finnish church boat

I was new in Finland, and did competitions as a way to understand, develop, and belong.  This was a design for a church in Klaukalla, near Helsinki.  I was interested in the rural ‘church boat’, or ‘kirkkovene‘, a multi-oared boat that transported parishioners from their lakeside dwellings to Sunday mass.  The practice was important in a country with a hundred thousand lakes.  The journey was a significant social event that sometimes lasted up to two days, and involved overnight stays along the route.  By all accounts the journey was a highly festive and joyous occasion.  The largest boats carried up to 60 people, rowing  and singing ritual hymns in unison.  The symbolic importance of the boat in Christianity was here made literally true: the vessel, in fact, carried the community on its journey towards salvation, or Sunday mass in this case.  The boat became in many ways an extension of the church, and this was for me a useful analogy to seed the project.

The new building attaches itself to the existing building as a vessel attaches to a dock, in this case to the middle arm of the F-shaped existing compound.  The geometry of the new and old reinforce and compliment each other, the new mirroring and redefining the old in terms of proportions and scale.  The metaphoric vessel is bent in various ways to accommodate site and program, until its prow almost touches its tail.  The formal tension created by the adjacency of prow and tail generates difference and hierarchy: front and back, honorific and ordinary, expressed and suppressed, symbolic and functional.  Everyday functions (entry, classrooms, lobby) are placed at one end of the bar and honorific functions (chapels, crematorium) are placed at the other end.  The ordinary end is intimate and close to the ground, while the prow is cantilevered, made honorific and monumental on approach from Klaukkala city.

The building is organized on two levels connected to the exiting two levels.  Chapels and large public spaces are on the upper level, offices, cafeteria and columbarium at the lower level.  A residual courtyard at the center of the building contains vertical circulation and bridge.  A single skin envelops the building, producing a unified, self contained, complete object: a vessel on a landscape.  The skin is torn, or ‘folded’, in various places to allow people and light and view to pass.  By conceiving of floor, wall, and ceiling as one continuous surface the ‘fold’ offered one way of dealing with the design problem of difference and unity.  The sensation inside is of a single space, a single, sheltering container, but one whose degree of folding increases towards areas of ritual activity, allowing more light, higher ceilings, more articulation and detail for spaces of gathering and worship.  The journey, experiential and formal, proceeds from a simple form to an articulated space of worship.