Ephemeral or solid – architecture and weather

Sunday night’s thunder storm was a spectacular switching-off-of-the-lights-in-the-sky. Many Helsinki residents photographed it, stared at it, got caught in it and were frightened by it. It seemed the Apocalypse rolled into town within just a minute or two. (And beyond town too. English-language info available with “readers’ pictures and videos” all over the net.)

It left me rather pleased that I had one of those eminently thick and solid central Helsinki residential blocks to hide in and take shelter in. Shelter is pretty fundamental to architecture, no? And where nature is “harsh” as it’s said to be in Finland, solid building is pretty important.

The Finnish architectural world is always being lauded for taking nature into account, but often it’s not so much for giving shelter as for symbolising some fragile naturalness of humanity – or was it nature? There’s a lot of hyperbole about the sea and the land embracing each other, the urban and the savage merging into each other, forest and technology in perfect harmony.

British architects and architectural writers (like Jonathan Glancey) seem to detect mostly an unflattering (for them) contrast between the brutalism of British architecture and Britain’s urban space (“brutal” in the way Anna Minton says the UK has become) and the sensitive wisdom of Finland’s subtle, oh-s0-wonderful architecture and its architects, who appreciate the rough and the bodily as well as the fancy. If they don’t invoke Saint Alvar as their authority on this, these days they (like Jonathan Glancey) are likely to refer to Juhani Pallasmaa (who does write beautifully).

An example of the adoration might be the interior-design student Pieta-Linda Auttila’s wooden hotel or rather, the blurbs about it. It was nature meeting sophisticated technology, the ethereal character of a natural material reminding a user of our collective vulnerability… Basically, from the photos (it was a 2009 project), it looks like a gorgeous but totally impractical wood building for temporary enjoyment.

All the stuff about respecting nature through how we design is a good point to make, we guess. A bit of respect for the elements goes a long way when the winds are 25m/s. And it’s not just that a few records have been broken in a place near you recently, climate change is here. Finns have taken note at least at the level of projects and plans and educational events. Meanwhile, chaos reigns in many parts of the country in the wake of recent storms.

So when another big storm comes my way, I must say, old-fashioned and solid is good for me. It doesn’t have to be granite to the n’th degree, as in Kallio’s church by Lars Sonck. But then again …

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