Dezeen Magazine

Little Finlandia and Finlandia Hall

Little Finlandia in Helsinki is a modular conference venue held up by pine trees

Ninety-five pine trees that retain their branches support the roof of Little Finlandia, an events centre in Helsinki designed by recently graduated architect Jaakko Torvinen.

The temporary structure was developed by the City of Helsinki as a meanwhile space during a three-year renovation of the neighbouring Finlandia Hall, designed by legendary Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 1962.

Trees used as pillars
The trees were individually selected from a forest outside Helsinki

With an expected lifespan of 50 years, Little Finlandia's wooden modules will be transported elsewhere and re-assembled for the building to be used as a school or day-care centre once the work on Finlandia Hall completes in late 2024.

The building was designed to evoke a sense of the country itself.

Little Finlandia designed by Jaakko Torvinen
Torvinen gave the building a simple layout to offset the irregular aesthetic of the trees

"When I started designing Little Finlandia I started thinking what comes to my mind from Finlandia," Torvinen told Dezeen. "In my mind, the forest was the strongest connection to Finnishness."

Scots pines, plentiful in Finland, were selected to evoke the paintings of Akseli Gallen-Kallela, whose works are often considered to be closely associated with the Scandinavian country's national identity.

Architecture using trees
A wooden terrace runs the perimeter of the building

The load-bearing trees were individually selected from a forest in Loviisa about 90 kilometres outside Helsinki by Torvinen, professor Pekka Heikkinen of Aalto University and architect Elli Wendelin during a two-day expedition through waist-height snow.

They were felled without damaging their branches and pressure-washed to remove the bark, with minimal further processing.

Tree pillars designed by Jaakko Torvinen
The structure is designed to be easy to dismantle and rebuild at another location. Photo is by Mika Pollari

Those with the most branches were used in Little Finlandia's lobby and colonnade, while those with fewer offshoots were used in the events halls to avoid causing obstructions.

To counter the irregularity of the branches, the shape of the 2,200-square-metre building is a simple rectangle.

Little Finlandia and Finlandia Hall
Little Finlandia is being used as a temporary event space during renovation works on the adjacent Finlandia Hall. Photo is by Mikko Raskinen

A 130-metre wooden terrace borders the entire glass-walled building, which opened in March, with a cafe looking out over Töölönlahti bay to the north.

Little Finlandia, or Pikku-Finlandia in Finnish, has space to hold a meeting of up to 1,100 people or a dinner for 800, with adaptable spaces that can be used for anything from government seminars to concerts and club nights.

Its future dismantling has been incorporated into the design, with joints left visible and the possibility of adding partition walls or adapting the building's footprint into an L-shape upon reassembly.

"Simplicity was an aesthetic choice to highlight even more the organic shapes of the whole trees," explained Torvinen. "At the same time, it was structural and a practical choice in terms of disassembly and rebuildability."

Tree pillars in Little Finlandia
Trees with fewer branches were used indoors to avoid causing obstructions

Using whole trees as pillars has a smaller carbon impact than engineered mass timber products such as glulam and cross-laminated timber because they require less energy to produce, Torvinen claimed, adding that reuse is also easier because other substances and materials are not present.

"I see no reason why this couldn't be used in other buildings," he said. "I would be happy to see more buildings utilizing nature's own engineering and whole trees as structure. There is still much more potential than what we use now."

Interior spaces of Little Finlandia
The adaptable space can be used as anything from a conference hall to a nightclub. Photo by Kimmo Raisanen

The City of Helsinki has an ambition to reduce the climate impact of construction, promoting building with timber and the circular economy.

Torvinen developed the final design for the project under the working title Finlandia Forest in collaboration with fellow students Wendelin and Havu Järvelä while at Aalto University, with implementation support from Heikkinen as well as Helsinki studios Arkkitehdit NRT Oy and Arkitekturum.

Cafe in Little Finlandia, Helsinki
A cafe overlooks Töölönlahti bay

"Although this type of construction was new for the workgroup, everything went surprisingly well," said Heikkinen. "There is an ever-increasing need for temporary buildings, and for longer lifespans, too. The things we learnt from Little Finlandia can be applied to the design of new sites."

Other architecture projects that have incorporated trees in different ways include Thomas Heatherwick's 1,000 Trees shopping centre in Shanghai, while earlier this year MIT researchers used discarded tree forks to make load-bearing construction joints.

The photography is by Mikael Linden unless otherwise stated.

More images and plans

Little Finlandia drawing
Little Finlandia cross-section
Little Finlandia drawing
Little Finlandia drawing
Little Finlandia drawing
Little Finlandia architect's drawing
Little Finlandia elevation
Site plan of Little Finlandia
Little Finlandia designed by Jaakko Torvinen
Colonnade of Little Finlandia
Jaakko Torvinen
Glazed walls of Little Finlandia
Tree pillar in Little Finlandia
Tree used as a pillar
Little Finlandia in Helsinki
Little Finlandia at dusk
Interior space of Little Finlandia
Little Finlandia drawing by Jaakko Torvinen
Little Finlandia drawing by Jaakko Torvinen
Bark being stripped from tree
Torvinen next to trees for Little Finlandia
Trees in warehouse
Trees in warehouse