THE WORLD OF JUHANI PALLASMAA

 

"Gone now are the roof shapes and details of stoves of buildings once familiar in childhood, but I still feel in my bones the joy I felt then listening to the patter of rain on the roof from the shelter within or warming my frozen limbs beside the fire when I came in from the cold.

I can no longer conjure up a clear picture of the plank table in my grandad's living room, but I can still imagine myself sitting beside it and reliving this focal point of a rural cottage, the binding force of our family circle and its occasional visitors."

These, Juhani Pallasmaa's images of his background, crystalise the essence of his architecture. His buildings and designs are a laminate of different cultural experiences; houses are tied to a northern soil, their immediate environment, as the framework of ordinary life, symbols of the innermost, protecting and uniting task of construction. The archaic coarseness of spaces is combined with a sensitive sophisticated detailing that entices intimacy. An architecture that appeals to all the senses.

Over the years Juhani Pallasmaa's thoughts and ideas have found expression in many different fields, from the traditionai work of an architect to the design of exhibitions, publications and objects, to writing. As director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture from 1978 to 1983, he was germane in internationalising its activities and exhibiting over a decade ago the works of such architects as Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza and Daniel Libeskind, who only later became renowned throughout the world. In the early 1970s he was principal of the University of Industrial Design in Helsinki and also professor in architecture at the University of Addis Ababa. An earlier sign of Pallasmaa's versatility is that during his student exchange year in Minneapolis, he became state champion in both skiing and jiving.

In his lectures and writings Pallasmaa has often premeditated points of view that were later adopted in scientific research. To listeners and readers alike, these contributions have had a fundamental, revolutionary effect on attitudes; just no one was left indifferent.

Whatever field Pallasmaa has turned to, the result has gained its strength from a total commitment to the problematics of each task and a personal command both categorical and impassioned.

Juhani Pallasmaa's opinions have not remained unchanged over the years. With the same great enthusiasm as he now talks about intuition, he defended rational thinking in the sixties, emphasising the importance of knowledge and technology. These ideas left an indelible mark on his designs from that period, most of which were carried out in collaboration with Kirmo Mikkola.

In 1967 Pallasmaa wrote: "Design is moving away from individual supervision and intuition to collective methodological control, from the design of separate sites to general systems and structures, and from immutable and ultimate design to disposable, changing and variating design. The design of forms is gradually being replaced by the control and arrangement of powers emanating from forms (technological, economic, social, psychic ... ). The continuing process replaces the permanent, circumstance the fixed visual shape, and the measurable that observed by the senses. This has meant a fundamental change in the task and arts of the designer." Architecture, in his opinion, was not "a mystical attribute of space, but organisation, the arrangement of facts. Actually, the word beautiful should be replaced by right. For then art is the skill of doing right."

The re-evaluation of one's own ideas is often a slow and onerous process. In this respect, the changes in Juhani Pallasmaa's opinions have occurred logically, with an intuitive anticipation of the problems of the time and characterised by a firm belief in the expressive powers of modern architecture.

Earlier Pallasmaa directed his energies more outside the traditionai domain of the architect; nowadays he runs a fair sized office, with considerable commissions at home and abroad. Never, however, has he forgotten the other fields of activity.

"The task of architecture is not to beautify or 'humanise' the world of everyday fact, but to open a view into the second dimension of our consciousness, the reality of dreams, images and memories. After the bacchanal of post-modemism, the time has again come for neo-minimalism, neo-ascetism, neo-denial and sublime poverty. Quality, the dimension of spiritual depth, is reinstated as the only criterion of art." (1986)

"I believe that we need today an ascetic, concentrative and contemplative architecture. We yearn for an architecture that rejects noise, efficiency and fashion. We need an architecture that does not aspire after the dramatic, but rather aims at lyricising the real things of everyday life. We yearn for radical ordinariness and mundanity, a natural architecture of the type that fills our minds with good feelings when we enter an old peasant cottage or sit upon a Shaker chair. But alongside an architecture that breaks beyond its boundaries and redefines itself, we need an architecture of silence." (1990)

Marja-Riitta Norri
Director, Museum of Finnish Architecture

Collages, coloured paper,
Addis Abeba 1973.
Sizes: 260 x 260, 190 x 320 and 380 x 320 mm
 

Translation: Michael Wynne-Ellis

ARCHITECTURE  IN MINIATURE
©Museum of Finnish Architecture, Juhani Pallasmaa, 1991
ISBN 951-9229-71-X