Finland is a European country which shares borders with Russia, Sweden, Estonia, and Norway. The country has a population of five and a half million and covers an area of three hundred and thirty-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-five square kilometres. Finland possesses more than one hundred and eight thousand lakes and taiga. Although a very homogeneous country with Finnish being the dominant ethnic group, there are other ethnic groups in Finland such as Sami, Roma, Finland-Swedes, Somalians, Iraqis, Russians, and Estonians. The country’s climate is boreal and humid continental. Finland possesses over eight hundred years of architecture. The main building material for public and private buildings during this period was wood due to the predominant forests. Stones were also used as a material for construction, although not as predominant as wood, and they can be found in castles, stone churches and fortresses. Architecture of Finland has also contributed a lot to some styles of architecture including Functionalism, Art Nouveau and Nordic Classicism.

Finland is also home to one of the most notable modernist architects, Alvar Aalto with notable works such as Baker House dormitory and Viipuri Library. Alvar Aalto was a major figure in bringing modernist architecture’s functionality and organic style to Finland. This article will focus on the past, present, and future of architecture in Finland under the cultural, political dynamics, demographics, and modernization.

Culture | Architecture of Finland

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of Finland - Sheet1
Chimneyless sauna building in Enonkoski _©SM

Sauna is very popular and readily accessible to all in Finland, with over three million saunas in a country of five and a half million populaces. The oldest known saunas in Finland were made from pits dug into a slope in the ground and primarily used as dwellings in the wintertime. It is a type of dry steam bath with a temperature degree of 60 – 120 °C, whose purpose is to thoroughly cleanse the body through bathing and open pores in the skin through heat. Building a sauna starts with a small log building buried a bit in the earth. The wood type used for a sauna foundation is very important due to factors such as thermal comfort, water resistance, decay and mould resistance and resistance to warping, expanding, cracking and shrinking. The recommended wood type is cedar due to its insulating ability and ability to handle moisture well. Saunas floors are made of either concrete, tile or wood, and the interior is insulated with an aluminium vapour barrier and standard fibreglass.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of Finland - Sheet2
_Sauna interior of Löyly _©

Saunas are a very important cultural heritage among the Finnish people, saunas have modernized with the evolution of time and the most popular saunas are presently run by electricity. Traditional saunas were heated by wood burned by a stove with the presence of a chimney for smoke escape, or without a chimney. They had no windows and were heated by the kiuas (pile of rocks) through the burning wood in large amounts, the smoke escapes through a hatch before entering to create löyly (sauna heat). The traditional saunas also include processes such as swimming in a lake for cooling while the saunas are brought perspiring as a result of the heat they produce. The traditional saunas with no chimney are known as smoke saunas, and they were used for curing meats and as a childbirth environment and bathe due to their sterility. Smoke saunas are no longer common in Finland, although the locals still believe it is they are the best. Public saunas were also a popular choice among the Finnish people during a particular period, but the use of public saunas has decreased due to their availability in also every home, leading to the closure of many public saunas. The new saunas designs are the continuously heated sauna with are faster to heat up and provide better heat and cleanliness. These saunas are heated majorly by electricity and are known as infrared saunas. The future of saunas will involve using 3D modelling to design and produce these saunas and are transported to where they are needed. Saunas will also be designed with sustainability in view, with the use of modern fabrication technology and software.

Political dynamics

Finland started as a national movement in 1809 after it was granted the autonomous grand duchy status after its territorial struggles under Swedish and Russian conquest. Finland was finally granted independence as a country in 1917 after being under Russian rule. After the independence of Finland, the capital of Finland was moved from Turku to Helsinki in 1812. Carl Ludwig Engel, a German architect, developed Helsinki into a classicist centre to bring self-esteem to the Finnish grand duchy. The search for a Finnish independent style of architecture was led by Aalto and Saarinen in 1890. Saarinen created the Finnish National Romanticism through the combination of elements of Art Nouveau and Historicism with Finnish traditional building material, which is wood.

