Finland, the little big country of architecture

”Kaisa House”, The University of Helsinki City Campus Main Library (2012), Anttinen Oiva Architects Photo: Sakari Piippo, Prime Minister’s Office

Finland’s architecture is renowned worldwide. Our high standards of education and a long tradition of architecture competitions ensures 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.

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 important impulses to Finnish modernism, and is strongly visible even in today’s Finnish architecture. Women have made a strong contribution to the profession’s development: in the late 19th century, Finland was the first country where women could study to be architects.

Kamppi chapel of silence, Helsinki (2012) K2S architects Photo: Marko Huttunen


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.

There is demand for this approach outside Finland too, as demonstrated by several famous Finnish-designed buildings across the world. In addition to the celebrated Aalto works, early examples include Viljo Revell’s Toronto City Hall and Eero Saarinen’s Gateway Arch in Missouri, for example.

Many of these were based on competition winning entries. More recent examples are the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw by Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects and the Wuxi Grand Theatre in China by PES Architects. Today’s Finnish winners are increasingly outward-looking and internationally well-connected, young, emerging offices. Finland is also internationally known as a pioneer in architectural policy, architectural education for children and conservation of modern architecture.

Kilden Performing arts centre, Kristiansand, Norway (2012) ALA architects Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo


Interest in Finnish architecture is widespread: in 2015, the Alvar Aalto Museum and the Museum of Finnish Architecture ran a total of 31 exhibitions around the globe. In the same year, in total close to 60.000 architecture fans, half coming from overseas, visited the museums’ exhibitions and sites in Finland.


Around 3,000 people are employed in Finland’s architecture sector, with around 500 partners and 1,500 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 7.5 million in exports each year. Finland’s architectural export projects make a permanent statement in the country concerned, since Finnish buildings are made to last decades.

Recent successes in architectural competitions and completed projects abroad and in Finland

Excellent examples of contemporary high-quality Finnish architecture are biannually featured in the curated Finnish Architecture Biennial Review exhibition organised by the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Finnish Association of Architects SAFA and the Alvar Aalto Museum.

  • Architects NRT – Aalto University Undergraduate Centre renovation, Espoo, Finland, (1976/2015)
  • Hannunkari & Mäkipaja Architects – Harjannetie 44 Affordable Housing, Helsinki, Finland (2013)
  • ARK-house Architects – Helsingin Malta Housing Co-Operative, Helsinki, Finland (2014)
  • Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects – Kastelli School and Community Centre, Oulu, Finland (2014)
  • Juha Leiviskä, Helander Leiviskä Architects, Kati Murtola – Kipparintalo, Helsinki, Finland (2015)
  • Komitu – Kouk Khleang Youth Centre, Phnom Penh, Cambodia (2014)
  • JKMM Architects – OP Headquarters, Helsinki, Finland (2015)
  • Esa Ruskeepää Architects – Opinmäki School and Learning Centre, Espoo, Finland (2015)
  • OOPEAA Office for Peripheral Architecture – Puukuokka Housing, Jyväskylä, Finland (2015)
  • ALA Architects, Renovation and extension of Kuopio City Theatre, Kuopio, Finland (2014)
  • SARC Architects – Renovation of Meilahti Tower Hospital, Helsinki, Finland, (1965/2014)
  • LPR Architects Ltd – Renovation of the Presidential Palace, Helsinki, Finland, (1820/2014)
  • The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of Viipuri Library – Restoration of Viipuri Library, Vyborg, Russia, (1935/2013)
  • MX_SI architectural studio, Huttunen–Lipasti–Pakkanen – Serlachius Museum, Gösta’s Pavilion, Mänttä, Finland (2015)
  • SIGGE Architects – Tipotie Social Services and Health Centre, Tampere, Finland (2013)

Other recent projects in Finland and abroad include:

  • Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw, Poland (2005/2013)
  • ALA Aarchitects, Performing Arts Centre Kilden, Kristiansand, Norway (2005/2012),
  • Helsinki Central Library, Finland (2013-)
  • JKMM Architects -, Seinäjoki City Library (2008/2012)
  • Anttinen Oiva Architects, “Kaisa House”, The University of Helsinki City Campus Main Library, Finland (2008/2012)
  • Verstas Architects, Otaniemi Campus Buildings, Espoo, Finland, (2013-)
  • PES Architects, Wuxi Grand Theatre, Wuxi, China (2008/2011)

These and numerous other projects can be explored in depth in The Finnish Architecture Navigator NAVI . Produced by The Architecture Information Centre Finland, this new online database of Finnish architecture was launched in 2016 and features a growing collection of Finnish architecture from different decades.

Learn more about Finnish architecture

Architecture Information Centre Finland 
Museum of Finnish Architecture 
Alvar Aalto Museum 

Finland, the little big country of architecture