The Kaleva Church is one of the most monumental post-war religious buildings in Finland. The sculptural volume rising above the surrounding apartment blocks can be seen as a modern interpretation of a Gothic cathedral.
Reima Pietilä won an open competition in 1959, and Raili Pietilä became later involved in realising the project. The church represents rare structural expressionism in the Pietiläs’ oeuvre. The architectural concept was based on the use of slip forming, which made it possible to cast the 35 m high walls in 12 days. At the time, slip forming was popular in building grain elevators, and thus the church was given the nicknames “Silo of the Souls” and “Viljanen’s Silo”, referring to the Vicar Paavo Viljanen. The plan can also be seen as a reference to the Christian ichthys symbol.
The Pietiläs’ aim to create a large number of variations from simple primary forms is visible in the church hall’s 18 concave concrete walls, each having a different shape and width. Similarly, the height of the T-shaped prestressed roof beams varies according to the span. Natural light floods the interior through the tall windows between the walls. To protect the concrete walls from the weather, the exterior is clad with glazed yellow bricks. The concrete surfaces in the interior are sprayed with thin white paint. In contrast to the pale concrete, the floor is brown tiles, and the window frames, the fixed furniture and the organ case are natural-coloured pine. Reima Pietilä also designed the altarpiece Broken reed. The parish facilities are located under the church hall.
Kaleva Church is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Kristo Vesikansa