Photos by Daniele Raffaelli
Photos by Daniele Raffaelli

Architecture and Music: Finnish Examples

2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), which has been celebrated throughout Finland and abroad, including Italy. This provided me, as an architect and curator specialized in the promotion of Finnish architecture and design in Italy, with the opportunity to organize a seminar in Rome titled “Architecture and Music: Finnish Examples” and to encourage dialogue and comparisons between the two nations.

The seminar’s key-note speaker was the Finnish architect Samuli Miettinen from JKMM Architects in Helsinki, who presented their new project for the Jyväskylä Concert Hall.

The primary focus of the new Jyväskylä Concert Hall is to be the best possible acoustic environment for the performing of classical music. The aim of the project is to create an integrative concept of spaces relying on existing Congress and Expo Centre. The Concert Hall aims to raise the profile and expand the functions of the existing building as well as the whole city of Jyväskylä. It completes a new architectural totality in an urban environment that is entirely a product of the present millennium. (Samuli Miettinen)

In addition to Samuli Miettinen, also Italian viewpoints were represented in the seminar by Antonello Alici and Stefano Tessadori. The following summary of the seminar proceedings includes brief interviews with all three.

THE SEMINAR SETTING – A SPECTACULAR AND HISTORICAL LOCATION IN ROME

The initiative for the seminar was welcomed with enthusiasm by architects in Rome, and it was organised under the patronage of the Embassy of Finland in Italy and promoted by ATL – the Association of Finnish Architect’s Offices in collaboration with the Scientific Technical Committee of the Casa dell’Architettura (House of Architecture) and the Ordine degli Architetti P.P.C. di Roma e Provincia (Board of Architects P.P.C. of Rome).

The seminar was held on October 13th, 2015, against the evocative and historic backdrop of the Acquario Romano (Roman Aquarium) on Piazza Manfredo Fanti. The building, situated in the Esquilino district close to the busy Termini Station, was completed in 1887, and has for several years been the headquarters of the Board of Architects P.P.C. of Rome. One special feature of the building is its beautiful and scenographic double-storey-height oval hall in its centre, and which is used not only for seminars, exhibitions and cultural events but also for concerts and musical or artistic performances.

Acquario Romano

Acquario Romano

THE ITALIAN VIEWPOINT ON “ARCHITECTURE AND MUSIC”

Miettinen’s presentation was preceded by an introduction, “Architecture for music in Finland”, by Antonello Alici, architect, architecture historian and lecturer at the Università Politecnica delle Marche, and the presentation “Alvar Aalto’s projects for music. The experience of the architect Federico Marconi” by Stefano Tessadori, an architect from Pordenone.

In his introduction, Antonello Alici presented a selection of works by Juha Leiviskä, one of the key contemporary architects in Finland, two major works by Alvar Aalto, the House of Culture and Finlandia Hall, both in Helsinki, and a brief overview of architecture for music, from the Turku Arts Academy and Conservatory by LPR Architects, to the Sibelius Hall in Lahti by Arto Palo Rossi Tikka, and the Helsinki Music Centre again by LPR Architects.

A.C.: Can you describe the relationship between architecture and music in the Finnish context?

A.A.: The impressive legacy of Finnish culture lies in its ability to create a perfect harmony with nature, and hence the more talented architects have drawn inspiration from the harmonic laws that govern many successful works. To emphasize this point, I would like to refer to the thoughts of the well-known Finnish architect Juha Leiviskä:

“When training as a pianist, I realized how to aspire to continuity, how to join the notes as opposed to creating staccato sounds, detached from one another. Music is a construction, an experience of spatial continuity with the instrument used being of little relevance. And all of this also applies to architecture.”

A.C.: How would you describe the importance of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in Finland?                                                             

A.A.: Jean Sibelius, together with writers, painters, sculptors and architects, experienced the various stages of National Romanticism in Finland at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. This did not produce specific architectural examples related to music, but nevertheless generated a fertile laboratory of ideas that were translated into the linguistic expressions of each of the arts.

A.C.: How did Alvar Aalto influence the design of concert halls in Finland?

A.A.: Alvar Aalto is one of the great masters of 20th-century architecture. It is clear that all of his works and also all of his thought processes were a great inspiration. Regarding his studies of acoustics, there are many notable examples, starting with the lecture hall in the Viipuri Library. However, the acoustic problems of the auditorium of the Finlandia Hall are also well known. This was the impetus for the plans to build a new concert house for the Sibelius Academy and Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Helsinki Music Centre.

A.C.: In your opinion, which are the most significant concert halls of the 20th-century?

A.A.: Among the masterpieces of the 20th century, I would mention the Philarmonie in Berlin, by Hans Scharoun, which gave rise to a new generation of concert halls. Another important figure in experimentations with acoustic spaces is Renzo Piano, evident already in IRCAM, the institute of musical research, part of the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Antonello Alici

Antonello Alici

THE TESTIMONY OF AN ITALIAN ARCHITECT WHO WORKED WITH ALVAR AALTO

Stefano Tessadori’s presentation, prepared exclusively for the Roman audience, recounted an interview he had conducted in September 2015 with the Italian architect Federico Marconi, who worked with Alvar Aalto between 1959 and 1962, specifically on the design of buildings intended for music.

A.C.: Federico Marconi worked with Aalto – can you tell me on which concert hall projects Marconi worked?

S.T.: Federico Marconi worked for about one year on the plans for Essen Opera House, specifically on the design of the main auditorium of the project, which he believes to be the culmination in the maestro’s work in regard to music and architecture.

A.C. What did Marconi learn during the time he spent working with Aalto?

S.T. My feeling is that Marconi learned from the maestro flexibility, a pragmatic rather than an ideological approach, the need for an open mind and curiosity.

A.C.: What lessons can Italian architects learn from Aalto when designing a concert hall?

S.T.: I believe that Aalto needs to be studied or reviewed in a profound and radical manner, even with regard to the reflections and echoes stemming from his relationship with Italy and our architectural culture, hovering between the somewhat cumbersome historical references – which sometimes hang like a burden – and the need to rediscover or reconstruct a more favorable environment for socialization and the lifestyles of individuals.

A.C.: What is your opinion of the theme of Architecture and Music?

S.T.: Architecture and music are closely connected, even beyond the boundaries of buildings designed specifically for music. Just think of all the background music – frequently invasive and certainly not requested – used supposedly to embellish commercial spaces and public amenities. It is as though music has been summoned to fill a vacuum in the architecture and meaning that characterizes a large proportion of the spaces we live in. In this regard I am reminded of a thought expressed by the well-known Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa; in one of his books he states that the task of architecture is to protect silence. And, of course, silence is an integral part of music.

Stefano Tessadori

Stefano Tessadori

FINNISH CONTEMPORARY EXAMPLES

For almost one hour, Samuli Miettinen of JKMM Architects, in Helsinki, presented with both enthusiasm and humility his ideas and theories on architecture and music through a series of beautiful images, depicting light, woodlands, water, all features typical of the Finnish building tradition, and explained how these have influenced the design of buildings for music in Finland.

“It may sound like a cliché to emphasize so much the importance of nature together with Finnish architecture and Finnish music – all countries have their own relationship to and appreciation of nature. And yet this connection to nature is still crucial if one wishes to understand our modern expression. Nature is the scenery, and nature has provided our music and architecture with design impulses – sometimes even the whole of its content.

The art is one. The nature has influenced both art forms directly. All art forms have influenced artists of varied art forms in the history as they do today.” (Samuli Miettinen)

Despite the fact that the hall was packed with people, for the entirety of Samuli Miettinen’s presentation, given in English, the seminar participants listened attentively and were focused on what the Finnish architect was saying and the images he had selected to communicate his thoughts and projects.

A.C.: What is the relationship between architecture and music within the cultural context of Finland?

S.M.: Finnish music and Finnish architecture still express our contemporary condition. Architecture is a social art, an art fundamentally devoted to community. It stages the qualities of a place for human perception. Music does the same in its own terms. It evokes abstractions that create a spatial state of mind. In this way it reminds one of architecture.

A.C. How have Alvar Aalto’s projects influenced the designs for other concert halls in Finland?

S.M. Aalto’s projects are great at conveying people and uplifting the expectations for musical performance. This is an important part of the acoustics; psychological acoustics. Aalto’s buildings are fundamental examples of modern Finnish architecture. In general, Aalto’s architecture gives us a lesson in creating a synthesis, where opposites are reconciled when brought into dynamic interaction.

A.C.: How have you expressed the relationship between architecture and music in the design of the Jyväskylä Concert Hall?

S.M. The acoustic reflectors in the interior of Jyväskylä Concert Hall bring to mind floating sheaves of sheet music. The walls of the concert hall repeat a theme of undulating forms realized in wood. Forms aim to breathe and have a lightness to them that speaks to the joy of creating music.

A.C.: Which designs for concert halls in Italy, from the past and present, are the most important in your opinion, and which may have influenced your design for the Jyväskylä Concert Hall?                                                                        

S.M. Opera houses must have had the strongest influence in our opera; the houses and music equally. Teatro alla Scala in Milan might be the most important. Many Finnish opera singers have had the privilege to sing there. The auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome by Renzo Piano has impressed me a lot. Especially the way the buildings are composed and placed in the landscape are beautiful.

A.C.: What advice would you give a young architect who would like to design a concert hall?

S.M. You have to consider both physical and psychological acoustics. Listen to your acoustics engineer! Take care of the human experience through the interdisciplinary and integrative design process. Listen to your client, especially the user of the building! Have enough room for the foyers and think about the experience as a whole. Convey the audience from the door of their homes to their seats and back home. Listen to the audience, especially those who are not present during the design process!

Samuli Miettinen

Samuli Miettinen

Samuli Miettenen’s presentation of the design for the Jyväskylä Concert Hall included an original and evocative 3D visualization that gave a virtual tour of the building, the sensory experience enhanced by a selection of pieces by Sibelius as background music. He then presented some other works completed in recent years in the JKMM studio: the concert hall in the Verkatehdas Arts and Conference Centre in a former textile factory in Hämeenlinna, Viikki Church in Helsinki, the new Amos Anderson Art Museum in Helsinki, the “House of Children” daycare centre in Saunalahti, Espoo, Seinäjoki City Library, and the OP Financial Group Headquarters in Helsinki.

The seminar certainly provided an interesting opportunity, using Finnish examples, to promote a constructive dialogue between Italy and a reality so different yet exemplary, in order to draw out ideas on the theme of architecture and music, as well as the issues of sustainability, ecology, technological innovation and the relationship with the context and local traditions.

Text by Arianna Callocchia
English translation by Gareth Griffiths

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