Tampere Art Museum (Image:AOR)

""It's always a challenge to build anything in natural environment....sometimes you are able to achieve something where built and unbuilt are in balance and support each other."

AOR Architects

Meet the Finnish Royal Academy Dorfman Award Finalist

The Royal Academy Dorfman Award is part of the Royal Academy Architecture Awards, The British Council is proudly supporting the Royal Academy Architecture Awards as International Partner. Now celebrating its third year, the RA Architecture Awards showcase the best emerging architectural talent from around the world and broaden our understanding of what architecture can and should be.

The Royal Academy Dorfman Award champions new talent in architecture. It is awarded to an emerging architect, practice or collective who is re-imagining the future of architecture and whose work demonstrates a high degree of sensitivity to local and global context. The finalists for this year award are: 

  •  AAU Anastas (Palestine)
  • AOR Architects (Finland)
  • BCKJ Architects (China)
  • WHBC Architects (Malaysia)

The British Council spoke to AOR Architects about their work.

Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for the Royal Academy Dorfman Award, which champions new talent in architecture. Which of your works are you most proud of and why?

Thank you, it´s a great honour to be nominated for the award and to have a chance to show our work. Obviously, our first completed major public building, Jätkäsaari comprehensive school, is something we are really proud of. The project is based on our winning proposal for an open architecture competition in 2015. Since then, it has been over four years of hard work. The competition received over 150 design proposals, so it was a tough competition. The project after the competition was really demanding and full of different pressures. A school as a typology is actually quite demanding and also the site had some challenges. 

As young architects, leading the design process of 30 M€ project with tight schedule was a real challenge. In the end, we feel that we managed it really well through good collaboration with all the members of the project; the client, user, contractor, city officials and all the other consults. After completion, the school has been published widely in national and international media, including Monocle and Wallpaper magazines and the largest newspaper in Finland.

At the moment, we are also really excited about our ongoing projects, including Tampere art museum, Monio high school and community centre, which is going to be built out of massive log timbers, and Maria01 is the largest growth company campus in Scandinavia located in downtown Helsinki.

You specialise in wood construction. What makes wood special as a material and how do you use it sustainably?

There are many advantages of using wood. To mention a few of them, wood is a natural choice for building material in Finland as we grow more wood than we use. In a battle against climate change, wood can have a significant role in replacing concrete, for example, which is producing approximately 8 % percent of all the annual carbon emissions worldwide. Wood as a building material has a negative impact on the carbon footprint as it also offers carbon storage. Wood was traditionally widely used in Finland and now we really want to use the full potential of the material and develop modern wood structures. Being an organic and breathable building material, wood also improves the quality of interior air and acoustics.

AOR was founded five years ago. How has your work - and architecture in general - evolved since then?

From the beginning, we have wanted to push our limits in creating high quality architecture that would combine all the different demands of a building into memorable architecture that is in harmony with its context. We are not looking for the easy way out of the design challenges. We strive for elegant results that seem easy and natural but actually need a long development process until completion.

Especially in architecture competitions, we are not satisfied with ordinary or good-enough. Even though this mentality has always been a foundation of our work, after five years we have more confidence for our design process and we have the courage to aim for the best result. We also started as a team of three architects and since then we´ve evolved into an office of ten people. Running a larger team is different and this is also something we want to develop even further.

Your London design, Viewpoint, features a canal-side platform where visitors can make contact with some of the local wildlife. Is connecting with nature a central theme for your practice?

Connecting with nature is one of the central themes but not the only one. It's always a matter of the context of the design task but we really enjoy designing in natural surroundings. It´s always a challenge to build anything in natural environment. As a designer, you have to be really sensitive and respect the site and its qualities. Sometimes you are able to achieve something where built and unbuilt are in balance and support each other.

Do you have any advice for current students of architecture who may be dreaming of similar success to AOR?

It is really hard to give advice because it´s always a matter of personal qualities, the team and pure luck. I would say that it is a matter of a long process where you should push your own limits further every time. It doesn´t matter if you fail, but it´s more important what you´ve learnt after that. If you keep pushing, at some point you will succeed. Maybe one thing to remember is that you don´t have to learn everything by yourself - team up with people who have different qualities from you. Finally, success itself can´t be the goal, it is a side effect of good work. Trust yourself and don´t be scared when facing challenges.

AOR Architects (Image:AOR)
AOR mukkula wooden pavilion (Image: AOR)
Jatkasaari school (Image: AOR)

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