A Pavilion for the Better World
Lahti was the European Green Capital in 2021, and this led to the construction of a pavilion that initially prompted debate on climate change in the heart of Helsinki and is now a focus point at a tiny suburban railway station.
Climate change has nudged many architects towards social activism. One of the most prominent examples of this in Finland was the installation I.C.E. – Indisputable Case of Emergency, created by architect Erkko Aarti and AOR Architects, and erected on the Kansalaistori Square in Helsinki in August 2021. This formed part of the programme for the year of the City of Lahti as the European Green Capital 2021. The installation consisted of two parts: a line of melting blocks of ice illustrating the perils of climate change and a wood-built pavilion showcasing the European Green Capital project and environmental solutions devised in Lahti. The installation was accompanied by a recording of ICE, an orchestral work by Cecilia Damström performed by the Sinfonia Lahti. After this event, the pavilion was relocated to Uusikylä in Lahti, where it now serves as a shelter for the platform at the railway station, an exhibition space and a starting point for walks in the woods of Salpausselkä.
Where did the idea for the pavilion and for the installation on Kansalaistori come from, architect ERKKO AARTI?
Erkko Aarti: The project began at the initiative of the City of Lahti. They wanted to gain visibility for the themes of the European Green Capital year outside the city. In the very beginning, the project was about creating an installation that would turn heads and prompt debate on climate change and other environmental themes.
After extensive brainstorming, we hit on ice as a potential material; after all, melting glaciers and rising sea levels are among the core threats of climate change. We brought nine massive blocks of ice onto the square, where they gradually melted, and the meltwater wiped out the names written on the pavement of cities threatened by rising sea levels.
The aim here was to create a temporary installation without generating waste. Ice seemed like a particularly ingenious solution, as the meltwater would simply evaporate of its own accord. The ice was sawed off a natural ice formation in Ylläs and stored at the ski hall in Kivikko in Helsinki. We could not accurately predict how quickly the ice would melt outdoors in summer, although we explored some international references in this regard. It was partly for this reason that we also decided to build a wood pavilion, but in such a way that – in keeping with the circular economy – it would have a permanent role waiting for it at the railway station at Uusikylä.
How do you see the potential of an architect for influencing public opinion on climate change?
The installation was widely discussed on social media and was mentioned in all major media outlets. The debate on climate change is extremely sensitive and charged: the installation was also used as a political tool by calling the execution of the work into question while casting doubt on the challenges of climate change. In Lahti, people resented money being spent on an art installation that was not even in their own city.
There was a huge amount of positive feedback too, and people who visited the site were very impressed. The main goal of the project was to highlight topics of climate change, and in this sense it was a success. This project was an exceptionally high-profile way for an architect to prompt public debate and to voice an opinion – not only through the work itself but in the numerous interviews I gave. Architects can contribute to construction becoming more sustainable, and this will in turn influence public opinion.
What did you need to consider in designing a building that was intended to be dismantled, relocated and repurposed?
It was quite a challenge to allow for the two different locations at which the building was to be erected. The pavilion had to be an eye-catching sculpture at the very heart of the city centre of Helsinki while also being able to serve as a permanent functional structure at a sleepy suburban railway station. The details of the wood structure had to be designed with sustainability in mind, yet it had to look like a sculpture.
Eventually, the permanent function and location intended for the pavilion began to guide the design process more than the goal of creating a stupendous but temporary structure. Transportability and logistics led to an elongated shape. Being able to erect the building quickly in Kansalaistori and being able to stiffen the structure to reinforce it for transport were considered in the design.
The design of the pavilion is about sculpture and structure and the use of wood. How did you combine these aspects?
We aimed to design the pavilion so as to be an interesting wood structure that could nevertheless be built using conventional lumber. We made the interior a pass-through space with excellent ventilation, because we could not know what the coronavirus situation would be like at the time of the event.
The pavilion had to be designed so that it would be possible to display information and also play music for visitors to hear. The boards stiffening the wood structure served as notice boards, and lighting and speakers were affixed to the stiffened wood beams. A covered terrace was added outside the pavilion to provide a place where people could sit and watch the “micro climate change” in progress, i.e. the blocks of ice slowly melting on the square.
At the new location, we installed permanent benches under the shelter and provided ample lighting to give a sense of security in the darkness surrounding the quiet railway station. The wood joints were developed in collaboration with skilled joiners Markku and Ville Tonttila in the course of construction.
How has the pavilion fit into its new location at Uusikylä?
The pavilion is a surprisingly enlivening feature in that quiet community and serves as a trailblazer for future developments around the station. The sculpture-like, brightly lit pavilion makes the station seem safer and thus contributes at least in some way to the attractiveness of public transport. Uusikylä is celebrating its 600th anniversary, and a permanent exhibition on the history of the area is being installed in the pavilion. In the future, the pavilion will also serve as a starting point for walks in the woods of Salpausselkä, recently designated a UNESCO Geopark area. ↙
Edited by Kristo Vesikansa, Essi Oikarinen