Snow and forests: Finland builds global soft power through architecture

From Dubai to Tokyo, Finland is going all out to promote Finnish innovation and technology to international investors.

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File picture showing interior of Finland Pavilion at World Expo Dubai 2020 / Credit: Architects

The Finnish government is building spectacular pavilions in Tokyo and Dubai that aim to sell the nation to potential investors through architecture, nature and weather.

The projects are being funded by Business Finland, with the aim of recouping some or all of the costs through partnerships with private industry.

With a white exterior, dark lakes and a wooden gorge, the Snow Cape Pavilion at the  Dubai Expo 2020 draws inspiration from Finland’s snow-covered winter landscape.

In Japan, the elegant Metsä Pavilion will be constructed ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games to reflect the longstanding woodworking traditions of both Finland and Japan, with an emphasis on putting Finnish wood in the spotlight.

Metsä Pavilion at the centre of innovation in Japan

The Metsä Pavilion being built in the heart of Tokyo will become a hub for Finnish athletes, diplomats, businesses and tourists during the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“The idea is to build a unique, sustainable and environmentally friendly pavilion to function not only as the National Partner House during the Games, but also a platform for business’s use for the rest of the half years’ time” explains Petri Tulensalo, Head of Sports Cluster for Business Finland.

The Pavilion will act as a hub for the Finnish Olympic Committee throughout the games, with spaces for companies to rent out for promotional events, product launches or seminars. Although Business Finland isn’t releasing exact figures, it’s understood to be costing around €1 million initially.

“Project is targeting to further improve Finland’s country brand image, facilitate and encourage exports of Finnish companies and add to attracting investments and travel to Finland” says Tulensalo.

According to Tulensalo, the main themes of the pavilion are technology, nature and sustainability.

“Finland pavilion is a concept that introduces Finnish know-how, innovation and lifestyle in close relation to nature. Our vision is that Finland pavilion is a space with Finnish design and culture, where Finnish companies can market and promote their operations in the Japanese market and establish relationships with local consumers and companies.”

Graphic showing exterior of Metsä Pavilion for Finland at 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games / Credit: Architect

History of innovation

Previous Olympics held in Japan have been platforms for innovation and social change – as they were in Helsinki – a link that’s not gone unnoticed by Business Finland.

“It has been said that the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games completely transformed Japan” says Tulensalo.

The 1964 event sparked massive infrastructure reforms across Japan, with improvements in highways, water supply and the construction of the Shinkansen bullet train, to name a few.

In Finland the 1952 Helsinki Olympics marked a post-war watershed for a nation still paying war reparations, with transport infrastructure projects like the airport and Olympia ferry terminal, roads, housing and of course new sports structures – all of which are still being used today for the same purpose they were built – almost 70 years later.

The 2020 Olympics aims to achieve similar large scale change again in Japan.

“Tokyo 2020 Olympics has a vision of being the most innovative in history, bringing about positive reform, innovation to the world. Pavilion is Finland’s investment to support Tokyo2020 Olympics and Japan’s endeavors of the future transformation” Tulensalo adds.

File picture showing exterior of Finland Pavilion at World Expo Dubai 2020 / Credit: JKKM Architects

Finnish wood meets ancient Japan

The Metsä pavilion combines simplicity and elegance, while still showcasing Finnish innovation and wood products.

“We wanted to use modern, efficient industrial building methods. The idea was not to design just a beautiful building, but something that demonstrated the benefits of industrial building” says Mikko Saavalainen, the Senior Vice President of Business Development for Metsä Group.

The towering pillars of wood which make up the front of the pavilion are constructed from a laminated veneer lumber product. The trees will come from Punkaharju and the elements will be prefabricated in Finland.

The separate components are both easy to ship and fast to assemble. When the Olympics are over, the Metsä Pavilion can be dismantled and used for something else, further improving sustainability.

Designed by the world-renowned architect Pekka Helin, the pavilion will pay homage to the long traditions of wood building of both Finland and Japan, drawing inspiration from ancient Japanese aesthetics.

The minimalistic building style was adopted specifically to appeal to the Japanese eye with a modern, Finnish approach.

“We wanted to build a beautiful space that highlights Finnish design. It is practical, simple and stylish” Saavalainen explains.

File picture showing exterior of Finland Pavilion at World Expo Dubai 2020 / Credit: JKKM Architects

Snow pavilion in the middle of the desert

On the other side of the world in the United Arab Emirates, Finland is building another pavilion for the 2020 Dubai Expo to strengthen its connections to the Gulf area.

This week the last steel beams were put in place on the building’s skeleton, signed by Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä (Centre). 

Participating along with over a hundred Finnish companies, the Snow Cape Pavilion is designed to share Finnish innovations and knowledge, and to make connections between the hosts and visitors.

The World Expo is held every five years and gives participating countries a shop window to display their latest and greatest achievements – or at least, the image they want to present to the rest of the world.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the first to be held in the Arabic-speaking region and carries the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future.’

Again, Business Finland won’t say what the budget for the Expo participation is, but the United Arab Emirates is Finland’s second biggest export market in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia.

“Participation in the World Expo will serve the Finland brand promotion and export promotion of Finnish companies not only in the Gulf and Middle East, but also in the Asian and East African markets and globally” says Severi Keinälä, Finland’s Commissioner General at the Dubai Expo.

The concept, planning and execution of the Finnish pavilion are being undertaken by JKMM Architects from Finland, and Switzerland’s Expomobilia. As in Japan, Finland will be promoted as a trade partner, investment target and destination for travel.

“Inside Finnish Pavilion, stories about Finland and Finnish culture and business will be found. Finland is a country of clean pure nature and innovative technology, modern design and excellent education, happy people and best talent” says Teemu Kurkela, the Lead Architect of the Finnish Pavilion from JKMM Architects.

The fusion of Arabic and Finnish culture

The design of the Snow Cape Pavilion will combine the Arabic and the Finnish cultures, drawing inspiration from elements in nature.

With a bright, white exterior, the entrance to the building gives the impression of arriving in an Arabi tent. The inner body of the pavilion is embraced by a snow-like exterior, sheltering the visitors from the sun.

“Visitors will access the pavilion through a tent-like opening into a gorge, a special central void of the pavilion that opens to the sky” explains Gregor Turnsek, from JKMM Architects.

The gorge will be made of wood, and inside there will be three cool dark pools of water, resembling the thousands of lakes in Finland. They will create gentle sounds and cool the air around them.

The Snow Cape Pavilion is designed to offer a relaxing respite for the expo visitors.

“Visitors will experience a dramatic contrast between sensory overload of Expo environment and serene, Nordic atmosphere inside the central void” says Turnsek.

File picture showing interior of Finland Pavilion at World Expo Dubai 2020 / Credit: JKKM Architects