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  Name   Juhani Uolevi Pallasmaa
  Born   September 14 , 1936 
  Nationality   Finland
  Official website    

Juhani Pallasmaa (born 1936 in Hämeenlinna, Finland) is a Helsinki-based architect, exhibition designer, and town planner. Pallasmaa is also a prolific essayist and the former director of both the Finnish Museum of Architecture and the architecture program at Helsinki University of Technology, where he graduated in 1966.

Pallasmaa’s modest oeuvre of built work belies his substantial influence in Finland and abroad. His first project was characteristically intellectual and architectural: Moduli 225, developed in 1969 with Kristian Gullichsen. The stick-built system of prefabricated building components is based on a 75-by-225-cm module and sought a practical outlet for the 1960s interest in proportional systems, as standardization offered not only economies of scale but also the possibility of relating a module of construction directly to a module of proportion. Roughly 50 houses were built. The domestic scope of Moduli 225 characterizes it as both a reinterpretation of traditional Japanese construction as well as a reworking of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s postwar inquiry into standardized dwellings. However, Pallasmaa’s subsequent teaching and research persuaded him that modern cities suffered more from standardization than they gained. Writing in 1983 that “probably the greatest shortcoming of the Modern Movement is that it has not been able to transform itself into a positive vernacular tradition,” Pallasmaa set out to diagnose the causes of this failure as well as to attempt to explain what a “positive vernacular” might be. This ongoing inquiry has involved stitching together psychological, phenomenological, and architectural observations into broad themes while maintaining concern for the social milieu or individual experience. These broad themes—already in play with Moduli 225—center on two poles: a concern for the ordinary (the role of traditional and quotidian in architecture) and the question of architectural and cultural modernism.

Pallasmaa’s interest in mute, harmonious proportions is paired with the ideal of an unprepossessing, modest, even anonymous architecture, characterized by unheroic forms and materials. A limited material and formal palette is typically deployed in contrasts: open versus closed, hand-made versus machine-made, edge versus surface. In his buildings and installations, the juxtaposition of disparate materials constitute Pallasmaa’s efforts to appeal to the multiple senses—his built work is “experiential” rather than cerebral. Also, the deployment of ordinary materials represents Pallasmaa’s own interest in vernacular traditions, albeit as reinvented for a modern age.

Adopting poet Joseph Brodsky’s dictum that beauty can only be achieved by working with the every day, Pallasmaa’s first important building, the Rovaniemi Art Museum (1986) recycles a former postal depot into a gallery. The long masonry building was originally reconstructed with bricks salvaged from war-destroyed Lapland; Pallasmaa’s retrofit exposes these reclaimed bricks throughout the interior, providing a quiet, poignant backdrop to the art mounted therein. On the exterior, Pallasmaa’s interventions are subtle and deliberate: A new entrance threshold of glass and steel projects from the facade, fronted by five columns of different granites, marking the entrance and contrasting with the delicate entry pavilion behind.

Pallasmaa has also reworked the idea of the granite column entrance for the installation “Driveway Square” at the Cranbook Academy (1994), where the columns play a role as part of a cosmic marker. Another project in Lapland, the Sámi Museum and Northern Lapland Visitors Center (1998), inserts a minimalist building of modest scale into an arctic fells landscape, with a sympathetic installation of Sámi cultural artifacts inside.

Anonymity and harmony are hallmarks against which Pallasmaa measures contemporary society and its architectures. Pallasmaa’s critical output in the 1980s asserted that Postmodern architecture represented neither reforms of modern architecture nor new “positive” vernaculars. A 1988 essay, “Tradition and Modernity,” revisits the modernist canon using criteria different from formal innovation. Pallasmaa constructs an archaeology of modernism with his 1996 text The Melnikhov House (with Andrei Gozak)—an analysis of the modern house the Russian architect Konstantin Melnikhov built for himself in Moscow. The contradictions between the house’s platonic interlocking cylinders and its complicated, organic construction suggest traditional precedents for Melnikhov’s otherwise unorthodox, Platonic home. Pallasmaa evokes Melnikhov’s complicated milieu via an examination of materials and details.

Indeed, the idea of home is central to Pallasmaa’s thinking. Before 1986 nearly all his built work was housing, including a summer atelier for Tor Arne (1970). His studies concerning the idea of “home” are careful to avoid cliché, including the sentimental or kitsch. Instead, Pallasmaa has relied on the work of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (La poétique de l’espace [The Poetics of Space], 1958) to construct a practical phenomenology of architecture against the tactile and sensual poverty of modern construction. Pallasmaa’s work also extends to the scholarly, and his comprehensive survey of Aalto’s furniture as well as a monograph of the Villa Mairea, Aalto’s own domestic Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), reflects his expansive approach to domestic architecture.




Helander, Vilhelm and Simo Rista, Suomalainen rakennustaide; Modern Architecture in Finland (bilingual Finnish-English edition), Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä, 1987 Korvenmaa, Pekka, “From House Manufacture to Universal Systems” in Rakennettu Puusta; Timber Construction in Finland (bilingual Finnish-English edition), Helsinki: Museum of Finnish Architecture, 1996 Nikula, Riitta, Architecture and Landscape: The Building of Finland, Helsinki: Otava, 1993 Norri, Marja-Riitta, Elina Standertskjold, and Wilfried Wang (editors), Finland (exhib. cat.), Munich and New York: Prestel, 2000 Poole, Scott, The New Finnish Architecture, New York: Rizzoli, 1992 Quantrill, Malcolm, Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition, London and New York: E and FN Spon, 1995

Selected Publications

Alvar Aalto Furniture, 1987 Hvitträsk—Home as a Work of Art, 1987 Language of Wood: Wood in Finnish Sculpture, Design, and Architecture, 1987 “Tradition and Modernity: The Feasibility of Regional Architecture in Postmodern Society,” The Architectural Review (1988) Mailmassaolon taide (The Art of Being in the World), 1993 Pallasmaa, Juhani and Teppo Järvinen (editors), Architecture du Silence, 1994 The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, 1996 Pallasmaa, Juhani and Andrei Gozak, The Melnikhov House: Moscow (1927–1929), 1996 Alvar Aalto: Villa Mairea 1938–39, 1998

    Aalto, Alvar (Finland); Finland; Melnikov, Konstantin (Russia);









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