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Timo Penttilä and Juha Leiviskä, Architects
Finnish Architects: Architecture Information + Design Studio
14 Mar 2016
Finnish Architects Timo Penttilä and Juha Leiviskä
The great(est) unknowns
Article by Lari Ala-Pöllänen
Week 11 will mark the anniversaries of two important, but still somewhat obscure Finnish Modernist architects: Timo Penttilä (16 March 1931 – 25 February 2011) would have turned 85 years on Wednesday, and Juha Leiviskä (born 17 March 1936) will celebrate his 80th birthday on Thursday.
Timo Penttilä started off as some kind of a prodigy of Finnish architecture. He came to international fame with the Helsinki city theatre (1961-67), which Sigfried Giedion included in the late editions of his “Space, Time and Architecture”. However in Finland the design met some quite heavy criticism from fellow architects on the political left (which at the time meant a bit different than today), who deemed the theatre to be “expressionistic”. Penttilä left Finland to teach and lecture in UC Berkeley (USA) 1968-69 and later became a professor in Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna (Austria) 1980-1996. Towards the end of his life Penttilä was apparently somewhat embittered; he ordered his office archives to be destroyed, and the only drawings we have of a large part of his work are from magazines and other secondary sources.
Penttilä died unexpectedly in 2011, after having caught a fever while staying at his cottage in Lapland. After his death there has been something of a revival about his work. His former students in Vienna formed the Timo Penttilä Society (timopenttila.org) and his fiercely critical book on architectural theory, “Oikeat ja väärät arkkitehdit” was published posthumously in Finland. In 2015 Roger Connah published “Timo Penttilä; School of Exile”, containing passages of Penttilä’s writings in English. One wonders if the recognition came a bit too late; for instance one of Penttilä’s key works, the office building for Suomen sokeri in Tapiola was lately demolished without much of a public conversation. (I was driving past the demolition site with a rather prominent Finnish architect who, when I mentioned about the fact, wasn’t aware that the building was designed by Penttilä).
Like Penttilä, Juha Leiviskä has been somewhat tentative about engaging in the usual self-promotion or polemic about architectural theory, which seem to be the ways to keep one’s head above the water in the present day stream of architectural fluff. This is likely to explain his limited conspicuousness among the profession and the general public. However quite unlike Penttilä, Leiviskä has received a fair amount of formal recognition in Finland and elsewhere, most notably he was nominated as the academician of architecture in the Academy of Finland, a title previously held only by Alvar Aalto and Reima Pietilä. Leiviskä is also one of three architects who received the Carlsberg prize, other laureates being Tadao Ando and Peter Zumthor.
However Leiviskä still remains largely unknown, especially considering the importance of his work. It is ironic that his name has come up more than once in texts that mention the absence of his work in architectural anthologies. I’ve been intrigued by Leiviskä’s architecture since my teens, and I still find it as a bottomless well of knowledge; it’s endlessly versatile and defies categorisation. His buildings could serve as a source of inspiration beyond the often mentioned mastery of daylight, as exemplified by his churches like the one in Myyrmäki. Among other things his work presents a wealth of varying site strategies resulting in unmatched contextual sensibility, going well beyond the conventional scope of mimicry or ignorance of the surroundings. We shouldn’t miss the opportunity to give Leiviskä the recognition he deserves before it’s too late.
Finnish architect and academician Juha Leiviskä will have his 80th birthday on the 17th of March.
Article by Lari Ala-Pöllänen, Student of Architecture (BSc/MArch), Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University
Juha Leiviskä Architecture
Featured Buildings by Juha Leiviskä, alphabetical:
Location:Bangatan 1, 00120 Helsingfors, Finland ‘