Skene Catling de la Pena architects along with the Factum foundation are renewing the Aalto-designed silo located in Oulu, Finland. Sited in the Topilla district of Oulu, this silo was designed by Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino Aalto in the year 1931. This wood-chipped structure was commissioned for a cellulose plant by the then local city council. Since its closing in the mid-1980s, the silo has been empty. The council attempted to reinvigorate the AALTOSIILO but was futile. Then decided to sell it off to parties that would ensure its future. 

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Toppila Silo_©photogrunskis

Factum Foundation had concerns that the structure required demolishing but the silo holds vital importance in terms of architectural heritage. The Factum Foundation is a non-profit organization that is working with Skene Catling de la Pena to convert the AALTOSILO into a cultural space. With this, they aim to promote architectural preservation and re-use.

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Charlotte Skene Catling_©The Architects’ Journal 

Completing award-winning projects around the world, Skene Catling de la Peña Architects is a practice based in London. Founded by Charlotte Skene Catling and Jaime de la Peña in 2003. With sites in London, New York, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing; they are famous for their innovative designs formed by rigorous research and idea exploration. 

Skene Catling de la Peña is apt for the AALTOSIILO project as they are experienced in the design and integration of contemporary projects and creating interventions within sensitive historic contexts such as Buckinghamshire and the Perm World Heritage site, Russia.

Skene Catling de la Peña believes that early-stage research leads to innovative solutions that have inherent integrity and beauty, parallelly producing economies.

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Flinthouse by Skene Catling de la Pena_©The Modern House
Aalto-designed silo into cultural events space to be transformed by Skene Catling de la Peña - Sheet4
Alvar Aalto_©Wikipedia
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Aino Aalto_©Finnish Design Shop

Alvar Aalto is a famous Finnish architect known for the experimental works mixed with nordic notes and modern style. The AALTOSIILO is a cathedral-like concrete structure that stands for Aalto’s philosophy, “Form must have a content, and that content must be linked with nature.”

Similar to Frank Loyd Wright’s attitude of work, Alvar Aalto’s projects are a work of art. He designs everything, the structure, materials, textile, furniture and lighting. After a phase of nordic classicism and functionalist architecture, from the late 1930s, the architectural expression of Aalto’s buildings became enriched by the use of organic forms, natural materials and increasing freedom in the handling of space. Then Aalto’s architectural practice was dominated principally by the design of public buildings.

This experimental and explorative taste is shared by Skene Catling de la Pena. The Toppila cellulose factory holds national importance and is a landmark of Finland. It became famous for its functionalist architecture, one of the firsts in Finland and exposure to the opportunities in industrial architecture. This transformation aims to carry the importance the AALTOSIILO held. Skene Catling de la Pena and the Factum Foundation will try their best to maintain the silo’s original design but remodel it into a multi-sensory and multi-functional space. 

The new Silo will be an example of future possibilities, the centre will highlight technology’s role in creating a new world. It will include recording, training and sharing of networks. It will be a cabinet of curiosity that will cater to generations of technology.

Both Skene Catling de la Pen architects and Factum Foundation will design a centre that will radiate Aalto’s intention of the silo. The Toppila Silo is an example of the innovative approach to architecture and experimental engineering that characterises the work of Alvar and Aino Aalto from this period. 

One of Aalto’s earliest industrial works, this 28-meter high structure was designed to store wood chips. The silo is enclosed by 100m thin concrete fins that are held by in-situ cast-concrete ring beams. Unlike his completely classical and functionalist style, Aalto had an organic approach to his design for the silo. He used steel hoppers to hold the whole structure together. 

Skene Catling de la Peña will restore and revamp the AALTOSIILO and design a research centre on the site beside it. The studio will keep to the roots of Aalto’s project that smartly used concrete and played with its properties. Skene Catling de la Peña is exploring novel forms of “green” concrete and “self-healing” concrete. Thus, creating a centre using green materials and technologies, satisfying the purpose of the centre too!

Toppila Pulp Mill_©photogrunskis

The Brutalism Appreciation Society announced that the silo would be auctioned off, this caught the attention of Charlotte Skene Catling. The silo was bought at €6,250 and the project started around November 2020.

The national heritage site will be a centre for experimenting with different styles and exploring technology just like the Topilla silo’s concept and Skene Catling de la Peña’s designs. It will continue to be a statement of industrial architecture and hold Alvar Aalto’s and Aino Alto’s vision for architecture.

References

Cajsa Carlson. Dezeen. [online]. Available at:https://www.dezeen.com/2021/03/23/aaltosiilo-skene-catling-de-la-pena-alvar-aalto-silo/[Accessed date: 1/04/2021].

World Architectural Community. Skene Catling de la Peña to transfrom Alvar Aalto’s iconic Toppila Silo into research centre in Oulu. [online]. Available at:https://worldarchitecture.org/article-links/evzec/skene-catling-de-la-pea-to-transfrom-alvar-aalto-s-iconic-toppila-silo-into-research-centre-in-oulu.html[Accessed date: 3/04/2021].

Photogrunskis.com. Silo designed by Alvar Aalto. Former pulp mill in Toppila. Oulu, Finland. – PHOTOGRUNSKIS. [online]. Available at:http://photogrunskis.com/2019/04/13/silo-designed-by-alvar-aalto-former-pulp-mill-in-toppila-oulu-finland/[ Accessed date: 4/04/2021].

designboom | architecture & design magazine. alvar aalto’s concrete silo to be turned into research center. [online]. Available at:https://www.designboom.com/architecture/alvar-aalto-concrete-silo-research-center-skene-catling-de-la-pena-03-09-2021/[ Accessed date: 1/04/2021].

Architizer. Skene Catling de la Peña. [online]. Available at:https://architizer.com/firms/skene-catling-de-la-pena/[ Accessed date: 1/04/2021].

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