The Viewpoint pavilion from Camley Street. Photo: Max Creasy.
The Viewpoint pavilion (architects Erkko Aarti, Arto Ollila and Mikki Ristola) from Camley Street. Photo: Max Creasy.

Outlook on the London Viewpoint

Esa Laaksonen, director of Alvar Aalto Academy, reviews the Camden Street Viewpoint project designed by AOR architects Erkko Aarti, Arto Ollila and Mikki Ristola in London.

Finnish architecture manoeuvers amidst new trends

Young Finnish architects are now on a roll, at least if we are to believe the British press – and why wouldn’t we? Hilla Rudanko and Anssi Kankkunen made it on to The Architectural Review’s ”30 under 30” list of architects – and that’s a worldwide list. I don’t know what projects by Rudanko and Kankkunen the journal had seen, but having seen the Heikkilä atelier home, it feels that the journal’s decision was the correct one.

The floating Viewpoint pavilion in London, intended as a permanent joint project between the Finnish Institute in London and The Architecture Foundation, was inaugurated on February 10th 2014. It’s been designed by the Finnish practice AOR, Erkko Aarti, Arto Ollila and Mikki Ristola. The pavilion has been widely published, for instance in the web publication dezeen, a key online publication in the fields of architecture and design. The pavilion will be maintained by the London Wildlife Trust.

The floating pavilion has been realised in the centre of London, in the vicinity of King’s Cross, based on the winning entry in an invited design competition involving three design practices. The other invitees were the architecture practices of Esa Ruskeepää (ERA) and Muntola & Österlund. The pavilion is located on a bend of the Regent’s Canal, which leads into the River Thames, and operates as a nature experience platform from where people can observe, for instance, the life of water fowl or ripples on the water in the canal itself at the edge of the hectic urban environment. The platform, which is part of Camley Street Natural Park, is also intended for neighbouring schools’ educational and workshop activities.

an incentive for a dialogue between nature and man

I’m not in the habit of reviewing architecture without first seeing it in person. This time, however, due to economic reasons, I was unable to travel to London to visit the site. However, I’ll venture to make a few observations based on the good press material and the designers’ webpages. It’s hard to ascertain how you find your way to the platform – and judging by the images, it would seem that it’s not all that easy. Probably a further commission for the designers would entail a design for the immediate surroundings. The design is based on the laavu – a traditional triangle-shaped Finnish shelter, from behind which one can observe nature. The materials are wood and Corten steel. Within its surroundings, the platform – a small prefabricated structure that was lifted on to site – appears appropriately different and contrasts in a pleasant way with the new building development occurring in the background, the mixture of different buildings along the banks of the canal and the park milieu. I feel certain that it’s pleasant to be on the platform because the form of the laavu shelter provides both visual and acoustic shelter. I can easily imagine that the natural material on the inner surfaces of the pavilion and the surprising experience of being close to nature in the middle of the city work well. Floating there, observing the ripples of the water on the canal as well as the canal birdlife offer an incentive for a dialogue between nature and man.

The choice of materials works well. The sides facing outwards are in Corten steel, which is well-suited for the large scale, lacking a scale itself, and has a camouflaging surface. By contrast, on the inside a soft intimate wood milieu has been created. An amusing postmodern solution has been found as a third material: the decking is covered with graphic concrete slabs with an interesting pattern imitating animal tracks.

Is youth no longer a radical breaker of tradition but rather a continuum?

There is something moving and fundamentally familiar in the reasoning that the young designers offer for their architecture. The premise of the floating platform is, they argue, Finland’s unique archipelago and the use of wood is connected to the Finns’ exceptional good handling of wood. But… is that really the case today? It’s marvellous, though, that Finnish exotica still has a lure abroad, and indeed, why shouldn’t we allow the younger generation to repeat the mantra of the previous generation. I myself, however, would have wished for somewhat bolder premises for the “new” architecture. Can we perhaps see here some of that neo-conservativeness that is occasionally talked about in the social sciences? Is youth no longer a radical breaker of tradition but rather a continuum?

It’s delightful and encouraging that the Finland Institute in London has participated in the preparation and production of the Viewpoint project. As someone who works with architecture, I feel that the life of institutes operating abroad often seems distant: the support that institutes provide for architecture has at least not been over-emphasised. An excellent permanent structure produced for the British capital hopefully will lead to more architectural opportunities in other countries hosting institutes – in a world of more familiar and perhaps easier to arrange literary events, musical performances, film showings and art exhibitions.

Text by Esa Laaksonen.
English translation by Gareth Griffiths.

Installation on the Regent's Canal of the floating viewing platform for Camley Street Nature Park, King's Cross. Photo: John Sturrock.

Installation on the Regent’s Canal of the floating viewing platform for Camley Street Nature Park, King’s Cross. Photo: John Sturrock.

 

The Viewpoint pavilion (architects Erkko Aarti, Arto Ollila and Mikki Ristola) from the Granary Square bridge. Photo Max Creasy.

The Viewpoint pavilion (architects Erkko Aarti, Arto Ollila and Mikki Ristola) from the Granary Square bridge.
Photo Max Creasy.

More information, images and videos about the London Viewpoint: www.viewpointlondon.fi.
Aarti Ollila Ristola: aor.fi.