Preface “Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly. The percept of the body and the image of the world turn into one single continuous existential experience – there is no body separate from its domicile in space, and there is no space unrelated to the unconscious image of the perceiving self.” – Juhani Pallasmaa, “The eyes of the skin – Architecture and the Senses”
Contents 1. Preface
4. Finland and wood
5. The Finnish church
6. The contemporary wooden church
a. Laajasalo Church, Helsinki, 2003
b. Viiki Church, Helsinki, 2005
St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel, Turku, 2005
10. List of illustrations
a. Email by Samuli Miettinen
b. Essay by Samuli Miettinen - “Viiki Church in Helsinki”
Introduction As an architecture student, I have somehow always been interested in churches. So when I came to Finland to study here as an exchange student for 6 months, it was a very nice surprise to find so many beautiful churches here. I have never visited so many churches in such a short time. Among them were some very famous Finnish churches, e.g. The Resurrection Chapel by Eric Bryggman, Kaleva Church by Raili and Reima Pietilä, Temppeliaukio Church (Rock Church) by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, and many others. What probably interests me most about churches is the feeling the spaces give me, the
atmosphere of the church. I am not a profound religious man, but somehow the spaces still effect me on a very personal level, and I would like to understand, from an architectural point of view why it does. Next to my fascination with churches, I also have an interest in wood as a building material. According to Peter Davey, “wood is the most humanly sympathetic of all building materials, because it affects so many of our senses.” 2 And that is probably why I am so interested in wood. The sustainability of wood is also very interesting, but in this seminar paper I will focus on the affects of wood. The combination of churches and wood lead me into the subject of this seminar paper: the atmosphere of the wooden church – Feelings and senses in the contemporary wooden Finnish church. Discussing feelings may not be a scientific subject for a seminar paper, but if I can explain what elements in the churches cause these feelings, it might be interesting from an architectural point of view.
Atmosphere What exactly is the meaning of atmosphere in this seminar paper? Atmosphere will mean the emotional mood of the space, a setting that evokes some sort of emotional response, feelings triggered by our senses. A space really depends on its atmosphere, because atmosphere can actually make or break a space. “Architecture, even as organized reality, can be the fabric of holy experience, if only the qualities touching the emotions are present in the space.”
In architecture the emphasis often lies on the sense of sight, the visual, but the other four senses – touch, taste, hearing and smell – are also important to our perception of a space. Atmosphere is the product of the interaction between all five of the senses. They compliment each other in order to give us a full experience of the space. Next to the focus on the senses, which are important to the atmosphere of any space, more specific feelings, like feelings of serenity, contemplation, peace, tranquillity, humility, immenseness, unity, comfort, solitude and silence, play an integral part in the atmosphere of a church. These feelings are of course caused by our senses, but in a church a more specific atmosphere is desirable, an atmosphere that cannot be described by just mentioning the senses. Because the subject is not just about the feelings and senses of the wooden church, but more specifically about contemporary Finnish churches, it is relevant to mention some more specific aspects of Finnish society.
Finland and wood Finland has a very long tradition when it comes to forests and wood. Wood has always been present and about 70% of the country is forested – the highest percentage in the world. Finland is the second largest exporter of paper products and is dependant on paper manufacturing. Wood has long been the dominant building material in Finland, which has created a rich tradition of wooden buildings, from churches to whole wooden towns. “I (…) do feel that the forest has its own spiritual meaning for the Fins. In that way architecture also evokes impressions of the Finnish forest and contacts with Christian interpretation.”
The forest has been the place of worship in Finland for a long time. This originates from an early religion based on divine spirits of nature. Finnish people still have an important relationship with nature, although their religion is no longer based on worshipping these divine spirits of nature. Most of the Finnish people are Christians now, but they still have a great respect for nature, the forest and the trees. They have kept a link with nature in their architecture, keeping the feeling of nature alive. Juhani Pallasmaa wrote “the tree (...) is also one of mankinds most common and meaningful symbols - take the Cosmic Tree, the Tree of Life, the Tree of Fertility, the Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of the Soul, the Tree of History and the Sacrificial Tree. These diverse associations are hidden in the shape of the tree and even today add dimension to our relations with wood. The tree is man's shape and we feel it our equal.”
Wood has not been the primary building material in Finland for a long time, but it is experiencing a comeback today. This comeback has produced some very nice wooden churches in Finland. A few of them will be discussed in this seminar paper.
