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Suvela Chapel

Helsinki, Finland
1 of 9

Suvela Chapel is situated in Suvela on the Helsinki suburb. A parish center is a finalist for the Finlandia Prize, the country's highest architectural honor and provides an intense statement of OOPEAA's design approach: careful understanding of context, of purpose, and of construction-along with a keen sense of traditional Finnish typologies-intertwine to inform elegant design decisions.

Suvela District

Suvela is a rapidly growing district in the Helsinki municipality of Espoo, 9 miles west of the city center. While Espoo contains Tapiola, the quintessential "city in the forest" of ambitious post-World War II planning efforts, Suvela's peripheral architectural and urban character is more prosaic: mainly six- to eight-story housing blocks, constructed of blandly colored prefabricated-concrete panels, spaced judiciously amid the wooded terrain. Socially, the area reflects the increasing multiculturalism of Finland's capital region, with roughly one-third of its inhabitants being of foreign descent. By 2010, the growth led the parish to consider building a new church.

The Coutyard Typology

The ordering of program into a visible U-plan type here is triply site-specific. It produces a definite boundary that addresses the activity and noise of the street corner and park; an enclosed courtyard for general entrance from the parking lots and for community gathering in good weather; and, lastly, a recognizable "head to tail" sequence in the plan, where the larger volume of the worship hall is accorded civic presence on the public corner, and the smaller-scaled program elements-offices, meeting rooms, classrooms, and service areas-are tightly arrayed as the enclosing limbs of the courtyard. The courtyard organization also establishes an outer layer of public rooms and offices, sheathed in vertical copper panels and punctuated by window apertures specific to each room and orientation, with inflected expanses of wood panels inset by entrances. An inner layer of spaces for entrance, circulation, and meeting forms a territory known as an aula in Finnish.

If the courtyard plan responds on several levels to the context, so does the design, with its parallel sectional qualities of volumetric variation, controlled scale, and admission of daylight, all attentive to the surroundings and ambitions of a project with both religious and civic significance, and their technical requirements. Rising above the courtyard, the dramatically pitched-roof forms of the worship hall and children's learning center possess both sculptural and symbolic character, but their angled volumes also enclose the air-handling units and frame skylights that draw and direct natural light into these spaces.


OOPEAA's multiple commissions demonstrate a strong commitment to building well in the harsh Finnish climate, with distinct material quality, and within budgetary and other constraints. Copper was selected for its long, maintenance-free lifespan and its ability to clad an entire exterior, both walls and roof. The hybrid framing structure combines reinforced-concrete bearing walls and steel framing elements, mounted with extensive wood trusswork undergirding the roof forms. The three-dimensional variations of copper panels resulted from a digital analysis of the building's surfaces, correlated to the maximum dimensions of standard copper sheeting. The eventual green patina over the untreated surface is seen by the architect as a desirable sign of age.

A similarly unifying palette was used on the interior, where surfaces are covered in spruce-slatted panels. In the worship hall, beyond the warmth and tactility of the spruce wall and ceiling, is a wealth of detail: softly rounded oak door handles in brass fittings, fritted glass wall panels inscribed with biblical verses in multiple languages, and custom chairs fabricated with the designer Mikko Paakkanen in keeping with a Nordic tradition. The layered glass screen wall behind the altar and baptismal font, vibrantly striated by the color spectrum, is the work of artist Hannu Konola.

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bostjan, October 5th, 2017
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