Antonello Alici, Juhani Pallasmaa and Fulvio Irace in Milan on 26 February 2014. Photo: Claudia Castaldi.
Antonello Alici, Juhani Pallasmaa and Fulvio Irace in Milan on 26 February 2014. Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

Italian-Finnish thoughts on creativity: Juhani Pallasmaa in Milan

Arianna Callocchia reports on Juhani Pallasmaa in Milan, Italy where the new Italian translation of The Thinking Hand (2009; La Mano che Pensa, Safarà Editore 2014) and the exhibition Studies in Silence has focused much attention.

Italian-Finnish thoughts on creativity

The architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa has returned once again to Italy as a guest speaker and the protagonist of a public meeting. It was held on February 26th 2014, in the Italian design capital of Milan; the renowned Finnish creative was joined by Fulvio Irace, a lecturer at the Milan Polytechnic and Antonello Alici, architect and architecture historian at the Marche Polytechnic.

The meeting was attended by an enthusiastic audience of Milanese architects, students and university lecturers who were delighted to welcome architect Pallasmaa to their city. One of the key events of the meeting was the Italian preview of the book “The Thinking Hand”.

Juhani Pallasmaa, La Mano che Pensa, Safarà Editore 2014. Photo: Arianna Callocchia.

Juhani Pallasmaa, La Mano che Pensa, Safarà Editore 2014. Photo: Arianna Callocchia.

The inauguration of the small exhibition “Studies in Silence”, dedicated to ‘doing and experimenting’, took place that same evening. Open to the public until March 22nd, it presents some of Pallasmaa’s most important graphic projects, designs, urban furnishing and architecture, illustrated with a series of vertical PVC banners suspended from the ceiling.

The host venue for the event was the design store Valcucine Milano Brera, and not an institutional or museum facility. The store is well-known in the city and has an excellent reputation for its exciting program of events and for the Eco Bookshop Valcucine, opened in 2010 to promote the culture of sustainability. The bookshop offers the Italian and international communities a selection of books dedicated to ecology, bio-architecture, sustainable design and the ethics applied to our social and environmental context.

Sustainability and ecology were the themes used in this Italian-Finnish initiative to connect architecture, design and philosophy and creatively promote a world that should be more attentive to the needs of the human race and of the environment.

Juhani Pallasmaa, a man from the extreme north, who has a dynamic cosmopolitan personality and is deeply in love with Italy.
— Stefano Tessadori

According to Stefano Tessadori, curator of the exhibition: “The Thinking Hand” is “a powerful and deep reflection on creation, design and constructing, not just in architecture. Through references to the latest research in the fields of neuro-science and craftwork, it may be prove to be of great interest in this historical moment; it will make a contribution to redefining our identity as Italian creatives, thanks to the insight by Juhani Pallasmaa, a man from the extreme north, who has a dynamic cosmopolitan personality and is deeply in love with Italy.”

Pallasmaa stated that “since the early Twentieth century, Finnish architects have looked to Italy for inspiration. I still love visiting Italy even now. I never cease to admire its historical works and its masterpieces of modernity. Italian historians, scholars, critics and philosophers have also made an important impact”. Pallasmaa’s love of Italy is undeniably a two-way relationship, confirmed by the large number of people who attended the meeting.

Pallasmaa continued: “I was quite impressed and pleased with the success of the event in Milan and the wonderful atmosphere. I was delighted with the number of people who attended and their evident interest in the discussions and the exhibition itself. I must say in all honesty, that the popularity of my writings in schools of architecture around the world has been quite a surprise, because I never really think of the reader when I write. For me, writing is primarily a personal journey, one which I try to report as clearly and sincerely as I can. I do not want to teach anyone anything, I prefer indicate certain phenomena and encourage the readers to look in the direction I am pointing in”.

This society of globalization, the Internet, speed and consumerism makes us almost incapable of communicating, Pallasmaa opposes the values of sluggishness and silence, preferring patient listening to everything around us.
— Antonello Alici

So what can Juhani Pallamaa teach Italian architects today? Antonello Alici, architect and architecture historian at the Polytechnic College in the Marche, explains: “The works and the thoughts of Juhani Pallasmaa follow with rare coherence the scourge of consumerist disorientation in our society; this phenomenon increasingly distances us from nature and from our senses. This society of globalization, the Internet, speed and consumerism makes us almost incapable of communicating, Pallasmaa opposes the values of sluggishness and silence, preferring patient listening to everything around us. The book concludes by efficaciously pointing out that one of art’s responsibilities is to safeguard the authenticity of the human experience; architecture, on the other hand, must protect us from excessive exposure, excessive noise and excessive communication. I think that this is an invaluable lesson we should all take on-board and try to put into practise”.

As the book “The Thinking Hand” has been translated into Italian, it will be listed as a text book in many of Italy’s architecture faculties and will also be distributed through a number of bookstores given that this deeply informative (never pedantic) read is also appropriate for the general public and not just for the specialists. “The hand is the window of the mind (Immanuel Kant)” is a quotation used by Pallasmaa to open the first of the eight chapters. The architect’s thoughts unfold page by page, through the various disciplinary planes, from anthropology to history and esthetics, but maintaining a close relationship with ‘doing’ as a gesture, like hand movements: irrespective of whether it belongs to the artist, the craftsman or the architect.

The presentation of Pallasmaa’s book was the opportunity to inaugurate the new series of books also called ‘The Thinking Hand’, published by Safarà Editore, a young, dynamic book publisher from Pordenone, in the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and directed by Stefano Tessadori and Matteo Zambelli. In the near future, they will publish the Italian translation of another two books by Juhani Pallasmaa: “The embodied image” and “Question of perception” written with Steven Holl and Alberto Perez Gomez.

Following its launch in Milan, the book will subsequently be presented in the Italian cities of Pordenone, Udine and Trieste, with the objective of releasing exciting new reflections on creativity, combined with architecture, design and philosophy.

Text by Arianna Callocchia.
English translation by Fiona Johnston.

Editor’s note: Juhani Pallasmaa donated the archives of his architectural practice and his astounding  library collection to Museum of Finnish Architecture in December 2013.

Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

The inauguration of the exhibition "Studies in Silence” and the book launch at Valcucine Milano Brera. Photo: Claudia Castaldi.

The inauguration of the exhibition “Studies in Silence” and the book launch at Valcucine Milano Brera. Photo: Claudia Castaldi.