Oulu Mother and Child Home
The Oulunsalo Municipal Offices, situated south of the city of Oulu near the airport, is the most significant example of the so-called “Oulu School” of architecture from the 1980s. The school of thought which emerged among architecture students at the University of Oulu during the professorship of Reima Pietilä (1973-79) emphasized the importance of local building traditions, working methods and culture in the wake of international regionalist trends. The works of the group, which were critical towards Modernism, are among the most original late 20th century architecture in northern Finland. There are particularly many examples of “Oulu School” architecture among the public buildings in Oulunsalo.
According to the architects, the Modernist, universal-box architecture was not appropriate for the image of the region, and the key objective in the design of the municipal offices was to find, and to an extent create, the uniqueness of Oulunsalo – that is, its genius loci. In addition to the municipal offices, also the parish office, post office, business premises and a café were located in the building. By bringing together the various services under a single roof, a central place for local residents was created. Furthermore, this was a criticism of the Modernist principle of separating different functions into their own buildings.
The architecture of the Oulunsalo municipal offices emphasises local characteristics both in principle and in practice. Local construction methods are evident as references to northern Ostrobothnian building traditions and their form language. The building complex, which comprises of four wings, has a village-like character. As is typical for vernacular architecture, the buildings have pitched roofs and relatively low in height. The wings are grouped around a central courtyard, which one enters via a gateway placed in the corner. The main entrance to the municipal offices is, when viewed from the gateway, in the opposite corner of the courtyard. The idea of movement through the space is repeated inside the building: the council hall is accessed via the first-floor lobby and cafe. The cosy scale continues in the interior spaces and, for instance, the council chamber has the feel of an Ostrobothnian farmhouse interior.
The materials typical for the “Oulu School” are red brick and pine wood, as well as partly also concrete. Surprising details enliven the whole, such as unusual window designs, stepped ceilings and loft balconies. The critique of Modernism is also underlined by the conscious avoidance of pre-fabricated elements: the municipal offices was built by craftsmen on site. The Oulunsalo municipal offices was one of the first buildings from the 1980s to be protected under the building heritage act in 2013.
Oulunsalo Municipal Offices is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Petteri Kummala / DOCOMOMO Finland