Finland and Spain – Different Takes on Slow Life

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the housewarming party of a Finnish architect’s office. Huttunen Lipasti Pakkanen Architects (H-L-P) had recently moved to nice premises in a century-old building in downtown Helsinki. The hosts not only provided good wine and cheese; they had invited two interesting presenters.

The new office of H-L-P with lofty rooms, hand-painted ceiling decorations, wooden floors, and modern furniture offers a great working environment for the successful company. H-L-P is known for its residential and health care design projects. Their style is modern and quite Nordic.

A Floating Spa in the Center of Helsinki

The first presenter was Raoul Grünstein, CEO of Helsinki Allas. He gave an overview on an intriguing project―a floating swimming and recreation center to be built in the heart of Helsinki. The mission of the venue is to promote slow life in a busy city.

The project has collected ideas and feedback on its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Helsinkiallas). H-L-P was chosen to design the outdoor spa. In addition to the four swimming pools, there’s going to be an adjoining building with restaurants, exhibition space, sauna, and a terraced roof garden. Two of the pools will be open year-round.

I like the idea very much, but knowing the bureaucratic challenge the timetable is quite ambitious, even though the funding for the project is practically secured. The construction will be temporary, but nevertheless the project team fears that there will be some appeals against the project. The first phase should be ready in May 2014.

A Spanish Point of View

martinezThe other presenter was Professor Luis Martínez Santa-María from Spain (in the photo). He had taken part in the Aalto University Campus competition, and received the third prize, as we learned a couple of days later. Professor Martínez refused to talk about his projects. Instead he shared his thoughts on architecture and the architect’s work. It was a very heartwarming presentation.

Afterwards I had a chance to chat with Mr. Martínez and his colleague. I learned how dramatically different the state of the construction industry is in the two EU member countries.

My Finnish hosts told me that almost no Finnish architects are unemployed at the moment. That’s surprising since the economy is still shrinking. There are historic reasons for this mismatch. During the previous recession in the early 1990s many professionals found other jobs. To prevent oversupply of designers the government discontinued bachelor level architectural education altogether and never re-started it. Many say that there’s one generation of A/E/C professionals missing in Finland.

The Spanish guests had a totally different message. The construction industry has crashed since the housing bubble burst, and an increasing number of architects are unemployed. In particular, young professionals cannot find work; any kind of work.  A large number of architects have been forced to move to the UK or South America. Many of them will not come back. Perhaps, in the future, Spain faces the same situation as the industry in Finland.

Illustration: Huttunen Lipasti Pakkanen Architects