Architecture in a country where ‘north’ is an enemy

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Architecture in a country where ‘north’ is an enemy

Pentti Kareoja, a leading Finnish architect, was in Seoul last weekend to deliver a lecture titled “North Meets East ― What Architects Can Learn From Practice in Specific Conditions” at the Gana Art Gallery in Pyeongchang-dong. The visit was in conjunction with an exhibit being held at the gallery through Sunday, “New Finnish Architecture: Photographs by Jussi Tiainen.” Mr. Kareoja sat down with the IHT-JoongAng Daily to discuss Finnish architecture.

How do you pronounce your last name?
In Finland, we pronounce it “Ka-reh-OH-ya,” but I’ve been in Spain a few times and they pronounce it “Ka-reh-oh-HA.” (Mr. Kareoja makes a noise in the back of his throat with that last syllable.)

How big a role does architecture play in the Finnish national identity?
Thanks to big legends like Alvar Aalto, I think it’s quite an important issue in our society. Architecture in general is contextual. You can’t live outside your conditions. Another level is difficult conditions, like weather. We have quite harsh winters in Finland and our summers are incredibly light; the sun never goes down for three months in Lapland, but winter is like eternal night. The architecture should somehow live and react accordingly. Another level is history or memory of the society. Finland was born at the same time as modernism. Finland was established in 1917, the time of radicals, avant-gardists and cubism, and Alvar Aalto was part of that dream, so it is quite natural that in Finnish architectural history, modernism plays an important role.

How do you functionally apply the natural environment in Finland to your designs?
One important factor is that we tend to protect ourselves and our buildings from the north; we are very much facing the south. Quite often the back is sheltered from wind and cold and darkness. North is a kind of enemy.

How is Finnish architecture different from European architecture?
In Finland, the meaning of architecture is to give shelter to people, more so than in easier conditions. We make a house to have shelter from harsh winters and give comfort. “Nordic humanism” is probably still a value there, the legacy of Aalto.

So it’s a kind of functionalism?
The Finnish architectural legacy is very much practical, practice-based. There may be big theories there, but somehow they are always interpreted through very practical minds.

What is good architecture?
I think the saying “think globally, act locally” works well for architecture as well. You must be aware of a bigger context, how your buildings and environment are connected to the larger international scene, but on the other hand, simultaneously you have to translate it for the local conditions and specific spot.

by Kirsten Jerch
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