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Review> Finn Style
Minneapolis Institute of Arts honors Finland's contribution to design.
Kamppi Chapel of Silence, Helsinki, 2008812 by K2S Architects.
Marko Huttunen

Finland: Designed Environments
Minneapolis Institute of Art
2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis
Through August 17

Think Finnish design and Alvar Aalto comes to mind. Right? But what about Angry Birds? In addition to being home to some of the world’s most important designers of furnishings, buildings, and textiles, Finland also has a thriving industry in game design. Rovio Entertainment’s popular online game is just one of the surprises in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ exhibition Finland: Designed Environments, on view through August 17.

Assembled by associate curator Jennifer Komar Olivarez, the exhibition includes 60 objects and photos of 16 architecture projects that portray how design and design thinking are an integral part of everyday life in Finland—from birth, actually. A remarkable entry from a social-safety net perspective is the Finnish government’s Sukupuu (Family Tree) maternity package issued to new babies. Originated in 1938, the 2012 version in the show by Johanna Öst Häggblom is a whimsically designed box (which doubles as a bassinet) stuffed with sleepers, blankets, diapers, and even a snowsuit.

Eero Aarnio’s Double Bubble lamp, 2000 (left). Tapio Antilla and Merita Soini's Palikka stool, 2005–8 (right).
Courtesy; Tapio Anttila

A childlike curiosity and playfulness permeate many of the objects on display—along with a keen attention to functionality, natural forms, and sustainability. Hannu Kähönen’s chairs constructed of wood fruit crates, Tapio Antilla’s stool/table fashioned out of wood scraps bound with a ratchet strap, Samuli Naamanka’s lobby chair of steel, biodegradable linen, and corn, and Heikki Ruoho’s cardboard furniture can be used, then burned or recycled.

Of course, beauty born of simplicity is evident in the furnishings as well. Birch is bent into the simplest of forms for lamps and chairs. Eero Aarnio’s cast-plastic light-therapy lamps juxtapose squares or bulbous shapes in minimalist yet evocative ways. Distilling form and function to its essence is also evident in Karin Widnäs’ 75th-anniversary, stoneware dinner service for the Savoy Restaurant in Helsinki and Pentagon Design’s sleek “Five Senses” series of multisensory objects.

Bagley Nature Center, University of Minnesota, Duluth, 2010 by David Salmela.
Paul Crosby

The exhibition is divided into five thematic areas, with arguably the most sensual objects located in the “Design and the Body” area. Here Marita Huurinainen’s ethereal wood-nymph sheath dress of wool and peat; her Wave shoes of birch, rosewood, and leather; and her clamshell-like Laine handbag of beech wood beg to be touched, held, experienced, worn.

The unbreakable relationship between Finns and nature is also reflected in the “Relax, Recharge, and Reflect” section, which includes images of artfully designed saunas and cabins, as well as a Fiskars axe, Rapala fishing lures, and Alexander Lervik’s remarkable “Sense Light Swing.”

Finnish design is applied on a different scale in the infrastructure and planning of cities, from such micro initiatives as customizing trams to accommodate bulky winter clothing and creating a bicycle almost anyone can easily ride, to linking the city of Kuopio to an adjacent archipelago via a parkway accessible by foot, bicycle, or transit.

Four-cornered villa (Knudsen vacation home), 2010, Virrat, Finland by Avanto Architects (left). Sauna, 2005, Kelujärvi, Sodankylä, Finland by Olavi Koponen (right).
Courtesy; Olavi Koponen

Photographs of such iconic Finnish architecture as the proposed public and urban Hernesaari Saunas (Avanto Architects), and Kamppi Chapel of Silence (K2S Architects)—with their clean, yet sumptuously curving wood forms—enticingly reinforce what we’ve come to expect from the best in Finnish buildings. And yet the Finns are ever evolving in their approaches to design, as evidenced by the Hollmén Reuter Sandman’s Women’s Center in Rufisque, Senegal, which hybridizes traditional African architecture and Finnish design innovations.

Finland: Designed Environments is part of FinnFest USA, a celebration August 7 to 10 marking the 150th anniversary of Finnish immigration to the United States, which originated with the 1864 arrival of Finnish settlers in Red Wing, Minnesota.

So while Helsinki was named World Design Capital in 2012—and the exhibition marks that occasion with commemorative objects and photos of the city’s celebratory light-filled pavilion—Minnesota’s own singular Finnish-American architect is included in the show as well. The Bagley Nature Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, designed by David Salmela, demonstrates the architect’s keen attention to form, nature, and sustainability. The crossover is complete.

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is a Minneapolis-based writer.