Temppeliaukio Kirkko – Helsinki, Finland

You might be surprised to hear that I don’t just spend all my time running around in the mountains. I also recently spent five years of my life studying a Bach. Environmental Design and then a Masters of Architecture at the University of Tas, graduating at the end of 2011. I’m not by any means an architectural fanatic, but when I get out and about I like to see what I can see.

While staying with family in Finland last winter I managed a visit to the Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) in Helsinki. The church was designed by Finnish brothers Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen in 1969, and essentially represents everything that is magical about good Finnish design. Architecture, at it’s best, is about the relationship between the user, light, mass and void. What’s beautiful about Finnish design is the bold simplicity with which they can manifest this relationship.

Temppeliaukio is literally cut out of a granite hillside. Besides the raw, roughly finished rock, the material palette is limited to concrete and copper. Spaces are to-the-point and flow with a deceivingly logical clarity. Detailing can only be described as ‘plain’. And yet the Suomalainen brothers have managed to create something remarkable… Light through the bare concrete fins framing the ceiling skylights constantly shifts and plays across the brutally textured granite walls, and gleaming copper detailing, giving the space a lively, fluid feel. Despite it’s programmatic clarity, there is no uniformity to the space – the user’s choice of spot will dramatically alter their experience. Walking through the church with my young (legally blind) nephew, he would constantly reach out to touch and feel his way through the space – pausing in concentration at each change in texture.

As with most things in the modern, information-hungry world, over-saturation can lead to apathy, and this is as relevant to architecture as anything else. I find it hard not to look at the latest project by RPBW, Calatrava, ARM, Koolhaas or whoever and feel much more than ‘meh’. Yes, they’re extraordinary – but then we see so much extraordinary these days that no one really cares. Every archi-blog has 1000 photos of ‘extraordinary’. In that sense I think the reason I found the Temppeliaukio Kirkko so remarkable is that it managed to move me in a very unarchitectural way. I wasn’t analysing the building as a student of architecture (as I normally do with high-profile projects) – I was just there.





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