A glossy stainless steel surface reflects the adjacent sea on the Seurasaari island of Helsinki, forming the roof of a newly finished monument that echoes the mythology of the Kalevala, Finland’s national epic.
Architect Travis Price explains the use of stainless steel in the installation, the culmination of a design-build student project inspired by the Kalevala: “Stainless steel has enabled us to create expressive architecture that evokes the mystery of the saga and its epic proportions. Stainless translates mystery into form.”
The project – Kalevalakehto / The Shaman’s Haven of the Kalevala – was designed by a group of U.S. and Finnish students from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and Aalto University in Helsinki, as part of the Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design program headed by Price. The program leads architecture students to create meaningful monuments that celebrate local cultural traditions by means of modern design.
The monument in Seurasaari is a small pavilion used as a place for meeting and reflection. It was built by the students with the help of local artisans over ten days in late August 2010.
The stainless steel roof of the pavilion is a compound curve suggestive of a cracking egg, reflecting the Kalevala’s story of the earth’s creation. “The strength of stainless steel enabled our trick to create this highly fragile image, allowing the use of very thin material to build the complex shape,” Price explains. “The real beauty of stainless is the ability to use the least amount of material combined with the most power.”
Another important value with the design is ecology. “Stainless steel is one of the most ecological materials – a living example against throwawayism,” Price confirms.
In addition to stainless steel, The Shaman’s Haven of the Kalevala is built out of wood and glass. The stainless roof “floats” on the wooden body of the structure, supported by “invisible” glass. Reflective bright-annealed stainless also clads the ceiling, creating an interplay of light inside the pavilion.
From the outside, the stainless roof reflects the clouds, and gives an impression that what would be heavy is as light as air. On the inside, the reflections of the surrounding sea offer the sense that the ceiling is carried by the waves and melts into the sky.
The roof and ceiling were realized using bright annealed, grade EN 1.4404 (AISI 316) austenitic stainless steel supplied by Outokumpu. Most elements were prefabricated to speed construction, with final assembly and crafting by hand on site.
Outokumpu also supplied stainless steel tube sections, which were bolted into granite to form the base of the structure, as well as structural stainless plate sections used to build the support structure of the roof. The plate sections were manufactured by water jet cutting at the Outokumpu Plate Service Center in Jyväskylä, Finland.
Risto Schildt, an Outokumpu specialist in architectural applications of stainless steel, comments on the project: “This installation is a prime example of the many possibilities of stainless steel in architecture.”
He elaborates, “Stainless steel is widely used in projects realized with the most demanding structural solutions and complex forms, which are enabled by the excellent properties of the material including fabricability. Stainless steel is used in projects as diverse as churches, cultural centers, office and commercial buildings, and sport stadiums.”
Schildt points out that stainless steel is ideal for architectural applications due to the long and largely maintenance-free service lives enabled by the material. In addition, stainless steel offers architects a wealth of choices thanks to the broad selection of grades and surface finishes available.
Photos courtesy of Travis L. Price, FAIA; Arno de la Chapelle; and Outokumpu.