Published in 1/2024 - The Heart of the City

Project Review

The New School Fills A Quarter of a Block in Kuopio – with Many Different Characters

Kristo Vesikansa

Photo: Aukusti Heinonen

Lumit is a welcome addition to Kuopio’s cityscape and school selection.

The network of narrow alleys and the resulting small-scale block structure is arguably the defining feature of the grid plan in central Kuopio. The street network is based on the town plan drawn up by Pehr Kjellman in 1776, in which the blocks were divided into four sections with seven-metre-wide fire break corridors. The alternation of narrow and wide streets creates a special kind of spatiality in the city centre, even after the building stock has been renewed several times over.

Regrettably, the dense fabric unravels to the south of the Market Square where the Kuopio Music Centre (Esa Malmivaara and Raimo Savolainen 1985) is framed by large parking areas. The Lumit Upper Secondary School with a specialised arts curriculum now fills in one quarter of the block, making it a welcome addition to the fragmented cityscape. The new building was meant to be the first phase of a renewal project spanning from the Market Square to the Kuopionlahti waterfront, but in the current economy, the realization of the other phases seems uncertain. Fortunately, Lumit does not need the further additions to fulfil its role in the cityscape.

Photo: Aukusti Heinonen

Lumit Upper Secondary School

Lukkaroinen Architects / Joona Koskelo, Petri Pettersson, Okko Saurama, Simo Rasmussen, Kati Kaukonen
Location Koljonniemenkatu 48-50, Kuopio
Gorss Area 9 500 m2
Completion 2022

More photos and drawings of the project →

The overall plan is based on the winning entry to a two-phased ideas competition arranged in 2016–2017. The key idea behind the entry by Lukkaroinen Architects and VSU Landscape Architects was to position the new buildings specified in the competition brief – the school, a hotel and congress centre, and residential buildings – in a string on both sides of the Music Centre. This left a park square covering the width of half a block to the east of the Hallikatu street leading from the Market Square to the lakeside park, with sculpturesque canopies weaving the varying building heights together.

During the competition phase, a hybrid block, including not only the school but also housing and retail premises, was still envisioned for the site, but the residential development was moved to the eastern flank of the park. In the same revision, a theatre hall with a separate, impressive entrance was added opposite to the Music Centre. The harshness of the unfinished environment is most apparent on the eastern side of the school, which now faces a gravel field instead of a park. The plan is to build underground parking for the hotel and congress centre beneath the park, which means that the implementation of the park has also been pushed back to the unforeseeable future.

The rectangular plot is framed in by streets on all four sides and could have prompted the design of a rather generic building, but the architects of Lumit have instead highlighted the different characters of the urban spaces bordering the school. Therefore, the building is divided into two pieces of different heights: the lower volume picks up the eaves line of the Music Centre, while the taller section reaches up towards the neighbouring residential blocks. The eaves line of the Music Centre is also drawn into the facades of the taller volume by the mid-wall switch in the brickwork pattern. Towards the west, Lumit turns its back on the wide Haapaniemenkatu street, while secluding Koljonniemenkatu, which runs along the northern perimeter, into an intimate alleyway. The recessed theatre entrance faces towards the south and serves as a counterpart for the Music Centre recess, and the east-facing, timber-clad main entrance is fronted by auditorium steps in anticipation of the future park.

Photo: Aukusti Heinonen

 The motifs on the eastern facade – a covered recess, curved glass wall and timber cladding – are familiar from several public buildings completed in recent years, such as the Oodi Central Library in Helsinki (Ala 2018). On the other hand, the yellowy tone ties Lumit to the ochre wooden buildings of the Yhteiskoulu school to the north of Koljonniemenkatu. Indeed, in Lumit’s outward appearance, one can find clues of 21st century free-form architecture as well as older reiterations of contextualism. The brick-faced facades, for example, link Lumit to the Music Centre, even though the light grey colour sets it off from its red-brick neighbour. A distinction is also found in the tectonic expression: the brick surfaces of the Music Centre are clearly discernible as a brick-face finish on top of a load-bearing concrete frame, while the brickwork in Lumit creates an illusion of a solid brick wall.

Not all of the motifs click in place quite as smoothly. For instance, when viewed one by one from directly in front of the walls, the southern and eastern facades form skilfully arranged wholes, but when one circles around the corner and sees both at once, the sculpturesque canopies adorning the entrances begin to eat into each other’s effectiveness. The effect would be different if the louvre fronting the recess that was included in the original designs for the south entrance had been realised. Moving the maintenance traffic from the basement to the ground level raised the hem of the louvre so high that the architects saw it best to scratch this design element altogether. 

The collage of shapes and materials carries through into the interior, where surfaces are finished in concrete, wood, glass, plywood, perforated steel panelling, white paint and acoustic panelling. The simple layout has lent itself to a surprising range of variation: the classrooms and workspaces are positioned along the perimeter, leaving hallways and lobbies of varying sizes as well as a spacious central hall in the middle. Natural light to the spaces situated in the middle of the building comes in through a sizeable roof lantern, and the series of spaces culminates in the second-floor lobby that affords striking views towards Kuopio Cathedral – the views will improve even further when the gravel pit that dominates the foreground is eventually built into a park.

Photo: Aukusti Heinonen

The bottom level of the central hall is made up of auditorium stairs, which seems to be an almost mandatory feature in contemporary schools. The steps lead down to a stage, which can be opened out towards the gym and banquet hall behind it and towards the lunchroom next to it, enabling a multitude of performances and events. The ground floor also houses a two-story high dance hall, a 230-seat theatre with a foyer, as well as other performance facilities that are used for non-school functions.

Lumit’s multiform architecture leaves a sunny and energetic impression. It has obviously also made an impression on Kuopio’s youth, as the new building has made the school, with its specialised arts curriculum, the most popular upper secondary school in the city. Contrary to popular belief, the walls also matter. ↙