Rovaniemi, FInland

Alvar Aalto (1975)

The town of Rovaniemi was destroyed during the retreat of German troops from Lapland in October 1944. Although the retreating force is known to have wiped out electrical pylons, train tracks and other infrastructure in Lapland to deny its use to enemy forces, it appears that the razing of Rovaniemi might have been part-accidental : a stray round, possibly coming from a Finnish patrol, resulted in a big explosion near the train station and set nearby houses on fire, resulting in a catastrophic blaze that destroyed much more than Rovaniemi’s strategic infrastructure. Within a short period of time, 9 out of 10 buildings in Rovaniemi would burn, leaving behind a devastated and desolate landscape.

Alvar Aalto witnessed the biblical scene in 1945, upon the invitation of the Association of Finnish Architects to lead the regeneration of the capital of Lapland. Local topography inspired him to design the new town in the shape of a reindeer’s head, with the modern stadium at its centre representing the eye, and the local rivers resembling its head and antlers. For the next three decades, his initial city plan expanded into a total regeneration plan for the entire region of Lapland, providing new housing, infrastructure, transportation and energy networks, designed to be in harmonious co-existence with local flora and fauna, the natural landscape, and the needs and sensitivities of indigenous populations.

The Lappia Hall ensemble, completed just one year prior to Aalto’s death in 1976, encapsulates the great architect’s sensitivity towards the topography of his beloved Finland, with its waveforms reminiscent of the characteristic snow fells of its arctic landscape.