Finland Builds 9
Finnish Architecture 1992-1997 -exhibition

The Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Finnish Association of Architects are jointly holding the ninth Finland Builds exhibition this year. It opened on January 27, 1998 at the Museum of Finnish Architecture and has started to tour in Finland during 1998. The tour will be as comprehensive as possible, and one of the main considerations of the exhibition design has been the ease of assembly and dismounting. Domestic and international distribution of the exhibition will be accompanied by this Internet version of it, which will be the basis for the Finnish Architecture database jointly launched and gradually expanded by the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Finnish Association of Architects.

Marking the Aalto centenary, special attention has been paid to the selection of exhibits. To provide a new, outside perspective on recent Finnish architecture, two recognized foreign architects were asked to make the selection. Jan Söendergaard of KHR Architects in Copenhagen was appointed by the Finnish Association of Architects and Elia Zenghelis of Gigantes Zenghelis Architects of Athens, Brussels and Dusseldorf was appointed by the Museum of Finnish Architecture (MFA). Together, they formed the exhibition jury, assisted by Finnish experts, the architects Roy Mänttäri, Petteri Nisunen and Pekka Pakkala, specialist in urban planning, and Juhani Vähäaho MSc(Eng), as an expert appointed by the Finnish Construction Engineers Association. The jury also consulted Professor Tore Tallqvist with regard to renovation and alteration work. Ms Maija Häivä was the secretary of the jury, which completed its assignment by August 20, 1998. The exhibition presentation was designed by Valvomo Ltd, an architecture studio of the young generation, with Vesa Hinkola and Kari Sivonen responsible for the work. Timo Mänttäri and Sanna Vauhkonen are responsible for the publication. The exhibition committee for Finland Builds 9 consists of Marja-Riitta Norri, Hannu Hellman and Maija Häivä of the MFA and Tuula Paalimäki, Eija Salmi and Tuomas Wichmann (chairman) as representatives of the Finnish Association of Architects.

The tradition of the Finland Builds exhibitions

The first exhibition called Finland Builds was held in 1953 at the Ateneum museum in Helsinki and was staged by the Finnish Association of Architects. It was mainly aimed at the general public, as it has been noted at the time that "the general public knew hardly anything of what architects were aiming at". There was also considerable demand for presenting Finnish architecture abroad. In 1956 the Association's exhibition work and archives of plans and illustrations became the property of the recently established Museum of Finnish Architecture. Following this first exhibition, the reviews have been held at intervals of 5-7 years jointly by the MFA and the Association, except for Finland Builds 7, which was arranged solely by the Museum of Finnish Architecture.

Ever since the first exhibition, the form and content of Finland Builds has stirred heated debate. When the first exhibition was under preparation, two opposing concepts were proposed. Alvar Aalto and Viljo Revell, chairmen of the Finnish Association of Architects, campaigned for an "exhibition of personalities", with the works of the leading architects shown in order of precedence. On the other hand, Keijo Petäjä and his supporters wanted to have a "theme exhibition" underlining the social significance of architecture. Petäjä's "young rebels" won the day, and since then the later exhibitions have been organized along lines of function. Although Aalto compared Petäjä and his supporters to young Communists demonstrating in the slums of Rome, he no longer took up the matter, but held a radio talk attributing the quality of Finnish architecture to professional and trade skills, architectural competitions and the cultural orientation of industry, while pointing to building speculation as a problem. He also felt that the poor recognizability of Finnish architecture in Finland itself was a problem that called for improvement.

Each exhibition has astutely reflected the spirit of its times. For example, Finland Builds 4 in 1970 displayed a record number of town and community plans. This exhibition, however, fostered a demonstration among students of architecture, who called for an even greater social orientation. Finland Builds 7, held at the Taidehalli gallery in Helsinki, was the last large-scale review. Since then, the Museum of Finnish Architecture has been the venue. The seventh exhibition in the series reflected a predominance of aesthetic considerations, equalling and surpassing functional and technological aspects. The previous exhibitions had been organized according to function, but in 1986 the exhibits were group with regard to their architectural approaches. The exhibition also presented videofilms of architects at work. Unlike its predecessors, this major review of Finnish architecture did not arouse interest abroad nor go on tour outside the country. Following discussion and debate on discontinuing the Finland Builds series, the eighth exhibition was planned to be shown only in Finland. Opened in early 1992, Finland Builds 8 also marked the centenary of the Finnish Association of Architects and was one of the official events of the seventy-fifth anniversary year of Finnish independence. In addition to the traditional panels, the exhibition included multivision as a new means of presenting the material. The exhibition was also shown in Tallinn, Estonia, following the specific request of Estonian colleagues.

Aspects of the Finland Builds 9 -exhibition

As the ninth Finland Builds exhibition came under preparation, a number of reforms were carried out in the selection of works and the form and content of the exhibition, to help make the event take on a new role in spurring discussion and to generate wide interest. The Internet version is intended to provide a more flexible channel of information on Finnish architecture. The design and layout of the exhibition and its catalogue focus on readability and the clear and concise presentation of information to visitors.

The exhibition jury carried out its work during the summer of 1997. Reviewing over 300 submitted or reported works, the Finnish experts presented a selection to the jury, which chose 66 works for the exhibition. This time, imaginary plans or projects were completely excluded, except for town and regional plans, which will amount to around 10 per cent of all works on show. Following the classification employed by the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the jury aimed at a representative selection of building types. Cultural facilities, amounting to almost 30 %, are the largest group. A nationwide aspect was also underlined. High-standard works by some architects had to be left out, because these designers were represented by several exhibits.

The jury and the Finnish experts would have desired high-standard landscape and park plans, but these were conspicuously absent. They also felt that topical themes such as wooden multi-storey buildings, road milieus, noise barriers, "earth art" etc. were not presented with undue modesty. Perhaps the environmental quality of such sites and exhibits has not yet achieved its best level. Hopefully this situation will have improved by the next Finland Builds exhibition. Two impressive new bridges are shown as examples of engineering structure. During the selection process it was noted that regional planning, environmental works and landscape projects may require a separate review to be held, for instance, every ten years.

Renovation and refurbishment were a much-discussed category. The jury selected works involving changes to function, partial new construction or other clearly architectural solutions. This meant that a number of highly skillful restoration projects had to be excluded.

Throughout the selection process, the jury had a distinct idea of national features in high-standard contemporary architecture in Finland. Works alluding to international "trends" were rejected. All in all, the interaction of the jury with the Finnish experts was fruitful and rewarding for all parties. The Finnish Association of Architects and the Museum of Finnish Architects have collaborated in a constructive spirit.

The future

I expect active debate in the next few years on the role of national and European architectural culture in strengthening Finnish and European identity, for the global market of architectural design is just opening up. One result of this may be that Anglo-American influences will not be limited to music, films, dress or food; the built environment will be next in turn. I am confident that such scenarios will give the Finland Builds tradition a great deal of things to do and give.

Translation Jyri Kokkonen


The Work of Architects, The Finnish Association of Architects 1892-1992, edited by Pekka Korvenmaa, The Finnish Association of Architects, the Finnish Building Centre Ltd, 1992.

Muistoja ja mietteitä Suomen rakennustaiteen museon 25-vuotistoiminnan johdosta, Keijo Petäjä, Arkkitehti 2/82.

Miksi ja miten Suomi rakentaa - näyttelystä ja niiden taustatekijöistä, Marja-Riitta Norri,1997.

Interviews of the Finland Builds 9 exhibition jury and the Finnish experts, and the minutes of the exhibition committee, 1997.