The Finnish Church First, I would like to speak a little more about the modern Finnish church in general. “Modern Finnish church architecture is a unique phenomenon. Comparison is hard to find elsewhere in the world in quantity as well as in quality. Churches were built in exceptional numbers after the Second World War. Most modern churches have been built as the result of architectural competitions and thus represent the very best of their time.” 6
In Finland most churches are of Lutheran or Orthodox denomination, of which the Lutheran church is the largest. In the Lutheran church service, the preaching and listening to the word is most important. The altar and the pulpit play a very important part in this. Also important is the fact that the church should be a place for gathering and a place for quit reflection. It should be a place where one can encounter God and experience the meeting between holiness and everyday life. As was mentioned before, the link between nature and buildings is very important for Finnish people. In the modern Finnish church, this link is represented by the subtle interaction of light and the use of natural materials, like wood. It is not ornamentation that gives the Finnish church its pure atmosphere, but the two characteristics – light and nature, which are responsible for that. In addition to these two characteristics, honesty and simplicity are also very important to the modern Finnish church. “Instead of religion, the starting points of many Finnish churches are artistic and architectural quality. The presence of god comes together with the nature and the light.” 7
In this seminar paper the focus will lie on nature and wood, when talking about atmosphere. However, light will still play an important part, because light is integral when discussing the atmosphere of a church. The sense of sight and the concept of light are impossible to separate from each other in the modern Finnish church.
The contemporary wooden church As I mentioned before, this seminar paper is about the atmosphere of the contemporary Finnish wooden church. I will try to explain this atmosphere by discussing the feelings and senses that are evoked by the building material (wood) in three contemporary churches – Laajasalo Church, Viiki Church in Helsinki and St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel in Turku. “The connection between timber and the church has a history as long as the churches existence in Finland although the oldest ones have vanished for centuries ago. Wooden churches is the very own living tradition we have. The new wooden churches (like (…) ecumenical chapel in Hirvensalo by Sanaksenaho Architects, our church (Viiki church, ed.) and Laajasalo church in Helsinki by Kari Järvinen and Merja Nieminen) repeat by modern means the lessons of the history. These examples are not only examples of modern wood architecture, but also examples of Finnish building tradition.” – Samuli Miettinen from JKMM Architects in an email he send to me.
Laajasalo Church The Laajasalo Church in Helsinki was designed by architects Kari Järvinen and Merja Nieminen and was inaugurated in 2003. During an excursion to Helsinki in November 2005, I visited Laajasalo Church myself. I had read an article about this church in the Dutch architecture magazine “Het Houtblad” and was looking forward to visiting it for some time. When entering the building, the first thing you have to do is open a big wooden door, which has a heavy feel to it, just like the doors of an old cathedral. You enter the foyer and immediately the wooden scenery creates a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere. The separate spaces fit each other very well; mainly because of their materialization, because they are all made of wood. Wood is the main building material of the church, which fits with the tradition of old wooden churches in Finland perfectly.
Fig. 1 After the foyer you enter the much higher church hall, where a carefully orchestrated mix of structural elements and ornamentation meets you head on. The wooden roof structure is almost breathtaking. Different shades of light enter the space from multiple directions, giving it a sacral atmosphere and it is as though you are lifted from the ground. This is exactly what a church is supposed to do; bring holiness and everyday life together. “As the cycle of-the day makes its way along the altar wall, the changing light enlivens the wooden surfaces of the walls and the works of art, guiding the visitor towards silence and an experience of sacrality, removed from the mundane.”
Fig. 2 Although wood is used abundantly in this church, all the different ways of using it; the visible joints of the columns, beams and three-dimensional ceiling structure, the variety in the load-bearing elements, give the church hierarchy and a sense of unity, preventing any sign of wood-boredom. Most of the walls are made of wood, except for the sacristy and the kitchen. Those walls are made of concrete, as is a part of the load-bearing wall of the church hall. Together with the steel joints, which are both kept visible intentionally, they provide contrast and â€œemphasize the softness and warmth of the wood.â€?
Fig. 3 The pine clad walls have a very horizontally oriented surface, which nicely contrasts with the vertical feeling of the 10 meter high ceiling of the church hall. The surfaces also have a nice
variation of colour, and in combination with traces of minor imperfections; compliments of the scrub plane used, gives it a more playful and less solid impression. These imperfections add a nice feeling to the sense of touch as well. Some parts of the walls have a different surface. They are clad with small beams of pine; where open and closed alternate each other, giving the church hall even more diversity.