The Finnish Architects Club was established in 1892. The association started voluntarily, and it was a forum meant for discussion and collaboration with the profession. The architectural policy program of the Finnish government was launched officially on December 17, 1998. The policy process was executed as a result of efforts by architectural institutions and associations.

Modernization | Architecture of Finland

Kota hut is the oldest recognized dwelling structure in Finland, and it is a tent covered with timber, fabric, or moss. The building type is also known as goahiti was popular among the Sami people and remains in use by them. The building was set up using the corner joining technique, which involved forming tightly secured joints by logs laid horizontally in succession and notched at the ends. The Kota huts are made of a rectangular plan with a low-pitched saddle-black roof and single interior space.

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King’s Gate on Suomenlinna _© Jussi Hellsten

 Stone construction was initially rare in Finland, with the use in churches and castles construction. It became increasingly popular due to the need to protect the city by creating fortresses against perceived opposition, and also for the construction of different churches. Heavy granite stones were used for these castle constructions. These buildings were majorly a single interior space and possess massive walls. The dominance of Sweden after expanding into Finland also brought and defined the architecture of the period. This period was characterized by vernacular-style single-storey wooden buildings on a grid street plan.

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Senate Square in Helsinki _©Anton Ehrola

Neoclassical was a style of architecture was developed in Finland majorly by Johan Albrecht Ehrenström, a military engineer under the orders of the czar. The style is characterized by simple geometric forms, detailing using the Roman, Doric or Greek order, grand scale volumes and dramatic columns. Neoclassical architecture aimed to remove the excesses of the Baroque style of architecture.

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Uspenski Cathedral _©Jussi Hellsten, Architecture of Finland

Russian rule over Finland influenced their style of architecture. The Russian-Byzantine architecture style was started in 1830 by Konstantin Thon in the Russian Empire. The style reflected the cultural self-sufficiency idea of Russia and the concept of nationality. The style was also seen in Helsinki, Finland with the Uspenski Cathedral, an example of Russian-Byzantine architecture. The cathedral was built with red bricks, and it includes a central dome supported by granite pillars.

Past, Present and Future: Architecture of Finland - Sheet6
Jyväskylä University, Jyväskylä _© Nico Saieh

Modern architecture was popular in Finland with Aalto Alvar, a Finnish architect, a major proponent of this style of architecture. The modern architectural style involved the use of new technologies such as reinforced concrete, steel, and glass to build. This style of architecture also created the school of thought that embraced minimalism and reduced the ornamentation of buildings (Form follows function). The father of modernism (Alvar Aalto) was Finnish, and he developed his unique style of modern architecture through the use of local materials (wood) and embracing functionality.

Löyly _©

The increased adoption of wood to create sustainable and contemporary architecture is on a rise in Finland. Wood has been adopted after much research into building materials that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the building sector. The last two decades have seen the increased development of Finnish wood architecture through key projects such as pavilions, all-wooden multi-storey flats and churches.

References | Architecture of Finland

  1. Wikipedia contributors (2022a) Architecture of Finland, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Available at:
  2. Wikipedia contributors (2022b) Finnish sauna, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Available at:
  3. UNESCO – Sauna culture in Finland (no date) Available at: (Accessed: June 27, 2022).
  4. Sauna projects: A round up of some of the world’s most innovative sauna designs (no date) Available at: (Accessed: June 27, 2022).
  5. Designboom (no date) designboom | architecture & design magazine. Designboom. Available at: (Accessed: June 27, 2022).
  6. Design and architecture – OKM – Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland (no date) Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriö. Available at: (Accessed: June 27, 2022).
  7. Froebe, T. (2021) Architectural policy in Finland: Architecture as civic education. Jovis Verlag. doi: 10.1515/9783868599381.

Chukwuebuka is an architecture student and an amateur writer using his skills to express his ideas to the world. He has written a few articles for DAPC Uniben and he is adventuring to become a popular writer.