6 / 2017 - the future of (Finnish) architecture

What do the Finland of the future and its cities look like? Finland’s centennial as an independent nation has been celebrated on both a small and a grand scale. In this issue, architects turn their eyes to the future. All dreams, hopes and fears are conceivable as the future remains a mystery. Before venturing to reflect on the future, this issue looks at the transition periods and current state of Finnish architecture. Architects representing different generations write about the future of Finnish architecture; whether any Finnish architecture actually exists; where future developments may take us; and how houses and cities are going to change.

"The cities of the 2040s will be fascinating, rich environments in which to live lives of great interest." (Mikko Summanen)

"In the future, we will be able to create a building like a plant which generates its own energy." (Eero Lundén)

"The future of our architecture lies in the return to humanistic thinking that brings together all disciplines of art." (Juhani Pallasmaa)

"Finnish architecture no longer exists, and is not even considered significant." (Anu Puustinen)

"Even though technology develops, people's physical size, needs and fondness for psychologically pleasant and safe places remain the same." (Inari Virkkala)


Architects of different generations figure what the future of Finnish architecture looks like. The editors also asked the writers to reflect the future to the situation of their student years.

Waiting for the revolution of moderation

Antti Karsikas

I studied architecture at the University of Oulu during the first decade of the 2000s. It was a time of unprecedented economic growth. There was a strong belief in the future, and that good architecture could solve all the problems of the world. Capitalism, technology and individualism flourished. Everything was permitted, the flipside of which was, of course, a certain lack of a moral compass. Excess was a fully achievable, and even recommendable, design principle. The same spirit of the times prevailed in Oulu too, but the tradition of Finnish architecture, our wise teachers and the deep core of our culture – some kind of principle of caution – protected us from the worst hyperbole.

Now I realise that I miss that period, my youth and omnipotence, as do probably all my contemporaries who now have matured into early middle age. In retrospect, with eyes clouded by the writings of Georg Henrik von Wright and Oswald Spengler, the beginning of the 2000s could, of course, have been the last impulse of western culture, an attempt to once again produce something of significance. But it does not prevent people from being nostalgic.

The world seems to be in turmoil. Undoubtedly this same feeling keeps recurring in every generation, but this time could there nevertheless be something behind it? The reason for the turmoil is climate change, and war, migration, and rising nationalism are its consequences.

I would like to say something along the lines of ”through design that follows the principles of sustainable development and by minimising emissions climate change can be overcome”, but we all know it would be rubbish. The average temperature of the globe is rising, and it will have either great or slightly less global consequences. Or to be more precise, the consequences can already be felt now.

I would also like to say something along the lines of “Logically, building should be stopped. We should let people die of disease, malnutrition or wars, and thus preserve the human species at any cost.” But that would be the same kind of rubbish. Perhaps true to some extent, but rubbish all the same – romantic waffle. As an action plan, it would therefore be irrelevant.

What if the world continues on its trajectory towards right-wing nationalism, and those who most skilfully exploit the lowest common denominator among the people decide the political direction? Or what if the migrations of peoples begin in earnest and large numbers also end up here in Finland? What will happen to the Finnish welfare state, the ideals of equality and secular humanism?

The world seems to be in turmoil.

But I was supposed to talk here about architecture.

Architecture is always a mirror of society. Our Nordic welfare society and some degree of monoculture have defined architecture during the major part of Finland’s 100-year long journey of independence. Exaggerating only slightly, one can say that all the buildings are variations on the same theme.

Finnish architecture is rational and moderate, and often also a little bit boring. One does what one can with the available resources. We don’t show off, or if we do, we don’t do it so that it shows. All this is astonishing and at first a bit disheartening, but eventually it also elicits admiration, pride and hope.

Even the best Finnish architecture is based on the same morality. The difference between the good and the bad lies in the passion.

It is entirely possible that the world will end up in the state of upheaval described above. One should not, however, give in to apathy, even though it feels tempting. Though it is no longer possible to fully avert climate change, one can nevertheless do something about it. There is a considerable difference in whether the average temperature of the globe rises by 2 or 5 degrees.

Architecture must be practiced with passion. Not a single house should be designed or executed half-heartedly – we cannot afford that. The construction should be reliable. One must abandon the sort of layered structures that are prone to failure, as well as systems that rely excessively on technology. Solid structures should be built, preferably in wood, so that buildings become a large carbon sink. The most recent technology – the use of algorithms, robotics and 3D printing – could be utilised in optimising structures and space, as long as it is ensured that the tool does not become the master.

Urbanisation moves forward like a train. Now, at the very latest, we should learn how to build a real city. There is space internally for densification. We should also be able to design landmark buildings elsewhere than in the middle of parks. Finnish urban design is burdened by a dogmatic interpretation of modernism – but we can overcome it, if we try.

Urban geographers and ecologists should without delay reach a consensus about what kind of urban structure will save the planet. If it is established that single-family houses and inefficient land use is detrimental, then their construction should be prohibited. Many would cry about that, but then again, so does a three-year-old at the sweet counter. At the same time, one must note that the city ultimately is a money-making machine. And where money is made there is also consumption. People do not yet live on ones and zeros; a tenner for Netflix doesn’t prevent someone from taking a weekend trip to Paris.

