Published in 5/2023 - Tune Up


Editorial 5/2023: Fine-Tuning Our Environment

Kristo Vesikansa

We have a word in Finnish, “tuunaus”, that is often used in all manner of arts and crafts to refer to the upcycling or refashioning of existing products or materials into new and improved versions. It is also sometimes colloquially applied to renovating, but the word is yet to make an appearance in any glossaries or dictionaries of architectural or construction terminology. In the context of building and renovating, it is typically used to refer to small DIY projects that are undertaken without the help of professionals and by using the materials at hand. As such, fostering the intrinsic values and characteristics of the building are rarely at the focus of the activity. 

As stated, “tuunaus” is a loan in our field from the sphere of modifying, upcycling and refashioning clothes, pieces of furniture and other utility articles. Here, the word has a mostly positive clang: a skilled crafter knows how to combine existing pieces into a new one, to give a mass-produced item an individual look or to come up with a new use for unnecessary, unused things. I would argue that this would also be a valuable basic skillset for each and every architect. 

The idea of adhocism, which was launched by Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver in their book published in 1972, could be considered to be one of the ideological precursors of the same mindset. At the time, the ideal designer of the prevailing rationalism swore by the virtues of science, universal applicability and standardization, whereas the authors proposed an alternative view of a creative crafter, the bricoleur, who found inventive and resourceful ways to utilize existing resources without placing too much emphasis on visual consistency. As examples of this type of design methodology, Jencks and Silver cited Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, as well as customized cars, the visionary projects by Archigram, and hippie communes cobbled together by using waste materials.

Jencks and Silver’s book came out at a point in history when ecological architecture first began to take shape as its own movement, even though the book did not pay much attention to this perspective. In any case, adhocism can a useful stepping stone for today’s architects who are increasingly forced to focus on maintaining, mending and reusing what is already there instead of designing new buildings. One of the most prominent figures in developing such new professional and societal roles in recent years has been our French colleague Charlotte Malterre-Barthes. In an interview included in this issue, she describes her initiative for a global moratorium on new construction. Ulla Engman contributes an essay in which she reflects on the meanings and significance of care from the point of view of an architect involved in the renovation of a listed building.

A skilled crafter knows how to combine existing pieces into a new one, to give a mass-produced item an individual look or to come up with a new use for unnecessary, unused things. 

The other meaning of the Finnish word “tuunaus”, namely tuning up, is related to improving the performance of motor vehicles. When applied to architecture, this could entail, for example, improving the energy-efficiency of buildings. In this issue, we can read about the way in which an ecological renovation has been implemented in the Jyrkkälä suburb of Turku and what we could take away from the project and apply to other 1960s and 1970s residential areas.

In English, the word tuning also refers to the tuning of musical instruments, which carries our thoughts to the age-old parallels that have been drawn since antiquity between music and architecture. For example, the buildings designed by the recently deceased Academician Juha Leiviskä have often been described as instruments that are played by light. Lari Ala-Pöllänen’s article examines Leiviskä’s architecture from another perspective: he focuses on how Leiviskä’s designs resonate with their material surroundings.

Leiviskä is definitely among the most revered architects of his generation, but even his works do not seem to be safe from the bulldozers. For example, the fate of the Kirkkonummi Parish Centre from 1984 has been debated for years. In 2020, the Kirkkonummi congregation decided to tear the building down, citing indoor air issues and high renovation costs, and the Uusimaa Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre) rejected an appeal submitted by Docomomo Finland for the preservation of the building. The Helsinki Administrative Court recently dismissed appeals against the ELY Centre’s decision, and it look’s like the fate of the building may be sealed. The most baffling argument in the ELY Centre’s decision is that, even after the demolishing of the parish centre, a representative body of works by Leiviskä will remain, such as the Myyrmäki Church which was completed the same year. In slightly dramatic terms, one might ask whether this implies that Leiviskä’s works can be torn down, one by one, if at least one is left standing for posterity. While the Kirkkonummi Parish Centre is not among Leiviskä’s most renowned works, his internationally outstanding series of religious buildings should be preserved as intact as possible.

In the projects featured in this issue, the surrounding environment has been restored, modified and complemented through varied means. Former Finnish State Railways production facilities in Helsinki’s Konepaja area have been gradually converted to new uses, with the objective of preserving as many layers of industrial history as possible. The Lauttasaari Church in Helsinki, designed by Keijo Petäjä in 1958, has been restored with careful respect for the clean lines of its rationalist architecture, and the Chappe Art Museum in Ekenäs introduces a new element to one of Finland’s best-preserved historical wooden towns. In addition to these, four smaller-scale renovation projects materialise the topic of this issue in particularly fine-tuned forms. ↙

Read other stories in the Tune Up issue →