Finland, the little big country of architecture

Helsinki Central Library Oodi.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi by ALA Architects, 2018. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo

Finland’s architecture is renowned worldwide. Our high standards of education and a long tradition of architecture competitions ensure that professional knowhow is passed on to the next generation. Compelling evidence for this can be seen in the current boom in ambitious school, library, church and other public buildings as well as in the success of Finnish architects in international competitions.

A white hall surrounded by staircases.
Jätkäsaari School, Helsinki, by AOR Architects, 2019. Photo: Pyry Kantonen

FOR 1920’S – 1950’S

Good governance and architecture have always gone hand-in-hand in Finland. High-quality public buildings designed by the best architects have underpinned the development of civic society and formed part of Finland’s national identity from the 19th century to the present. The Art Nouveau -inspired National Romantic style brought Finnish architecture and design, and Eliel Saarinen’s name, to international attention. 

However, the country is best known for its 20th-century architecture, with a strong modernist tradition spearheaded by Alvar Aalto and his 200 notable works, 50 of which can be found outside Finland. The vernacular tradition, with its simple forms and way of building with wood, has given vital impulses to Finnish Modernism and is strongly visible even in today’s Finnish architecture. Women have made a substancial contribution to the profession’s development: in the late 19th century, Finland was the first country where women could study to be architects.

A wooden building next to the sea.
Löyly Sauna and Restaurant, Helsinki, by Avanto Architexts, 2016. Photo: Kuvio Architectural Photography


Finns have a unique relationship with nature – and practical problem-solving lies at the core of our national character. No wonder then that the mainstay of Finnish architecture is closeness to nature paired with a strong tradition of modernism: a simple elegance that combines pragmatism with the highest standards and optimal use of materials.

This approach is also in demand outside of Finland, as demonstrated across the world by several famous buildings designed by Finns. In addition to the celebrated Aalto works, early examples include Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall, Eliel Saarinen’s Cranbrook Academy of Art Campus in Michigan and Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in Missouri.

Many of these were based on competition winning entries. More recent examples are the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects (2013) and the Fuzhou Strait Culture and Art Centre, China by PES Architects (2018). Today’s Finnish winners are increasingly outward-looking and internationally well-connected, young, emerging offices. Finland is also internationally known as a pioneer in architecture policy, architecture education for children and youth and conservation of modern architecture.

Children playing on peculiar brick shapes that have windows.
Amos Rex Art Museum, Helsinki, by JKMM Architexts, 2018. Photo: Mika Huisman.


Interest in Finnish architecture is widespread: in 2019, the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture ran a total of 18 exhibitions around the globe. In the same year, close to 135,000 architecture fans visited the museums’ exhibitions and sites in Finland.


Around 3,600 people are employed in Finland’s architecture sector, with around 600 partners and 2,500 employees working in private companies. In addition, each architectural project employs a high number of other professionals in the construction and cultural sectors.

Architecture firms account for around EUR 9 million in exports each year. Finland’s architectural export projects make a permanent statement in the recipient country since Finnish buildings are made to last decades.

Helsinki Central Library Oodi from the inside.
Helsinki Central Library Oodi by ALA Architects, 2018. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo.

Successes in architectural competitions and completed projects abroad and in Finland

The annual Finlandia Prize for Architecture highlights the successes of contemporary Finnish architecture and excellence in renovating the architecture of the past. Other examples of high-quality Finnish architecture are biannually featured in the Finnish Architecture Biennial Review exhibition. These and numerous other examples can be explored in depth in the Finnish Architecture Navigator. Produced by Archinfo Finland, the webservice features an expanding collection of selected Finnish architecture, from the history to today.

Visit the Finnish Architecture Navigator through this link.

More about Finnish architecture (links):

Archinfo Finland
Museum of Finnish Architecture 
Alvar Aalto Museum 

Finland, the little big country of architecture

This presentation offers basic information on Finnish architecture industry.