Aalto University’s Wood Studio has for already twenty years been teaching Finnish and foreign architecture students to understand, handle and utilise wood as a building material in architecture. The present exhibition at the Museum of Finnish Architecture provides strong evidence for what belief, passion and skill mean in the education of architects. Our expertise in wood seems finally to have attained an internationally compatible level, and capable of achieving both technical progressiveness and artistically creative architectural expression.
The diverse exhibition has been divided thematically into three parts: Roots, Trunk and Crown. The exhibition, assembled with thought and dressed in an appropriately minimalist and energetic look, relays a narrative that inspires new ideas. The narrative’s temporal strand extends from the villa architecture at turn of the last century to wooden apartment blocks currently under construction. The roots are proof of the nutrition that Finland’s proud architectural history offers. The exhibition visitor is informed about the milestone significance of, among others, Hvitträsk, Puukäpylä and the Lusto Finnish Forest Museum.
The trunk of the exhibition comprises student projects from the Aalto University Wood Studio. The numerous scale models, and in particular the experimental wood studies and stools displayed in the museum’s secondary exhibition hall, are impressive. Professors Juhani Pallasmaa, Jan Söderlund, Georg Grotenfelt and Eero Paloheimo, who first developed wood-themed courses at the Department of Architecture at Helsinki University of Technology, created a realistic but architecture-centred collaborative model with engineering education, the wood industry and building developers – which has become fruitful. One can criticise Design & Build-type education as both mentally and physically arduous work for students, which fuels unnecessary competitiveness. The display of results seen in the exhibition, however, shows the strength of this type of teaching. Many of these constructions have for the young designers been the springboard to an artistic professional career. The internationally best-known examples are probably the Kupla observation tower in Korkeasaari, Café Hiili in Töölönlahti, and the Liina transitional shelter – as well as the most recent tour de force, the Helsinki World Design Capital 2012 events pavilion.
The current Aalto University Wood Program is in the secure hands of Professor of wood construction Pekka Heikkinen. During his professorship, also students of industrial design and interior design have joined the course and research in the field has been active. Neither in the teaching nor in the exhibition is wood cut to fit some Finn-forest mythology. Students carry out research, design and build: they become familiar with wood from a variety of angles, with an open mind and enviably hands-on.
The “branches” of the exhibition extend towards the future. The latest Finnish wooden architecture is presented intelligently, with technology at the forefront, which brings authentic new content to the usual visual narrative of the Museum of Finnish Architecture that emphasises the physical appearance. The branches of the crown of the tree are impressive: the Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Helsinki (K2S Architects, 2012), the Sajos Sámi Cultural Centre, Inari (HALO Architects, 2012), the Kyly Sauna, Billnäs (Avanto Architects, 2009), to mention just a few. The very latest is represented by the Puukuokka wooden apartment block area in Jyväskylä, designed by Anssi Lassila, who currently is perhaps being almost dangerously held under the spotlight of attention. The first apartment block in the complex, built from prefabricated wood-board modules, is due to be completed in November this year.
The exhibition has been curated by Professor Pekka Heikkinen and architect Philip Tidwell from Aalto University, together with Juulia Kauste, director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture. The exhibition design is by Philip Tidwell and Pekka Heikkinen.
Text by Anni Vartola.
English translation by Gareth Griffiths and Kristina Kölhi.