6 / 2016 - landscape, park

The interest in green architecture is growing strongly. Behind the popularity of green walls and urban gardening lies a genuine desire to reconnect with nature. The urbanite, living in an artificial reality, longs for nature. "Pastoral or green architecture has the potential to reconnect us not only with nature but also with our estranged selves." This is how Ville Lukkarinen, professor of art history, describes the return of nature in architecture. He links the new popularity of greenery with the long tradition of European culture, where idealised nature has been the source of a happy life since the times of the poet Virgil. Landscape design is the organisation of nature as part of our environment. Marc Treib, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, looks at the topic within the contemporary world of contradictions. In landscape design a dividing line exists between the pursuit of absolute ecological sustainability and a focus on aesthetic issues. Treib is not in favour of confrontation but rather speaks in favour of "both/and" thinking: "There is no reason why a landscape cannot be sustainable, ecological, resilient, robust, enfranchising – and also beautiful."

Tapiola Garden City has been a unique example of the coordination between Finnish landscape design and building. Leimuniitty park, the open landscape at the centre of Tapiola, has now been renovated and renewed. The journal features the renewed park, which has preserved its role as the focal point of the cityscape. In addition, the journal features buildings that possess an interactive relationship with the landscape, from Vantaa in the south to Rovaniemi up north. The Fazer Visitor and Meeting Centre brings nature into the building, in the form of a circular garden, while the chalets of the Arctic Treehouse Hotel offer a view from the slopes of the fell over the northern landscape. In his column, former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen is surprised that the significance of architecture and design in our country is still not understood, even though both are among the world’s best. In his opinion, we should finally build a decent Museum of Architecture and Design. "The Guggenheim Helsinki project – whether well-justified or not – indicates a lack of self-esteem because we have not been able to bring attention to our own works."


Visitor and Meeting Centre
architects Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola, Mikko Summanen
address Fazerintie 6, Vantaa
gross area 5130 m2
completion 2016

commentary Esa Laaksonen
photos Mika Huisman

Modern architecture is becoming lusher. Green walls and roofs, as well as urban gardening and denser vegetation, illustrate a longing for nature. The animate and inanimate become intertwined in this new pastoralism.

The modern urban environment, saturated with technological and commercial ethos, may feel estranged and inhuman. New pastoralism brings the values of natural landscape within the reach of city dwellers. The concept of “new pastoralism” has arisen from architectural discourse taking place in Great Britain. It refers to gentle environmental planning that encourages participation and creates images of the idyllic Arcadia and the lost Golden Age. People living in modern urban environments are surrounded by artificial realities and virtual worlds and suffer from a sensory disconnection from nature – and reality in general. Pastoral, or green architecture, has the potential to reconnect us not only with nature, but also with our estranged selves. In this respect, practical applications are provided by new, advanced technologies such as biotechnology, as well as various low-tech solutions.

The sceptical mind sees this phenomenon as an attempt to commercialise a historical concept that promotes ageless soft values. On the other hand, green walls and similar solutions call to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), in which strips of paper attached to the spaceship’s ventilation grille resemble the sound of leaves in the wind and bring an inkling of solace to cosmonauts far removed from Planet Earth. However, the concern about our disconnection with real, genuine nature shared by the people taking about new pastoralism seems real.

Relaxing, happy, virtuous

The word “pastoral” brings to mind shepherds having a siesta, Pan playing the flute, and nymphs in the forest – a wistful, elegiac atmosphere in idyllic and idealised Mediterranean landscapes. The literary pastoral tradition, which survived up until the eighteenth century, owes a great deal to its first two representatives: Theocritus (Idylls, ca 270 BC) and Virgil (Eclogues, ca 40 BC). Those talking about new pastoralism refer to these two figures as well. For its visual form the pastoral genre owes to Sebastiano Serlio’s visualisation of Vitruvius’s description of the staging of classical satyr plays (1545). Venetian Renaissance artists further developed this idea, to the extent that we think we know what a pastoral landscape should look like. It is an ideal setting for shepherds, satyrs and healthy rural people. As a phenomenon of the visual arts, the pastoral tradition was still alive and well at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Some of the works by Paul Signac, Pierre Bonnard, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse are seamlessly connected to this centuries-old tradition. Le bonheur de vivre (1905–06), a colourful, Fauvist ode to the joy of life by Matisse, is probably the best-known of these works.

The antithesis between the city and the countryside, culture and nature, is a topic that has been included in the pastoral tradition since the very beginning. The shepherd poems by the Alexandrian Theocritus and the Roman Virgil present a metropolitan perspective. In fact, pastorals usually deal with an urban longing to a fantasy of country life. The upper-class authors of ancient Rome wrote about the relaxing effect of nature and the countryside and how simple country life is morally more virtuous than superficial urban life. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, Rousseauian criticism of civilisation – which was much deeper than the straightforward antithesis between the city and the countryside – found positive alternatives in the pastoral tradition, in a simple, happy life based on our “original” connection with nature. This connection was not based on exploiting and benefiting from nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself deemed that technological, scientific and cultural development had just in his time reached a point where people and nature had become completely diverged from one another.

