area, thus creating the obvious center point for it. The school center has three parts: the elementary school for 300 students (the project at hand), the kindergarten, and the junior high school. The first two are complete, but the the junior high school has delayed. Although the school is mainly used for education, it also functions as a common space (sports, hobbies, clubs, and gatherings) for the community.

The building form is a synthesis of the functional and urban goals. The free formed brick wall faces the public areas, while rectangular wooden facades define the school yards. The main element of the exterior—the curvy brick wall—is a synthesis of different ideas as well. On one hand it creates a strong, public and somewhat urban feel to the building; on the other hand it is a reference to nature. Immediate surroundings of the building are non-urban, which turns step by step into forest, shoreline and finally the Gulf of Bothnia. Rectangular, small-scaled and intimate school yards are directed to the south for sunlight, and the building shields itself from the cold northern breezes, thus creating a good micro-climate. Long and expressively shaped eaves provide protection from the harsh climate for both wooden facades and the children.

The materials and forms of the building obviously reference Alvar Aalto's brick architecture, but also the late-70s and early-80s Finnish, postmodern regionalism movement, the "Oulu School", which had a strong impact in the Northern Finland's (and especially Oulunsalo-area's) public buildings. The main goal of Oulu School was to abandon the universal and cold modernism and replace it with regionalist, humane architecture that would be in harmony with the landscape, climate and cultural adaptations of the area. Wood and brick were the prominent materials used by Oulu School.  Even though Niemenranta School Center is far from the sometimes over-the-board romanticism and historicism of Oulu School architecture, the mental side of the design evolves from the same root of ideas.

The spatial highlight of the school is the main entrance hall and the public spaces linked to it. The free-formed wooden ceiling emphasizes and gives a strong character to these public spaces. Other parts of the building are small-scaled and intimate. Bright colors are implemented in the classrooms and corridors in order to bring playfulness and easy orientation to the building. The design strives to be bold and modest at the same time: considering the budget and the responsible use of public money, yet creating a distinguished public building for the community to feel proud of.

Vuosaari Gateway

Vuosaari Gateway

Vuosaari Gateway in Helsinki, Finland by Heikkinen-Komonen Architects, 1999.

The following images and text are by Finnish architects Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen, aka Heikkinen-Komonen Architects.

The Vuosaari area of Helsinki starts at Vartionkylänlahti, where the semi-motorway Vuotie together with the metro track running above ground cuts an almost 100 m wide canyon in the landscape. This traffic environment forms the main entrance to the most vigorously growing part of Helsinki, and maybe some day it will act as passage to the new Finnish giant harbor.

The expanse of the area and the massive character of the structures (open cuts, concrete bridges, high-rise buildings) require equally massive action in the landscape, not small details or decorations. This environment is usually experienced from within a fast moving car or metro train, in just a few minutes.

The fires in Vuosaari saved the town of Helsinki 50 years ago. They deceived the enemy bombers to drop their bombs in the wilderness of Vuosaari. In honor of this ingenious deception, there are now 132 light torches mounted on posts on both sides of the Vuosaari Road. The light posts, between which the actual road lightning fittings are suspended on wires, are made of perforated steel plate. Another luminaire is mounted at the foot of the post, and together with the perforated metal surface the light from this luminaire produces a moaree phenomenon: into a passing car the artificial light seems to glow like a flame. In daytime the row of posts and the wire roofing over the road create a uniform space, a tunnel through which the landscape is experienced.

Città: Third Millennium

Città: Third Millennium

Città: Third Millennium in Helsinki, Finland by Pasi Kolhonen, 2000.

The following images and text are Pasi Kolhonen's entry to the Venice Biennale's online competition – “Città: Third Millennium” (with awards assigned by a Committee made up by François Barré, Peter Cook, Massimiliano Fuksas, Frédéric Migayrou, Paul Virilio, James Wines, Greg Lynn), one of three honorable mentions in the professional architect category.


The photos I sent represent a global condition in which graphic information is taking over the cityscape. The upper half of the image is a snapshot of an everyday street in Helsinki; the lower half is the same picture with everything that is not an ad, a sign or a logo removed. What is left is a layer of commercial urban wallpaper that most often passes our eyes unnoticed. Similar pictures can be produced from almost any contemporary city.

We have moved away from functional engineer's aestethics admired by Le Corbusier in the twenties. Today we live in an era of economist's aestethics where every surface not used for advertising is considered to be an expense item. Images of things are cheaper to produce than things themselves. Illusion of 3D is rapidly replacing the actual 3D.

Things people carry around with them are always of the highest quality they can afford, whereas buildings they live in are cheap. Mobile phones,
laptop computers, cars and watches are cherished, while Ikea -like economic efficiency is expected of building industry. Rapid and low priced construction results in living environment becoming similar wherever you go. Even city centres are basically the same all over the world; a collection of intertwined shopping malls located underground and in comfortable indoor streets.

Today homes are connected to worldwide media and at the same time protected from their immediate surroundings. Physical human relations are no longer a necessity, rather they are becoming a hobby. The same technology that enables global communications is being used to control people in cities. In contemporary city everyone is a suspect.

Commercial buildings are getting designed according to corporate graphic standard manuals. Buildings have to match company's unified image; the same motifs have to be found in headquarters, warehouses, advertisements, letters and stationery. The work of an architect is becoming secondary compared to the work of graphic designer. Ambitious, expensive architecture, without superficial graphics, is being used the same way as corporate logos. These buildings have their own channels of getting published and they give their users easy recognition with an added cultural value. Even architectural discussion is being reduced to a few advertisement-like slogans.

When planning for the future it is vitally important to make a difference between that what is desirable and that what is real. This piece of work deals with the issues of today. If an architect cannot accept the conditions in which he or she has to work, what chance is there for building and maintaining successful cities in the third millennium? Reality has always got the sharpest resolution.