Fig. 4 The beautiful altarpiece at the front wall and the vertical stripe of white resin are designed by artist Pauno Pohjolainen. They symbolize the desert and the mountain stream, familiar symbols in Christianity. The altarpiece is made of laminated grey alder and aspen, which have been worked in various ways. With the rising and falling of the light, it creates an almost divine pattern on the flowing landscape of the surface. â€œThe use of grey alder and aspen create a flickering pattern on the work.â€?
To the right of this, near the baptising font, you can find a smaller red-painted mural. From a distance is looks like a tapestry, but when you look closer it appears to be wood (also grey alder and aspen). It has been worked in such a way that repetitive resurrection crosses are made visible in the wood. The symbolism of these works greatly add to the sacral atmosphere that is so important to the church. These magnificent pieces of art really complete the church.
Viiki Church The Viiki Church is also located in Helsinki and was designed by JKMM Architects – Asmo Jaaksi, Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen and Juha Mäki-Jyllilä – and build in 2005. I also visited this church as part of my excursion to Helsinki in November 2005. I had never heard of this church before, mainly because it was so new, but I was pleasantly surprised during my visit.
Fig. 5 When you approach Viiki Church the building is placed in between the eastern and western parts of Latokartano, connecting the two. The wooden facades somehow emphasize the church’s position in the area, lift it up and give it status. The façades are mainly clad with mechanically split aspen shingles. In time these untreated shingles give the façade a nice silvery grey colour. The club facilities and the belfry are clad with horizontal and vertical battens respectively. As a side remark, the use of these shingles on the façades is part of the Finnish building tradition. “Tradition doesn’t offer only technical examples, but furthermore it gives a pattern of architecture, where modesty, simplicity and the honouring of the material have their share. The silky surface of wood and its varying tones create variable atmosphere also in the new sacral buildings.”
Again you enter the building through heavy wooden door. Once inside, you see the foyer, which is completely made from wooden elements. This gives the space a very serene and unified
feel. The ceiling is like a flowing landscape and not just a plane; it consists of repetitive wooden panels with significant openings between them. In combination with the different textures of the walls, this makes the space very organic. Some of the walls are perforated, which makes the transition between the spaces very comfortable. You can look through them to have a peek into one of the halls ahead.
Fig. 6 By using the same natural material, wood, throughout the whole building, the unified feel continues when you enter the main hall. It is as if when you enter a new space, the elements from the previous space are still present, but something new is added to the equation. In this way every space has its individual feel, but overall unity is still preserved. Furthermore the metaphor of the forest is ever present. â€œIn the halls of the building the lines of the wooden structures, resembling foliage, meet the systems of beams that define the space with light filtering through the structural elements. The spaces (â€Ś) are hollowed out within the building like clearings in a forest.â€? 10
These metaphorical clearings in the forest give the halls a very tranquil and solitary atmosphere, in the same way that a real clearing in the forest would. Even sounds in the space reflect this. The church hall rises up to form the connection between holiness and everyday life, strengthening the sacral experience.
Fig. 7 In addition to wood as a building material, there is a work of art that makes a reference to the metaphor of the forest. The artwork by artist Antti Tanttu depicts the mythical ‘Tree of Life’, which adds even more natural feel to the building and as the incoming light reflects playfully on the silver leaf surface, it enhances the divine atmosphere. “Wood encompasses many symbolic meanings. It is a deeply human and diverse material: warm, tectonic, tactile and workable. (…) The shape of the structure includes a mythical message – memories and yearning – in addition to its appropriateness. The church space strives to make visible that which cannot be described in words.”
Fig. 8 The graceful mix of the shape of the structure, wood and light gives Viiki Church great allure. As a result of this, the serene spaces within evoke contemplation, peace and humility and feel very comfortable. All of this creates â€œa space where this world and the hereafter touch each other and could be united.â€?
St. Henryâ€™s Ecumenical Art Chapel On the top of a small hill on the island of Hirvensalo in Turku, St. Henryâ€™s Ecumenical Art Chapel rises up from its site, surrounded by pines and spruces. The church was designed by Sanaksenaho Architects, Matti and Pirjo Sanaksenaho and build in 2005. For me visiting this chapel was highly anticipated. I had seen many pictures of this chapel and read quite a lot about it. In the end, when I finally visited the chapel, the real life experience was even better than I expected.
