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Architecture and Mourning

Hannele Kuusisto and Chris Hodson

Avanto Architects’ award winning Chapel of St. Lawrence, Vantaa, Finland is based on the concept of ‘the Path’, depicting a Christian’s journey from here to eternity. But it also most successfully reconciles the emotional needs of mourners with the pragmatic demands of funerals.

In an architectural competition held in 2003 the young architects’ design was chosen the winner from among 194 entries. The designers set out to fully understand the grieving process, as well as practical issues, by attending funerals. The resulting design aims to help the mourner, giving space for grief. Mourners follow a route through a series of areas punctuated by intermediate rooms preparing them for the next stage – guided along the route by a continuous skylight.

The new building is close to a 15th century church in an area classified as a nationally significant culturally historic environment. The new chapel ties together different aspects of the area without emphasising itself. The chapel connects with the graveyard, leaving the old buildings with their own boundaries and territories untouched. The chapel is also built to last, which is obvious from the limited palette of materials, including copper used extensively both internally and externally. The architects set the chapel a goal of a 200-year lifetime and a lifecycle simulator was used during the design. The building uses similar materials as the old structures in the area. The mass of the load-bearing solid masonry walls balances changes in temperature and moisture. Lightly plastered and whitewashed walls are a bright, tranquil background for the events taking place in the chapel spaces. The partition walls are insitu cast white concrete and the roof is patinated copper, like the roof of the church. Many of the ceilings are finished with removable, perforated copper trays. The glazed walls toward the graveyard in the chapels are covered with a patinated copper mesh which functions as a screen between the outside and the spaces of the chapel. The mesh also decreases heat loads from sunshine.

An open competition was held in the fall of 2007 for art to be commissioned for the chapel. The competition was scheduled before the final construction documents were drafted, so that the art could be integrated as a seamless part of the architecture. Pertti kukkonen was awarded the first prize with his work “the Way of the cross”. Kukkonen was able to utilize the solid masonry walls with his work. In addition to the main pieces, the walls have been inlaid with "spirits" that shine through the light plaster surface. Pertti Kukkonen was also responsible for hand patinating the copper surfaces of the chapel.

About the Architects

Avanto Architects Ltd is a partnership of two young and inventive Finnish architects, Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara. Avanto was established in 2004 when the partners won the cemetery chapel competition. Over the seven years they have worked together the duo have taken part in significant national and international architectural competitions, with great success.

Avanto means a hole in the ice for bathing in winter – a popular hobby in Finland – which symbolises the partnership’s design philosophy. They seek to create environments that evoke emotions by understanding and empathising with the people using the space; to make people feel and experience.

This article was published in 30/2011 issue of Copper Architecture Forum magazine.

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Chapel of St Lawrence, FinlandBy Hannele Kuusisto and Chris HodsonChapel of St Lawrence, Finland

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