Interview with Architect JuhaniPallasmaa
What role did your Finnish childhood play in developing your point of view?
I have never regarded architecture as my profession. It has been a window through which I look at the world. Such an attitude immediately puts you in a different position in relation to your work. Architecture has always been my way of getting to know the world, myself, and other people. It has also served my sense of curiosity more than anything else.
I guess early intellectual and emotional experiences are important and I was very fortunate to work at the Museum of Finnish Architecture ever since I was a second-year student. The best architects in my country used to meet there and most of them were a generation or two older than I was, but they always accepted me as an interlocutor. I would listen to the conversations of wise colleagues early on. In Finland in those days, there were no large offices at all (Alvar Aalto had perhaps twenty people at that time at most), and so I felt that all of these architects had an existential and philosophical orientation in relation to their work rather than a professional [sic] one.
I have grown in a situation where architecture is fully integrated with the architect’s life. As a consequence, I have never seen any difference between work and life, or work and vacation. They are all the same continuum of life for me. And, at the age of seventy-five, I still feel that I am an amateur, a beginner.
You are wildly multidisciplinary, Please brief on this aspect.
Yes I do all kinds of things. I have been a farmhand, a construction worker, an administrator, a university rector, a graphic and product designer, etc…but I do everything through an architect’s eyes and mindset. However, I don’t mean architect as a professional, but as an archetype, a “-smith,” as it were. A blacksmith would not be a professional, but almost a mythical person. In the same way I regard an architect as a supporter of the mythical dimensions of life, not a professional.
How would you define your responsibility as an architect?
I have always been concerned of doing things that will not serve any of my purpose that does not express me, but express and clarify how things are. I think architecture can clarify that existential base against which human acts and relations are seen and understood. That is my concern. I could not think of doing work as self-expression. It would be intolerable if I found myself doing work like that. I would know that I have gone crazy.
Is silence in architecture one of the most profound qualities of architecture?
I would quote Louis Kahn on silence and light. They go together and it’s the height of architectural impact.
There are also other possibilities. For instance, when you climb to Pharaoh’s chamber in the Cheops pyramid, it rises in a forty-five-degree angle inside a huge mass of stone. It is so narrow that two persons can only pass by turning sideways. The feeling of the weight and mass of the stone is incredible. Many of the travellers cannot take it and run down the steep stairs in panic. So, one can have a very strong spatial experience completely without light. And, I guess silence is important to me as a country boy, because that’s what I still am in my heart. I grew up in silence.
Source: National Building Museum