Sami Cultural Center Sajos in Inari, Finland. Photo by Mika Huisman

The current social and cultural global climate around the planet inevitably passes through building shapes which tend to be always similar to each other everywhere in the world. The uniformity of the architectural languages, made of “universal” shapes and materials is the scenario within the citizen of the world travels. But it can also happen that historical and social values which are locally rooted find expression in bright architectures which, even with an international breadth, can communicate a message of singularity and speciality. This is the example of the Sami Cultural Centre in Inari, Finland, historical and cultural town populated by the Lapland Sami minority, a local population in the extreme north of Europe, occupied in hunting and fishing for centuries which became stationary only in the 1950’s. Thanks to the European Union funds for the development of the ethnical minorities, in 2008 an architectural competition was issued for a centre where this population could have the chance to promote and preserve their own historical and cultural values as well as the language and to carry out their own activities.

The winning practice, Halo Architects, is a team of young successors of the most representative northern architectural tradition, which included Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen, which, enriched with landscape and ethnical additions, has been of inspiration for an organic and majestic architectural shape which is discreet at the same time. An architecture which is an icon of Scandinavian design, shaped around the local rare and rich landscape: a forest with very old trees which have been entirely protected from constructions, and the banks of the river Juutua.

The floorplan of the building which some would like to compare to the ribs of an animal and some others to Sami artefacts, for sure pursues in the first instance the objective of being located with grace and respect within the natural context safeguarding the old tree species, whose growth at certain latitudes is extremely slow, and to be visually embraced by the forest itself. The free plan is obtained conceiving the entire in situ reinforced concrete structure. The facade, a continuous element made of full-height solid fir-tree planks treated only with iron sulphates to allow the natural chromatic ageing process, unravels in the woods like a band with an unusual path which surprises at any change of direction, of solar exposure, of material at the back, and lets being permeated by the light in an ever changing way.

The centre is not just a place for the cultural development of the local population, moreover it represents the key centre for the safeguarding and development of the Sami tradition diffused in the Scandinavian countries (of the 70,000 living Sami currently 30,000 live in Norway and the others are spread between Sweden and northern Finland). Therefore the building included offices, a large library, restaurants but also a parliamentary hall with a versatile acoustic arrangement for projections and live events. The spectacular entrance lobby shows immediately the two curved volumes of the auditorium and of the parliamentary hall on the ground floor, while on the upper levels there are the offices of the eight organisations which operate in the building, the multi-use hall, meeting rooms and classrooms.

Along the entire perimeter, bordering the large curved volumes of the parliament and of the auditorium, there are the administration, some audio-visual rooms and the classrooms where regularly seminars and lectures are hosted. In these spaces, where personnel work on a daily basis, the positive visual relation with the surrounding nature and the direct solar radiation are privileged.

Project card
Architectural Design: Halo Architects - Janne Laukka e Tuomas Niemela
Client: Senate Properties
Construction period: 2008-2012
Gross area: 4.800 mq
Cost: 5 million euros