There's a quiet architectural revolution happening in Finland. Over the past century, the Nordic country has been one of the subtle pioneers of modernist architecture, with icons such as Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen to boast about. Fast-forward half a century and Finland is ready to make headlines again with its new wave of contemporary designs and a boom in ambitious educational, religious, residential and public building design up and down the country.
This includes both Finnish architects working abroad and a wealth of new work within Finland by local and foreign architects. Popular recent projects, such as the Gösta Serlachius Contemporary Art Museum by Spanish firm MX_SI in the small town of Mänttä, and future works, such as OOPEAA's ongoing Konsthall in Tornedalen, Sweden and the much-discussed new Guggenheim Helsinki by French practice Moreau Kusunoki, have been making waves in both the local and international scenes. The recently announced, high-quality shortlist for the 2015 Finlandia Prize is a case in point.
The strong crop of Finland's new designs and its architects' active, can-do attitudes were two central factors in the recent Alvar Aalto Symposium – the international architectural conference that has taken place every three years since 1979 in Jyväskylä, where Aalto spent many of his formative years. Organised by the Alvar Aalto Foundation (assisted by the City of Jyväskylä), the Museum of Finnish Architecture and the Architecture Information Centre Finland, this August's event had a concise, but very clear central theme: Do!
While celebrating classic Finnish architecture such as Aalto's – the architect's myriad, important builds in this small town in the Finnish heartland effectively made him the event's defacto fifth host – the symposium placed emphasis on new and future work that is more about taking action than focusing on theoretical discussion. Presentations were spread across four themes: the local, social, digital and material element of each speaker's work. The lectures looked at different built examples and philosophies from several countries around the world – participants included from India's Rahul Mehrotra, China's Liu Xiaodu/Urbanus, and the USA's Greg Lynn and IwamotoScott – as well as Nordic projects.
Through the conference's well-planned programme, chaired by OOPEAA principle Anssi Lassila, Finland had the chance to contemplate its own architectural approach and be inspired by the strong international participation, as well as show off its crop of new projects; a rich and varied collection, placing Finland firmly on the 21st century architecture map.