The new pastoralism

But what does “nature” actually mean? This is a question that we tend to overlook. This also applies to new pastoralism. Some environmental researchers believe that there is in fact no untouched nature left on the globe. Then how could we create a connection to it? Nature can also be regarded as merely a word that refers to everything that represents “otherness” in and outside our culture. In addition, even the classical pastoral tradition differentiates between various environments, such as wild natural environments and agricultural environments. In fact, according to Virgil’s cosmological view, nature was the Universe, the entire reality in which also humans live. In other words, the new pastoralism in architecture and urban planning should specify what it actually means when it refers to “nature”.

It is also possible that our relationship with nature is not an essential feature that defines traditional pastoralism. Perhaps it is more essential that shepherds have gathered together to tell stories and play instruments. Thus, it is possible that the landscape of pastoralism is not so important after all. What is important is the lifestyle it conveys, the mentality of shepherds in poems. The American essayist Leo Marx has written extensively about our concepts of nature and discussed the potential of pastoralism in this regard. Marx begins with shepherds instead of the more abstract concept of our relationship with nature and ends up visioning a certain type of society where pastoral relationships prevail between people and between people and nature. Much like those talking about the new pastoralism, he is concerned about the disconnection between nature and urban people surrounded by artificial realities. The mythical figures of shepherds who live on the boundaries of civilisation, help Marx come up with utopias of people living as an organic part of nature. In this respect, he resembles the anarchists of the late nineteenth century who dreamed of agrarian utopias. In fact, this is not far from the “green” socialism of William Morris.

According to philosopher Bruno Latour, descriptions of reality do not need to thoroughly differentiate between people and nature. Modern phenomena – such as climate change, the destruction of biodiversity and ecological disasters – are increasingly both human and natural in cause. Natural researcher Yrjö Haila also believes that the animate and inanimate are irrevocably intertwined on the globe. According to Haila, the antithesis between the natural and unnatural offers us nothing in terms of understanding the status of humans as part of nature.

The new pastoralism builds on classical literature, but its idyllic Arcadia is difficult to reach in an increasingly unnatural world. However, the new pastoralism is willing to turn to modern biomimetics and the Primitive Hut of Abbé Laugier alike to achieve its goal of natural architecture. ark

Ville Lukkarinen is Professor of Art History at the University of Helsinki.


The biggest problem with the Finnish culture is that it lacks respect for its achievements. As Finland will next year celebrate its 100 years of independence, it would be time to do as the Swedes: give architecture and design the status they deserve and show this in a concrete way by finally building a proper museum for these art forms at which we are among the world’s best.

Stockholm has a real museum of architecture in a new building, we do not. The Guggenheim project – whether well-justified or not – indicates a lack of self-esteem because we have not been able to bring attention to our own works.

A museum of architecture and design, which should both fit in one building, could be created for a quarter of the Guggenheim’s cost. Yet, there is a great deal of fuss over the Guggenheim. The most incomprehensible thing is that the plan is to set up, totally uncritically, a black group of buildings in front of Helsinki’s white seaside facade. Helsinki is also a landscape and the city has an identity as the daughter of the Baltic Sea.

The entire area, including the Olympia Terminal, should be redesigned. The functionally open site does have space for a building and its operations, but a dominant complex does not need to be built there – whether wow or not. The proposed black buildings do not have the wow factor after all.

During the 100th Anniversary Year, the aim should be to highlight the achievements of Finnish architecture and urban planning. The Rovaniemi town plan by Alvar Aalto is alive. The Inkeroinen industrial community is of World Heritage standard and among the world’s best living environments. It is equally important to highlight co-op functionalism and so-called common buildings of cultural-historical value, like the poor people’s wooden houses preserved from Kyttälä, Tampere, or the sawmill workers’ houses in Kolikkoinmäki by Lake Iisvesi, originally drawn on a pack of cigarettes.

Finland’s urban environments become better as city centres are livened up and community structures are made more dense. The sprawling of the capital region all over Uusimaa has been incredibly expensive. Espoo has quickly began to develop Tapiola as civilisation arrives along with the metro.

Shoreline development with respect for the environment has been the best element in the development of many Finnish cities. However, there is still room for improvement in those regions located by a river.

Following Lord Norman Foster’s thinking: Suburbs must be fixed by developing their centres, in terms of both functions and appearance. Good architecture and well-designed built environments boost the people and the community. Motivation at work and school improves and in a community the people become closer to each other. ark

Paavo Lipponen, former Prime Minister and party leader (SDP), now works as a consultant for the energy sector and Arctic questions.


Näköislehti: Site Logic