Aalto University Väre Building
Lauttasaari Church is located in the district of Lauttasaari, on an island in Western Helsinki. The church site forms a solid entity in the surrounding townscape with its courtyard’s passages, stairways and plantings. Architects Marja and Keijo Petäjä won the architectural competition of Lauttasaari Church in 1953. The church was completed in 1958.
A monumental, boulder-wall bordered staircase leads to the church’s main entrance. The stone-paved reservoir in the inner courtyard is characterised by tall-standing erratic block, whereas over 60-meter high campanile oversees the whole Lauttasaari district. A horizontal two-storey wing combines the u-shaped building’s two separate church halls. The tiling on the churchyard binds the parts together. The surface material of the whole complex is sandblasted white concrete, which is contrasted with copper paved window zones.
The church hall’s ceiling, that descents towards the apsis, is covered with wooden grid structure supported by slim pylons. The hallway, leading to the apsis, is paved with multicoloured marble. Natural light flows in through the top-wall ribbon windows and the apsis’ high window. The character of the interior, with its benches and overhanging brass-lights, is designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara. The church textiles are designed by Hilkka Vuorinen, Annikki Tapiovaara and Ilmari Tapiovaara.
Finlandia Prize for Architecture 2023 pre-selection jury report:
An architectural design competition was run in 1953 with view to identifying a design for a church in the Helsinki island neighbourhood of Lauttasaari. Though Keijo Petäjä’s entry failed to meet the competition brief, it was nevertheless deemed by the jury to show “the greatest potential” and considered most likely to “yield the best outcome upon implementation”. His entry was subsequently acquired and used as the basis for the eventual design.
On its completion in 1958, Lauttasaari Church became the largest ecclesiastical building in Finland. It also remained one of Helsinki’s premier visitor attractions for a number of decades until it was overtaken in popularity by Temppeliaukio Church.
Designed in the 1950s Rationalist style, Lauttasaari Church is an excellent example of an architectural tradition where the most imposing building in any village, town or city is located on a central, elevated site to maximise its visual impact. Standing atop Myllykallio Hill in the centre of Lauttasaari, the church has served as a landmark for the island whilst actively serving the local community. In fact, the original design brief invited proposals for what was broadly termed a “Lutheran working centre”. From the beginning, the church has played an important role in local community life.
The present-day refurbishment project is characterised by the scale and the challenge of the work involved as well as the commitment on part of the parties involved to considering the needs of the building’s users and to delivering a space that truly serves its intended, present-day purpose. Particular care was taken with the particular spatial requirements of the local day-care centre, after school club and Scout troop. A brand-new digital booking system was created for the club rooms, gym, workshop, sauna and coworking and meeting spaces. For a nominal fee, these facilities can be booked by any resident on the island. The ground floor extension was complemented with a cafe and restaurant, while the former vicar’s office was converted into a new venue for the local conservatoire with view to ensuring that the available space here is well used.
The building has been refurbished with consummate professional skill and great attention to detail and every effort has been made to respect the building’s thoughtfully conceived, highly accomplished and intricately detailed original architecture that is defined by its human scale. The original furniture, along with the fixtures, religious items and lighting designed by Ilmari and Annikki Tapiovaara, have been restored. The new design solutions and details introduced as part of the refurbishment project are so insightfully aligned with the original architecture and spirit as to lend them almost imperceptible to a visitor’s eye.
The significant financial investment this refurbishment represents makes for a refreshing change at a time when many parish organisations, far from being in a position to contemplate the commissioning of extensive building works, are busy considering whether they can afford to keep their churches heated or even wondering whether they might be forced to sell off property as dwindling congregation numbers put a permanent squeeze on cashflow. It is therefore particularly pleasing to see this project succeed, not just in architectural terms but also in how it will allow the church to meet its original purpose, namely that of serving its community. The refurbishment means that Lauttasaari Church is now in a better position than before to be a meaningful presence in the lives of its parishioners and, in its role as a genuinely local and approachable hub of activity, to seek to foster a greater sense of community on the island.