Fig. 9 The approach to the chapel is quite long; you have to walk up a pedestrian ramp to the top of the hill before you can enter it. This journey mentally prepares you for the world inside the chapel. When you enter, it feels like a different world. You leave your troubled everyday life at the doorstep and a sense of tranquillity takes hold of you.
The fresh smell of pine greets you as you enter and a bright light at the end of the space draws your attention. In combination with the load-bearing structure of glulam wooden arches, placed in a repetitive pattern every two metres, the light encourages you to move towards the altar. Because of two wooden boxes at either side of you, creating a small corridor, and a slightly elevating ramp, your journey becomes a very conscious one.
Fig. 10 “The entrance to the east-west oriented church is from the western end. The permeating idea is that of a quiet journey towards the east, the altar. The lighting, too, confirms this idea. One walks from darkness towards light from a hidden source.” 12 Wood is one of the main building materials of the chapel. The load-bearing structure, the walls, floors and furniture are all made of wood. This continuity gives the chapel an atmosphere of unity and serenity. Every aspect of the chapel is kept very simple – there is no excessive ornamentation, which adds to this sense of serenity and tranquillity. The glue-laminated wooden
arches, like fishbones, give the chapel a natural and organic form, and the knottiness of the wood emphasizes the characteristic nature of wood.
Fig. 11 Matti Sanaksenaho writes that â€œin addition to wood and copper, the main building material is natural light, (and it) brings the shapes and surfaces of the chapel to life as the sun traverses the sky.â€?
The glazed window of the altar, an artwork by Hannu Konola, is fitted with
semi-transparent glass. This gives the incoming natural light a very divine feel. The contrast between the completely wooden interior and this glazed window enhances this feeling even more. In addition to the natural light, artificial light also plays an important part in the chapel. In the form of spotlights positioned at the foot of each glulam arch, it touches the wood structure, providing it with different shades and colours, thus emphasizing the warmth of the material and bringing it to life even more.
â€œIn great spaces of architecture, there is a constant, deep breathing of shadow and light; shadow inhales and illumination exhales, light.â€?
Fig. 12 The continuity of the material, together with the natural and organic form and the magnificent lighting (both natural and artificial) make the chapel a very comfortable space where one can enjoy the silence and reflect on life. Other than that, it provides plenty of room for contemplation about God, which is not an unimportant characteristic of a chapel after all.
Conclusions After discussing these three contemporary Finnish wooden churches, several characteristics of wood as a building material that create the atmosphere of a building have been brought to the surface. Some of the characteristics recur in all three of them and others just in one. In all three of the churches wood was used as one of the main building materials, therefore it gives a genuine description of the atmosphere of the contemporary Finnish wooden church. In all three of the churches, the continuity of using wood as a building material creates an atmosphere of unity. By using wood for all aspects of the building, as structural elements, on walls and for ornamentation, it produces a great feeling of unity. This unity never becomes dull, because of the natural and organic feel of the wood. The different shades and colours of the wood that become visible when the light touches its surfaces, in combination with its knottiness and different textures prevent any sense of boredom. â€œHomogenous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenisation of space eliminates the experience of place.â€?
The way light plays with the wood, giving it its different shades and colours also provides the spaces with an atmosphere of sacrality. It lifts you from your everyday life to holiness. The light also has the ability to evoke feelings of serenity, peace, tranquillity, and comfort when combined with the wooden surfaces. Wood is a natural material, and therefore it is never perfect. This however gives the material as sense of playfulness. It gives the wood a sense of warmth and softness that other inorganic materials sometimes lack. Wood is a building material full of life. And as wood always has been a very important part of Finnish building tradition, it gives the Finnish people an added sense of comfort and reminds them of their closeness to nature. All these characteristic of wood as a building material are able to transform an otherwise normal space into a space with an atmosphere of sacrality. It provides visitors the opportunity to contemplate God and enables them to experience the link between the mundane world and the world hereafter.