The flesh is weak, and it is hard to believe in a future where enlightenment and rationality would magically steer everyone towards a sustainable life. Instead, for instance, our intestinal bacteria are strong. We know that meat should be eaten only rarely, but how does one tell that to the bacteria and endorphins, which make the saliva pool in the mouth when next to charred meat?

No: force is needed, in terms of both lifestyles and construction, and even architecture. It is irresponsible to rely on the ability of individual people to rise above their instincts. It is easier for everyone to limit their impulses, when they know that others are in the same boat. Even in this sense, we in Finland are lucky – collectivity, necessity and regulation are rather familiar to us.

If you think that the world described above would be an unhappy place to live in, you would be wrong. People were happy 100 years ago, too, despite the daily scarcities.

Finnish architecture has a lot to offer the world in regard to moderation, purposefulness and rationality. You can’t build pyramids with these assets, but then again, that’s not what’s needed right now. ark

Bringing poetic to pragmatic

Jenni Reuter

Architecture is the built reality of current values and ideals and it is going through changes. The role of an architect in society is being redefined, as the limited job description should be expanded. Architects have an opportunity to be active and collaborate in areas where the market forces and construction industry have the loudest voices. Thus architects occasionally have to leave their comfort zone, while remaining an expert in their own field.

These are the new roles of star architects:

Bureaucracy activists question zoning and legislation problems. They bring up difficult issues and engage in extensive collaboration. In their current form, construction and zoning include several regulations that slow down development and architects have been passive in the related legislative process. The lack of expertise with regard to these regulations has not been addressed even when knowledge has increased. The legislation should be made more flexible to accept also experimental ideas instead of standard practices.

Market revolutionaries influence demand so that the clients get the desire and ability to require quality from their built environment as well as socially fair structures and opportunities that are financially available to everyone. The current construction industry produces uniformity and a lack of alternatives at a high cost. Market revolutionaries will also find ways to do business in genuinely sustainable construction.

Traffic aesthetes are the architects of future traffic environments. Most people spend a great deal of their daily life in the middle of traffic. Architects, landscape architects and designers are mainly called upon to touch up the details. More comprehensive planning that also focuses on the aesthetic rhythm of traffic is a traffic aesthete's speciality, in both urban and sparsely populated areas.

Material developers work with other experts to develop healthier building methods and structures and also promote the use thereof as entrepreneurs. The building materials and methods used over the past 50 years have hardly developed even though they have proven to be anything but durable or healthy. The latest innovations in timber structures or experimental high precision building methods have not yet been utilised in Finland other than in exceptional cases.

Repair innovators see possibilities in buildings doomed to be demolished. The demolition frenzy fifty years ago was justified on grounds of norms and money: buildings from the previous century did not meet the new standards and renovating would have been expensive. The frenzy and its justifications turned out to be a mistake, but it is happening again with the same explanations, now targeting buildings constructed during the previous demolition wave. Demolition should be a last resort with watertight justifications. Urban planners, architects and investors should see, in addition to demolition, possibilities for renovations and changes in use or at the very least for reusing demolished structures. The expected lifespan of buildings must be again made longer than human life.

Place finders rationalise urban interior and exterior spaces on the terms of well-being to find hidden opportunities and make them available to all. In analysis work they use traditional methods as well as algorithms and artificial intelligence applications.

Emotional nerds read social structures, atmospheres and climates as well as their impact on and utilisation in a built environment. The combined effect and interaction of interior and exterior spaces has a decisive influence on our well-being. Increasingly close and dynamic collaboration between architects and landscape architects will be needed.

Presentation surgeons are able to tackle architectural ideas, visions and dreams with passion and turn them into an illustrative form. Today only a few architects have the ability to create demanding illustrative pictures and animations. Specialised companies focus on the surface and the presentation material often does not capture the soul of the plans.

Time curators reflect on the meanings of our own art. Our history knows too few writing architects and self-examination through exhibitions and events has remained inconsistent. In most cases architectural analysis is left to art historians who observe architecture as outsiders. In the future, discussions and theoretical reflections among architects will get a new boost.

Educational idealists create fertile ground for new thinking and do not force all novice architects into one mould. Future architects understand their responsibility, take a stand, think and act freely, feel empathy and actively seek to tackle the most difficult questions. They also have the ability and desire to take the initiative without an order. As teaching resources are now being reduced and the objectives of one's work are assessed through input/output measurements, it is increasingly important to find time for emotions, thinking and searching for new information. The joy of finding is a source of change, which begins to flow in the most natural way without limited objectives.

All the above does not, of course, mean that we should stop being spatial poets, visionaries working with our basic tasks. Working methods and tools are changing at a rapid pace. What is essential in preserving the importance of architecture is that our professional role develops and changes to involve more collaboration with other specialists. The sustainable future of architecture is based on a situation where architects recognise their social and aesthetic responsibility as well as artistic and technical innovations as part of culture. In the words of Danish architect Dorte Mandrup: “Whatever you do is a statement on how life should be”. ark

All 16 essays in the issue.

Antti Karsikas is a partner of alr Architects.
Jenni Reuter is Associate Professoer at Aalto University

Näköislehti: Site Logic