We were largely inspired by the history of the building and the strong connection to nature brought by its location.” says Juha Mäki-Jyllilä, the main designer behind this arts and congress centre in Hämeenlinna in the south of Finland.

The aim was to keep the old mill complex while carefully integrating new buildings and recent concepts. They wanted to create a modern centre for contemporary art and culture practices without losing the evidence of the building’s historical significance. “Many Finish culture centres are minimalist and have a lot of white spaces and surfaces. We wanted to create something rough and use more colour” he explains. 

The new building is created out of red brick, Corten-steel, glass and concrete, while the interior is kept equally sober with ceramics, rubber, dark coloured oak, rusted steel and wool textiles. The sombre atmosphere produced by rustic, earthy materials is broken up by strong, basic colours on textiles. The core of the building is a spacious and bright, glazed courtyard located in the centre of the complex, over-looking Vanajavesi waterfront park, allowing a bracing connection to nature.

The furniture design is kept minimalist and unpretentious with identical, black, wooden chairs used throughout the building. Apart from a small number of bright textiles and surfaces, mainly used in the restaurants and upper foyers, colour is used sparingly and in moderation. “We wanted to keep it classic as a whole but to make the details sharp and colourful. It fits with the original character of the building. We also aimed at creating a strong contrast between natural materials like concrete and the soft and colourful textiles.” says Mäki-Jyllilä about this large and complex project. 

The frequent addition of glass to ceilings and walls enables an astonishing interaction between bright, natural light and deep-coloured, coarse surfaces. Dark woods are present throughout and are strong reminders of traditional Finish craftsmanship even in the most technologically sophisticated spaces.  

The building is host to a large number of diverse activities and is made up of a concert hall, four film theatres, exhibition halls and restaurants, all equipped with the latest state-of-the-art digital technology. In the future, large parts of the old factory will be renovated to house new functions, mainly educational and atelier spaces.

The article was published in the Foruam AID Awards Supplement 2008