References 1. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the Senses, Polemics, Academy Group Ltd., London, 1996, p. 27. 2. Davey, Peter. “Wood spirit – use of wood in architecture”, The Architectural Review Jan. 1997, 1997. 3. Jetsonen, Sirkkaliisa. “Sacral Space – At the roots of modern Finnish church architecture”, Sacral Space – Modern Finnish Churches, Building Information Ltd., Helsinki, 2003, p. 8. 4. Miettinen, Samuli. “Viikin kirko”, email from 8/2/2006 (see appendix). 5. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Language of Wood: Wood in Finnish Sculpture, Design and Architecture, Museum of Finnish Architecture et al, Helsinki, 1987, p. 22. 6. Blomstedt, Severi. Sacral Space – Modern Finnish Churches, Building Information Ltd., Helsinki, 2003, p. 5. 7. Blomstedt , Severi, Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture on the modern Finnish church in the exhibition “Sacral Space – Modern Finnish Churches”, 2004 (From the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC, USA; www.finland.org). 8. Manttari, Roy. “Laajasalo Church”, From Wood to Architecture exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, 2004, online resource (From the website of the Museum of Finnish Architecture; www.archmuseum.org) 9. Järvinen, Kari and Nieminen, Merja. “Laajasalo Church, Helsinki”, Puu Wood Holz Bois, Finnish Wooden Architecture and Wooden Construction 1 / 2004, Paperi ja Puu Oy, Helsinki, 2004, p. 7. 10. Miettinen, Samuli. “In the shade of trees”, Ark, The Finnish Architectural Review 5 / 2005, The Finnish Association of Architects, Helsinki, 2005, p. 50.
11. Miettinen, Samuli. “Viiki Church in Helsinki”, essay for Internationales Holzbau-Forum, 2004, p. 15 (see appendix). 12. Manttari, Roy. “St. Henry's Ecumenical Art Chapel”, From Wood to Architecture exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, 2006, online resource (From the website of the Museum of Finnish Architecture; www.archmuseum.org). 13. Sanaksenaho, Matti. “St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel, Turku”, Puu Wood Holz Bois, Finnish Wooden Architecture and Wooden Construction 3 / 2005, Paperi ja Puu Oy, Helsinki, 2005, p. 15. 14. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the Senses, Polemics, Academy Group Ltd., London, 1996, p. 33. 15. Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the Senses, Polemics, Academy Group Ltd., London, 1996, p. 32.
Bibliography Books -
Jetsonen & Jetsonen. Sacral Space – Modern Finnish Churches. Building Information Ltd., Helsinki, 2003
Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Eyes of the Skin – Architecture and the Senses, Polemics, Academy Group Ltd., London, 1996
Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Language of Wood: Wood in Finnish Sculpture, Design and Architecture, Museum of Finnish Architecture et al, Helsinki, 1987
Blomstedt , Severi, Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture on the modern Finnish church in the exhibition “Sacral Space – Modern Finnish Churches”, 2004, online resource (From the website of the Finnish Embassy in Washington, DC, USA; www.finland.org)
Davey, Peter. “Wood spirit – use of wood in architecture”, The Architectural Review Jan. 1997, 1997
Dawson, Julia. “Divine Light”, The Architectural Review Oct. 2005, 2005
Groot, Hans de. “Lichtspel met houtvormen – Laajasalokerk Helsinki”, Het Houtblad 8 / 2004, Het Houtblad, Almere, The Netherlands, 2004, p. 7 – 11
Järvinen, Kari and Nieminen, Merja. “Bushel with a copper lid”, Ark, The Finnish Architectural Review 4 / 2004, The Finnish Association of Architects, Helsinki, 2004, p. 28 – 37
Järvinen, Kari and Nieminen, Merja. “Laajasalo Church, Helsinki”, Puu Wood Holz Bois, Finnish Wooden Architecture and Wooden Construction 1 / 2004, Paperi ja Puu Oy, Helsinki, 2004, p. 4 – 13
Manttari, Roy. “Laajasalo Church”, From Wood to Architecture exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, 2004, online resource (From the website of the Museum of Finnish Architecture; www.archmuseum.org)
Manttari, Roy. “St. Henry's Ecumenical Art Chapel”, From Wood to Architecture exhibition, Museum of Finnish Architecture, Helsinki, 2006, online resource (From the website of the Museum of Finnish Architecture; www.archmuseum.org)
Miettinen, Samuli. “In the shade of trees”, Ark, The Finnish Architectural Review 5 / 2005, The Finnish Association of Architects, Helsinki, 2005, p. 48 – 55
Miettinen, Samuli. “Viiki Church, Helsinki”, Puu Wood Holz Bois, Finnish Wooden Architecture and Wooden Construction 4 / 2005, Paperi ja Puu Oy, Helsinki, 2005, p. 12 – 19
Paavilainen, Maija. “Finnish Church Art and Architecture”, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, Church of the People, 2001, online resource (From the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland; www.evl.fi/english/church_for_the_people/paavilainen.htm)
Sanaksenaho, Matti and Pirjo. “A copper-scaled fish”, Ark, The Finnish Architectural Review 5 / 2005, The Finnish Association of Architects, Helsinki, 2005, p. 42 – 47
