Sep 20, 2008

Rectification to the design history of the Temppeliaukio Church

Temppeliaukio Church (“Rock Church”) in Helsinki centre attracts visitors from all over the world. The rock church, designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and built in 1969, is the most popular architectural sight in Finland, not only among modern but also historic buildings. Yet, as a result of superficial observation, mistaken assumptions about its design history and architecture have been and still are presented as facts. It is time for rectification.

Architect brothers Timo (1928-) and Tuomo (1931-88) Suomalainen won the open competition in 1960-61 for the architectural design of Temppeliaukio Church as a result of the unanimous decision of the jury. There had been two competitions arranged about the same church in the 1930s, both unrealised. Architect P.E. Blomstedt (1900-1935) participated in the first competition arranged in 1932-33, but without success. The similarity between Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen’s and P.E. Blomstedt’s proposals is a persistently repeated claim or insinuation. In these designs both the main idea and the artistic overall structure are, however, totally different and only the Suomalainen brothers’ church is sunk into the rock.


It dawned intuitively on the Suomalainen brothers when they visited the building site that, in order to save the character of place, the rock itself had to be understood as a church and everything to be built at the site should be adjusted to accompany the character of the rock. The architect brothers had a firm relationship to rock. They had been born and lived their childhood until the beginning of the World War II on a small island, called Suursaari, in the middle of the Gulf of Finland. Juxtaposed to the white sandy beaches of the island’s bays were hills, precipices and crevices, caves, gorges, boulders, and stony fields. Timo Suomalainen tells how the island of their birth, lost to the Soviet Union, unconsciously participated in their architecture. On the Temppeliaukio Square (“Temple Square”) the home island of the brothers, which was its own micro cosmos, is present as the rock church itself. Transferred from the island is the simultaneous feeling of security and freedom that one can experience in nature, which offers not only surprises and adventure, but also a feeling of stability and shelter. Before the brothers started designing the Temppeliaukio Church, they had done planning work for the Ministry of Defence and thus had become familiar with rock building. Moreover, they had come to the point in their career where, after having designed clean-lined and minimalistic architecture, they wished to open to architecturally intuitive, unconscious, solutions giving space even to chance. (to find out more..)

Architect brothers Timo (1928-) and Tuomo (1931-88) Suomalainen in 1984

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