Day 1, we situated ourselves in the city of Helsinki. We passed through various shades of grape, an unconscious obsession of the city, all the textures imaginable and 100 different and wonderful door handles types. We arrive on day 2, with the opportunity to meet architects from ALA, Playa, Collaboratorio and OOPEA. Through discussions with these architects, about their work, the city and the value of design on a young nation, our understanding of the driving forces behind the beautifully rich textures we experienced on day 1 began falling into place.
With that, I offer three reflections from the day. Discussions that have swirled around Dulux Study Tour group and our super generous new Finnish friends.
Sarah, Brad, Tiffany and Ellen have all exclaimed how incredibly inspiring Collaboratorio are. Unfortunately I was feeling a little under the weather during their practice tour so my mind was elsewhere, I don’t have a reflection to offer here, only to say remarks on their passion, conviction, inventiveness and warmth have passed between the group all day. Everyone has a crush on Collaboratorio, with good reason.
The three reflections:
Has the poetry in architecture been lost to austerity and the realities of business?
This question was raised off the back of a comment by Juhani Pallasmaa (from day 1), when seeking advice for young architects.
There appears to have been a shift in values sometime between Alvar Aalto’s hey day and now. The value of the architectural proposition is no longer the symbolism of the gesture and how it fits into a continuous body of work. The proposition is the creation of space for the users, the city and its creatures. That is, what it does, rather than what it says. The users rather than the architect. The poetry is in connection, experience and generosity, in handing over a building to a community and measuring the success of the outcome by their feedback rather than architectural theorists’ reflections.
Be a good neighbour. Sing in the Choir.
Both ALA and Playa (my personal favourite for the day), talked about their work in a personified way, asking themselves what is a good neighbour in this context?
For the Oodi Central Helsinki Library by ALA Architects, it is the position of the entry, the gesture of the sheltered public space, the openness to the media building and Steven Holl’s art gallery, and how the building creates a sense of place to the urban field. (The urban field, as ALA put it, is soviet-scale public square, large enough for probably the entire city to gather).
Playa Architects, who work in residential neighbourhoods, noted that “every building seems to be shouting, a residential area should be more like a choir, the buildings should sing together”. Leading to softness and subtly in the materiality, form that responds to the typography of the site and small moments of delight for the residents. I’d much rather be sung to than yelled at.
Looseness in the detail.
OOPEA, together with their client, have created an airy, welcoming church. The intent being that everyone must feel welcome. I’ve always thought creating a welcoming place is about the urban gesture, the detail and the open work or some level of incompleteness that is left to the user. OOPEA has schooled me in openness and looseness.
Openness doesn’t need to be a marginally incomplete gesture or an allowance for flexibility and weathering. An incredibly considered and refined project can have looseness in the execution of thoughtful details. Small imperfections or a history of the builder gives some kind of warmth and humility to our experience of a place.
Like your favourite colleague, who is always thoughtful and professional but with a dry sense of humour that gets you every now and then, you create a connection and sense of familiarity in these moments.
It must be said that OOPEA’s Tikkurila Church and Housing project is truly beautiful. I walked into the foyer alongside Brad. I gasped. He said “holy fuck!”
– Edwina Brisbane, Cumulus Studio
Read more of the 2023 Dulux Study Tour Blog
Dulux Study Tour participants are invited to share their experiences in blog and editorial content as part of the program. Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Australian Institute of Architects. The Institute encourages a space for conversation and continued dialogue so there can be meaningful change and progress across the built environment and our wider community.
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