Sanaksenaho, Matti. “St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel, Turku”, Puu Wood Holz Bois, Finnish Wooden Architecture and Wooden Construction 3 / 2005, Paperi ja Puu Oy, Helsinki, 2005, p. 10 – 17
Unpublished sources -
Miettinen, Samuli. “Viiki Church in Helsinki”, essay for Internationales Holzbau-Forum, 2004 (see appendix)
List of illustrations 1. Delaney, Brendan. Puu 1 / 2004, Woodfocus (www.woodfocus.fi), 2003 Figures: 1, 2, 3, 4. 2. Droog, Simon. Own photography, 2005 Figures: cover, 10, 11, 12. 3. JKMM Architects. From their website (www.jkmm.fi), JKMM Architects, 2005 Figures: 5, 6, 7, 8. 4. R채is채nen, Kimmo. Unpublished, Woodfocus (www.woodfocus.fi), 2005 Figure: 9.
Appendix Emails -
From Samuli Miettinen, JKMM Architects. “Viikin kirko”, 8/2/2006 Hello Simon, Thank You for your message. I’m so sorry but I’m so busy at the moment I have no time to start to answer on your questions personally. But I do have answered already for similar questions, so I send you answers for those questions and an essay I’ve written 1.5 years ago and some other texts for magazines. I’m sure there is enough material for your study. More information in publications, the church is recently published in: - ARK Finnish architectural review no 5/2005 - PUU 4/2005 (Finnish magazine of timber) - Latest A10 (new German architectural magazine) - Next Forum (Swedish publication) Here you have some questions I’ve been asked in other situation and my answers for them. Starting point was an invited architectural competition. - The ecological criteria have drawn up for the Viiki area. The idea of wood as sustainable material was written down to program plan. The parish wished that as much as possible new church would be made out of timber. This means solutions for wooden concepts were studied in all possible spots. - The introduction paper handled also the spiritual nature and appearance of the church space - space for encounter God, devotion, contemplation and meeting of parish. 1. The connection between timber and the church has a history as long as the churches existence in Finland. Was the use of timber on your church inspired this history, ie as a reference to past churches, or is the use of timber simply a response to the recent increased importance of sustainability and sustainable materials? Or do you feel that the forest, and hence timber, has its own spiritual meaning for the Fins that is distinct from religion? - The connection between timber and the church really has a history as long as the churches existence in Finland although the oldest ones have vanished for centuries ago. Wooden churches is the very own living tradition we have. The new wooden churches (like Kärsämäki by Anssi Lassila, ecumenical chapel in Hirvensalo by Sanaksenaho Architects, our church and Laajasalo church in Helsinki by Kari Järvinen and Merja Nieminen) repeat by modern means the lessons of the history. These examples are not only examples of modern wood architecture but also examples of Finnish building tradition. The history of Finland, the climate and its location between two cultures, the east and the west, have all meant that Finnish architecture is essentially based on the location and natural conditions of the country. (As far as is known, there is only one structural invention in the history of Finnish building: the block-pillar structure of wooden churches on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia based on local shipbuilding tradition and used
especially in 17th century.) New influences, drawn from centres, have been adapted to local conditions, landscape, light and available materials. The end result is filtered through context and as best it makes up innovative, original built culture. The architecture and use of timber of our church is indeed inspired this history. Domestic and international influences are evident in our church. Untreated shakes are inspired by the cupolas of Kiz cathedral in Onegin, Karelia or subconsciously by the latest examples in Switzerland. The interior is for sure inspired by the hence timber work or block work of past churches such as Pet채j채vesi. My aim has been to create as such a solid space with material atmosphere and architectural entity it has. - The use of timber is a response to the recent increased importance of sustainability and sustainable materials as I explained previously. - I also do feel that the forest has its own spiritual meaning for the Fins. In that way architecture also evokes impressions of the Finnish forest and contacts with Christian interpretation. 