Hanna Harris, Director of the Architecture Information Centre Finland. Photo: Niclas Mäkelä.
Hanna Harris, Director of the Architecture Information Centre Finland. Photo: Niclas Mäkelä.

The Finnish Architectural Review 2/2016: New ideas for an agile information centre

By courtesy of the Finnish Architectural Review (Arkkitehti), we are proud to re-publish Paula Holmila’s recent interview with Hanna Harris, the new director of the Architecture Information Centre Finland.

New ideas for an agile information centre

The Architecture Information Centre Finland was established three years ago to promote knowledge about Finnish architecture both nationally and abroad. During these first years the centre, founded by the Finnish Association of Architects, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Alvar Aalto Foundation, Association of Finnish Architects’ Offices and Building Information Foundation, has been trying to find its place and is not very well known yet. Often people think it is part of the Museum of Finnish Architecture. The most important of the centre’s activities have so far been the fresh and well-edited websites archinfo.fi in Finnish and finnisharchitecture.fi in English. After a modest start they both have a growing number of readers.

The information centre’s situation may soon change as it now has a new director, urban researcher, curator and producer Hanna Harris, who has already built strong international networks. Bilingual Harris grew up in an architect family and in addition to Finnish and English she also speaks several other languages. She has spent long periods of time abroad, most recently in London as the Programme Director of the Finnish Institute in London from 2008 till 2013. Furthermore, she has worked as a journalist, produced various events and projects, handled communications duties as well as conducted research and lectured at universities in Finland and abroad. Before transferring to the Architecture Information Centre she worked as Programme Director of Helsinki Design Week.

An instrument, network and forum

What is Harris going to do first as the Director of the Architecture Information Centre?
“I am going to engage in an active dialogue with both our founding member organisations and the architecture field at large. I want to know what is going on and what is expected of the centre. In the coming years, it is crucial to build and strengthen our profile whilst developing our activities so that what we do brings added value to Finnish architecture and urban design. International activities are one area of development. Being small and agile, the centre can kick new things off and combine the things that already exist in a fruitful manner. It is often about acting as a catalyst,” Harris says. “I am also going to further familiarise myself with the activities and achievements of other information centres,” she continues.

Music Finland has, in various disguises, been in existence since 1963 and literature has been promoted by FILI since 1977. The theatre, visual arts, circus and the filmmaking industry also have similar organisations. The role of these centres as promoters of the respective industries is well known. Music Finland, for example, has been able to send Finnish composers’ music to different parts of the world to be performed by musicians. Its achievements in promoting Finnish music are unquestionable. The centres may also give financial support for activities abroad. This is not yet possible for the Architecture Information Centre, but perhaps in the future.

“The activities within different areas of culture are, of course, not identical but you can always learn and obtain ideas from the experiences of other fields. The centre could also be seen as an instrument, network and forum for different things to happen. We also act as a place for collaboration and dialogue with the rest of the cultural field. Some of our activities are clearly targeted abroad and some focus on more domestic aspects. Often the two cannot be separated.”

The starting point for promoting contemporary Finnish architecture is favourable. Finnish architecture has a good reputation abroad, even if it is mainly based on Alvar Aalto or Eliel Saarinen’s international fame. While riding the crest of this wave, one can always tell that remarkable architecture is still being created here. Finnish urban planning and our architectural competition system also arouse interest.

Harris believes that the centre could even play a role in promoting Finnish architects’ career opportunities abroad. However, at first, the most crucial task is to increase interaction and knowledge. “Finnish cultural institutes abroad are important,” Harris stresses. She adds that during her years in London she also worked with architecture a lot. “What all this mainly requires is getting out there and interacting with people. We need good timing, background research and commitment building. Not everything costs a lot of money; good ideas and interactions can go a long way too.”

International exhibitions, like the Venice Architecture Biennale opening this summer, are important forums for the centre. Harris, who is fluent in Italian, is excited about the Biennale. “I feel honoured to be in this position. I can say that I genuinely care about the future of Finnish architecture.”

Paula Holmila’s interview was originally published in the Finnish Architectural Review 2/2016, p. 52–53.
English translation by Tekmil Oy.
Photos by Niclas Mäkelä.

Hanna Harris, Director of the Architecture Information Centre Finland. Photo: Niclas Mäkelä.

Hanna Harris, Director of the Architecture Information Centre Finland. Photo: Niclas Mäkelä.

About AV