The architecture school on the roof of the world

Oulu Architecture School
Oulu Architecture School
Oulu Architecture School

Sitting on the 65th parallel N, Oulu Architecture School is the most northerly on the planet. Founded over fifty years ago, the school has exercised a significant if understated counter-influence to Helsinki's magnetic pull on the country's architectural scene.

Rainer Mahlamäki, head of the International Studies, overviews the school

The department of architecture in Oulu – the world's northernmost – is part of the Oulu All education or research of building branch takes place in the department of architecture.

The department is located separately in the Oulu city centre as an independent campus apart from the other university facilities. The 8 historic wooden buildings together with the new building completed in 2003 provide outstanding facilities for the education of architects. 

In the department, ‘the school’, the teaching, research and the close communication between the teachers and the students provide a pleasant work community. The core of the instruction is the close interaction between the disciplines – which has proven to be successful.

The students reason the issues of various scales in their tasks. In Finland an additional though essential part of architectural education also includes a focus on urban and town planning. Planning and Design are therefore equally important in the study program of each student. For instance, the main task in the 3rd academic year is to design a housing area – this is made together with the laboratories of contemporary architecture, building performance and construction and urban design and town planning. The basis of learning is to experiment practical skills. Furthermore, the tasks include working with scale models.

For example, the basics of architecture (Contemporary Architecture I-II) include first steps in studying the interaction between the material, light and space. The model is made of wood, in scale of 1:20 or 1:25. The structure and the details are not quite precise, but they are in right direction.

The task continues in the second academic year, drawings by now should correspond to the main technical requirements in building. During the studies of Contemporary Architecture III-V (3rd to 5th academic year) the students are introduced to the design of public buildings by tasks and supportive lessons. The aim is that after finalizing their studies the student shall understand the design basics of a public building and is able to make an entry on their own, for, instance in an open public competition.

Sudent models
Click through for more images

The architects from Oulu school have been very successful in architecture competitions in recent years, mainly due to the fact that they are trained to possess design skills, not only theory.

The Oulu ‘school’ isn’t any longer a ‘movement’ like it was in the turn of the 70’s and the 80’s. During this period the school wished to stay out of the mainstream, to find another way for architecture – the roots of the Finnish postmodern movement was in Oulu.

Looking back from a contemporary perspective the Oulu school architecture intentionally aimed for a special and different kind of architecture in Finland and also aimed at uncovering a single identity and architectural expression.

Today the spectrum of the school is much wider and does not involve any such kinds of pathetic declamation. A primary characteristic for today’s architects from Oulu school is the sensitive use of materials, reductive thinking in architecture, and an interest in international architecture genres.

Through their work Oulu architects and students have shown that through 30 years of architectural education in Oulu continues to be alive and creating humane architecture of our times.

Rainer Mahlamäki is head of the International Studies at Oulu Architecture School and one of the founding directors of Lahdelma-Mahlamaki Architects.