Supernatural design at the House by an Architect

Helsinki Design Weekly talks to the designers behind ‘House by an Architect’. A project dedicated to praising wood architecture, interior design for small spaces and contemporary art.

The Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale takes place in the picturesque village of Fiskars from May to September in 2022. With this year’s focus tightly on architecture, Helsinki Design Week presents ‘House by an Architect’ – an exhibition that presents seven ways of building small. While the objective of the project was to emphasize the importance of high quality design in construction, the mini houses that rose from the brief took on forms that reach beyond the laws of nature.

UFO, the beautiful brainchild of Ateljé Sotamaa, an international design and architecture studio directed by Kivi and Tuuli Sotamaa, is a sculptural building that features impressive views of the surrounding nature. Part of a larger family of buildings known as the Cosmos Collection, UFO is based on the fundamental idea of creating functional sculpture. Buildings that rise object-like when placed in nature. While the UFO is a standalone piece, its origin can be found in a building known as the Meteorite. As with the mothership, the UFO has been designed in a way that allows for the visitor to observe the building from afar, without truly being able to determine what the inside experience is going to feel like. 

Tuuli Sotamaa and Kivi Sotamaa. Photo: Mikael Lundblad

With a mission of wanting to create buildings, spaces, objects and artworks that change the way people think, feel and behave – Ateljé Sotamaa has created a building that is fully livable yet full of surprises. Kivi Sotamaa explains. “We wanted to create a building that is diverse in its geometry and with an immense range of ways for the visitor to experience it.”

This means that the UFO has been built in a way that creates tension between the external and the internal scale. On the outside, the building blends in with the scale of the forest, nature and the meadows that surround it. The inside, however, has been built on a human scale. It is complex yet warm and full of functional solutions such as places to sleep or to store things. Elements that allow for comfortable living but still offer new and interesting ways to use the space. “We never wanted to build something that comes with a strict set of instructions on how to use the space,” Sotamaa confirms. “We wanted for the building to stay exciting and open to interpretation.”

Kristian Talvitie also knows how to avoid strict regulations. Into the 2022 Fiskars Biennale, Talvitie brings the Polestar Design Contest 2021 winner KOJA – a mini house with its roots deep in opposition.

Talvitie, who attended the competition hosted by the design-focused electric performance car brand, has no formal training in architecture. In fact, the Umeå Institute of Design graduate holds a degree in Transportation Design. “When the design competition was first launched last summer, I never had the intention of applying. But having looked at the solutions offered by some of the contestants, I started thinking,” Talvitie says.

While the brief strictly called for progression, what bothered Talvitie was how these solutions, such as flying cars for example, would affect the state of the planet. “Flying vehicles are not something that comfortably fit my values so I started looking for something else. Somewhere along that journey I started pondering about the nature of trees.”

Talvitie came to the idea that trees have, through the history of humankind, functioned as shelters. Covers for rain, places to hide under and material to build from. The question then became: how to combine Polestar, a technology brand with the rather primitive idea of a treehouse?

As a result, Talvitie created a modern treehouse! KOJA is a static object full of dynamic solutions.

KOJA is designed by Kristian Talvitie and open by invitation only. Photo: Polestar

The building hangs onto a tree in a way that makes it a living space that dangles, if not quite in the canopy, then not too far from it. “The proportions of KOJA are progressive and forward striving. A place up in the tree that holds everything a human might need for survival such as a place to rest and eat. KOJA focuses solely on the essential and the pure art of being.” KOJA is located separately from the rest of the houses and open by invitation only.

To the Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale 2022, Swedish Sommarnöjen brings Sommar 30, a mini house inspired by the design often found in traditional barns. Part of the permanent range of housing solutions offered by the company, Sommar 30 has been adapted to function as a practical holiday home including everything one might need for comfortable living – while being beautiful and sustainable. According to Tomas Riesenberg Tjajkovski, ”Sommar 30 is a timeless piece of design.”

Team Sommarnöjen. Photo: Sommarnöjen

This cabinstands as a solution to a particular regulation in the local legislation which allows for unlicensed building of housing under 30 square meters. “But these buildings must still meet the legal requirements for places of permanent residency,” the founder reminds. 

Sommar 30. Photo: Aleksi Poutanen, Fiskars Village Biennale

Sommar 30 is made out of solid wood and comes with a kitchen, a toilet and a shower room that are comfortably spacious, and a bedroom at the end of the house which can be separated with a sliding door. There are also two more places to sleep in the separate sleeping loft. 

And while the Sommar 30 has its grounding deeply in functionality with an alluring outside to match, the building remains strictly sustainable. “Sommar 30 is transported ready-made and placed on-site in a way that leaves no trace in the surrounding nature,” Riesenberg Tjajkovski explains. “Because we believe that the purpose of these buildings is for us to exist in nature, not to destroy it.”

“Because we believe that the purpose of these buildings is for us to exist in nature, not to destroy it.”

Tomas Riesenberg Tjajkovski
Aalto University Students with professor Pekka Heikkinen. Photo: Aalto-yliopisto

In the spirit of co-existing in nature, the Kore cabin created by the students of the Aalto University Wood Studio offers a compact space surrounding the functional core of a building. There is space for sitting, dining and resting in the sleeping loft. A wonderful place that allows for admiring of both the eloquent ceiling structure and the night sky through the large skylight.

Aalto yliopisto 220629 Fiskars. Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennal, Arkkitehdin talo. Aalto puustudion Kore.

Yet according to Pekka Heikkinen, Professor of Practice at Aalto University, building small still means taking a stand. “The small size of the cabin and the use of wood as material, enables us to reduce the use of energy and the overall carbon footprint of the building.”

The House by an Architect exhibition is open for visits, sleepovers and purchases. Book your accommodation here and find tickets here.

You can meet the rest of the Architects here.