2. This raises the question of whether you think the traditional block work churches themselves are successful because of the spiritual qualities of timber? - Archaic treatment of timber has effect me strongly personally. On the other hand I must critically admit it has qualities modern architecture admires. Untreated surfaces were one of the themes modernists, Alvar Aalto for example, did use to formulate the new architecture. In history it was not the choice of the builders but necessity of the poor parish. The interior off the church of Pet채j채vesi has silky interior and craftsmanship. Today the new architect generation, like many generations before them are studying this history already thought to have been lost. Tradition doesn't offer only technical examples but furthermore it gives a pattern of architecture, where modesty, simplicity and the honouring the material have their share. The silky surface of wood and its various tones create variable atmosphere also in the new sacral buildings. In the Finnish contemporary architecture we talk now about the revival of wood material. 3. How influenced were you by the motifs of the block work technique? For example; is the tongue and groove boarding laid horizontally inside the church a deliberate interpretation of the horizontality of the block work technique? Or is it merely to contrast with the vertical structural elements? - I was conscious of the similarities with the block work techniques but this was not the main reason for the theme. This did not bother me although the modern structural concept is totally different. The main aim was to create an unanimous and solid impression. Contrast with the vertical supporting elements is a natural and structural reason for the motif when trying to achieve solutions economically using prefabrication. 4. The exposed roof structure is unmistakably modern and in contrast to the vaulted boarded ceilings of traditional timber churches. Church architecture often celebrates the structure of the roof; the Greek temple, Gothic vaulting; did you see parallels in the celebration of your roof structure? Does it have any religious reference, historical or spiritual? Is it purely an architecturally and structurally interesting and attractive solution? - I find Viiki inspired by Gothic churches like Kings College in Cambridge. As old Finnish timber churches imitate vaulted stone structures the interior of Viiki has its parallel in Gothic. In a way the spaces are like hollowed out within the building like clearings in a forest. The roof is more like part off the walls than a separate unit of itself. In modern buildings roof is loaded with techniques - installations and acoustic structures. That is the practical reason why it is nowadays nearly impossible to create clean roof landscape. Vertical direction is commonly the most significant in church buildings - direction between heaven and earth. Opposite examples in modern architecture I admire a lot represents
for example Sigurd Lewerentz Swedish interpretation of dark mysterious church spaces in St. Mark's Church, at Bjorkhagen, Stockholm (1956 to 1960) and St. Peter's Church, at Klippan near Helsingborg (1963 to 1966). Church is an icon of God and his world, like a boundary surface where visible slides into invisible and invisible comes visible in a mysterious way. Church is a space where this world and the hereafter touch each other and could be united. Nevertheless the solution was designed structurally interesting and attractive the reason for details of solution was possibility to build it by using prefabrication and assembling in according to certain building order. 5. Light has always been an important part of ecclesiastical architecture. What is the inspiration for your directing of light? I imagine it was an important part of the clients brief? The obscured sources of light seem to mimic the phenomenon of shafts of light filtering through trees. Was this the idea in keeping with the clearing in a forest analogy? - Client didnâ€™t specify the use of light. Light is important in architecture when it is absent as well - for example Sigurd Lewerentz churches. The structural concept didnâ€™t allow me to use many hollows. Every opening has its reason. The vast door like opening behind the altar emphasizes the mystery opened. As part of triptych it stresses the breaking of the separating border between man and God. Light has great influence on the artwork. It evokes impressions of an old mirror when changing the hues of its silver leaf surface. The light filtering through the structural members was to enforce the forest analogy. The windows on floor level reveal the landscape. The opening on the second floor level inviting people when entering the building is made to camouflage the ventilation arrangements rising to the ceiling. The light enters the space from the different directions like in woods. In our church wood as material and structure have as much impact on atmosphere as light. Light is a building block as well as materials. Best wishes Samuli Miettinen Arkkitehti SAFA Arkkitehtitoimisto JKMM Oy Ruoholahdenkatu 10 B 3 00180 HELSINKI p.09-2522 0722 f. 09-2522 0710 firstname.lastname@example.org www.jkmm.fi
Miettinen, Samuli, JKMM Architects. â€œViiki Church in Helsinkiâ€? , essay for Internationales Holzbau-Forum, 2004