Sam Gordon: My Week-Long journey Through Scandinavia

Name: Sam Gordon
Home University: Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Summer 2014 Courses at DIS: Livability in the Modern CityArchitecture and Foundations Studio and Visual Journal

After a very packed week traveling through both Sweden and Finland, it feels good to finally be back in the cozy confines of Copenhagen. We would start each day at around 7 in the morning, visit 2-3 sites throughout the day, and then usually finish up in the mid to late afternoon. It was exhausting! However, it was absolutely fascinating to view some of the buildings, spaces, and sites firsthand that we spent the first two weeks of the session studying intensively in the architecture studio.

It was also very interesting to compare other Scandinavian cultures to that of Denmark’s. While all three of these countries have very laid back cultures, they were brought up very differently as nations. Finland, for example, is a fairly new country in terms of it being an independent nation, as it gained its independence in 1917 following the Russian revolution. Prior to being a part of Russia, it had existed as a Swedish territory for many centuries. Because of all this, Finland seems to have a strong sense of pride as both a nation and culture, and we learned on our study tour how this can be seen through its architecture. I will touch on a few of my favorite parts of the trip.

Muuratsalo Summer House – Alvar Aalto

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto was designing buildings at a time when his country was searching for its true identity as a nation and culture. His designs embody this national identity crisis, as he attempts to create his version of what he believes should characterize Finnish architecture.

The building I spent the first two week of the session studying was Aalto’s Muuratsalo Summer House, also known as the ‘Experimental House.’ The house was built about five hours north of Helsinki on a rocky hill sloping upwards from a lake. The house is surrounded by birch trees and other greenery. The defining characteristic of the house is the outdoor courtyard which contains a fire pit in the middle. The building is organized around this courtyard and one also enters the building by walking through it. Aalto experimented with many different kinds of bricks (over fifty kinds) in the courtyard, which is why it is also called the Experimental House. While the courtyard exists as red because of the bricks, the rest of the house’s exterior is painted white. Because of this, the house will blend into its surroundings during Finland’s snow-covered months.


Myyrmaki Church

Another Finnish architectural feat that we had the opportunity to visit is the Myyrmaki Church in Vanda, Finland, designed by Juha Leiviska and finished in 1984. Situated alongside a railroad track in a dense cluster of birch trees, the Myyrmaki Church blends in well with its surroundings. This ability to blend in and adapt with the surrounding landscape seems to be a common characteristic of Finnish architecture. The side facing the train tracks is very flat and featureless, while the side facing the trees is characterized by an emphasis on vertical planes and windows. The verticality of the design is meant to blend the church in with the surrounding birch trees while also providing the sense of power that you get with older churches.

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The interior of the Myyramaki Church is absolutely beautiful. The tall glass windows which span the entire eastern side of the church let in the perfect amount of light. I cannot even explain in words how beautiful and well-lit the interior space was, so I will provide some photos.

A day in Stockholm

study tour1

The Swedish capitol is now my second favorite Scandinavian city just behind Copenhagen. I would say that Stockholm is a lot bigger and slightly less condensed, but the outdoor-oriented culture that I see here in Copenhagen is just as prevalent in the downtown areas of Stockholm (especially during these nice summer months). I was only there for a day, but pedestrians were completely packing the city’s busy shopping streets and waterfront areas.

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The oldest part of the city called Gamla Stan is my favorite neighborhood in the city, characterized by its winding streets and medieval facades. I always enjoy walking through a city’s oldest streets just because it allows me to truly get a feel for its history. Gamla Stan reminds me of the neighborhood in downtown Copenhagen that DIS is situated in, also characterized by its thin, cozy, winding streets.

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