Architects: Jaakko Torvinen, Havu Järvelä and Elli Wendelin in collaboration with Pekka Heikkinen and Architects NRT
Urakoitsija: FM-Haus Oy, urakoitsijan arkkitehti Arkitekturum Oy
Pikku-Finlandia (Little Finlandia) is a 2700 m2 wooden temporary event facility in central Helsinki to replace Finlandia Hall, the landmark building by Alvar Aalto, during its three-year renovation. Pikku-Finlandia’s most impressive feature and a key design element is the 95 Scots pine columns.
The project was organised by Aalto University, the City of Helsinki and the Finlandia Hall in fall 2019. It began with a graduate-level joint design studio of Wood Program and Building Design held at the Aalto University Department of Architecture. During one semester at a double studio course, 18 students developed individual design proposals for the temporary building. At the conclusion of the term, the proposal by student Jaakko Torvinen entitled “Finlandia Forest” was chosen as the basis for construction. The winning design was inspired by a Finnish boreal forest with views through trees. Whole untrimmed tree trunks serving as load-bearing columns create forest-like atmosphere, while the design utilises nature’s own engineering and so reduces processing.
“In my mind, Finlandia is intrinsically linked with forests and wood. Pine forests are the most common type of forest in Finland, and pine has been a potent symbol of the national romantic tradition of Finnishness,” says architect Jaakko Torvinen, and adds: “The idea was to use whole trees in their original form in the structures of Pikku-Finlandia. Usually, the branches are avoided in wooden construction, but here I specifically wanted them.”
Pikku-Finlandia has 2000 m2 of customer facilities including four multifunctional halls, gallery and cafe. Three of the multifunctional halls can be combined into one large space along with the lobby. The shape of the building is a long rectangular box with a strict grid of natural unprocessed pine trees with branches intact. Natural shapes of the trees and branches give contrast to the straight-forward and minimalist design. The building’s long edge is a colonnade, a 127-metre-long covered pathway lined with pines. In the architecture, the colonnade is an allegory for the edge of the forest so it was natural to make it from trees.
In addition to Jaakko, students Havu Järvelä, Elli Wendelin and Stine Skøtt Pedersen took part in the second part of the two-stage competition. Jaakko, Havu and Elli continued in the project as Architects in collaboration with professor Pekka Heikkinen and Architects NRT. Simultaneously with the design of Pikku-Finlandia, the Aalto Wood Program surveyed the use of whole wood and built a smaller “Katve” pavilion with two pine columns. The learning was utilised in the construction of Pikku-Finland on a larger scale.
95 Scots pines were individually selected by the architects from three forest stands on the southern coast of Finland to act as load-bearing structures. On the two-day forest trip, architects Torvinen and Wendelin waded through waist-level snow to find the perfect pines together with professor Heikkinen and architecture student Moritz Schineis. The pines were felled without damaging the branches, and the trees were washed with 250 bar pressure washer to remove their bark and cambium layer leaving the hard wood’s smooth surface untouched.
Building is constructed from volumetric units which are made from whole timber, massive CLT panels, hollow-core roof elements and glue laminated beams. The main contractor was wooden prefabricated element manufacturer FM-Haus Oy. Following the renovation, the building is to be disassembled and moved to a new location. Pikku-Finlandia will later continue life for example as a school or day-care centre for at least the next 50 years.
Professor Pekka Heikkinen says that the building acts as an excellent and extreme example of how well trees can be used in their original form, and almost entirely without processing. The non-standard characteristics of whole timber are often assumed to be difficult in an industrial process, but the project here proves that with careful planning, this aspect of the construction is one of the simplest parts of the building process.
Pikku-Finlandia was also a Master’s thesis of architects Jaakko Torvinen and Elli Wendelin when they graduated from Aalto University. Jaakko focused on the research part on reversible building design and how Pikku-Finlandia will be dismantled while Elli examined the life cycle assessment of a transportable building. Jaakko and Elli were listed by Wallpaper* as hottest new graduates in architecture and one of the rising stars for 2022.
BBC News video of Pikku-Finlandia and Jaakko Torvinen:
Finnish Architectural Review – Interview of Jaakko Torvinen and review of Pikku-Finlandia:
Wood Magazine article: