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Copper Awards: Winner

Chapel of St Lawrence Vantaa, Finland Avanto Arkkitehdit

This dedicated cemetery chapel aims to reconcile the emotional needs of mourners with the pragmatic demands of funerals. The deceased are brought into the building along a separate route to the cooled, lower-level preparation areas. Above, the ground-floor plan defines a symbolic route through a series of areas punctuated by intermediate rooms preparing mourners for the next stage, guided by a continuous skylight. This realises the central concept of a polku or a ‘path’ − man’s journey from mortality to eternity.

Separate entrances, each with its own quiet garden, serve two chapels that can be used concurrently. Low, dimly-lit reception areas allow reflection while separate groups of mourners wait for chapels to become available. Stairs lead down to an intimate area where close family can view the open coffin. The chapels terminate the straight routes from the entrances with a symbolic ‘final turning point’ where mourners bid farewell and leave the deceased behind them. The path turns toward the unknown, but goes on.

The new building is close to a 15th-century church in an area classed as a nationally significant, culturally historic environment.
The volume links disparate elements in the surroundings without appearing as a singular building mass, allowing the medieval stone church and bell tower to dominate the village. It also connects with the graveyard, leaving the complex of old buildings with their own boundaries and territories untouched.

The building uses similar materials as the old structures in the area. The mass of the load-bearing solid masonry walls balances changes in temperature and moisture. Lightly plastered and whitewashed walls form a tranquil background for events in the chapel. The partition walls are in-situ cast white concrete and the roof is patinated copper, like that of the old church. Many ceilings are finished with removable, perforated copper trays. The glazed walls toward the graveyard are covered with a patinated copper mesh, which functions as a screen between the outside and the internal spaces of the chapel. The mesh tempers thermal gain from the sun.


The jury found this project for a funeral chapel a highly compelling and atmospheric study in the handling of space, light and materials. White walls are counterpointed by roofs and ceilings made of patinated copper. Each panel was patinated by hand, so the copper has exquisitely sensuous colour and texture. Patinated copper mesh panels also screen the glazed walls overlooking an adjoining churchyard. The jury was very impressed by the high level of craft and technical skills involved, and how the material was used to evoke a wonderfully tranquil sense of the numinous, creating an appropriately solemn yet nonetheless uplifting setting for the immemorial rituals of death and parting.

Chris Hodson interviewed Avanto Arkkitehdit partner Anu Puustinen at the practice’s offices in Helsinki

CHRIS HODSON How did Avanto come into being and how is it developing now?
ANU PUUSTINEN Ville Hara and I set up the partnership in 2004 after winning the cemetery chapel competition the year before. Over the seven years that we have worked together we have been involved with projects of varying scale for public communities, private companies and private customers. We have also been successful in several national and international architectural competitions and have both taught at the
Helsinki University of Technology.
CH What is at the heart of your approach to architecture?
AP Avanto means ‘a hole in the ice for bathing in winter’ − a popular hobby in Finland − which symbolises our design philosophy.
We want to ‘open up’ the environment to people with architecture that evokes emotions. For this we need to understand
and empathise with those using the space; to make people feel and experience.
CH How was this approach applied to the St Lawrence Chapel project?
AP We set out to fully understand both the grieving process of mourners and the practical issues by attending funerals of complete strangers. The resulting design aims to help the mourner, offering space for grief. Giving peace and dignity to the funeral ceremony was of primary importance in the planning of the building, and movement from one room to another is highlighted with a change of lighting and spatial characteristics.
CH What role does sustainability play in this particular design and your work in general?
AP We want to create a better environment using architecture as a tool. The starting point for any project is the proviso that a building fits its environment and suits the needs of the occupants on a long-term basis. However, we also aim to create architecture that is long-lasting, durable and environmentally friendly. Of course, climate change is taken into consideration and our buildings are well-insulated and use recyclable materials. Certainly, the chapel is built to last, with a limited palette of extremely durable materials, including copper used extensively both internally and externally. We set a goal of a 200-year lifetime and a life cycle simulator was used during the design to check this.

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