Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects

About Agency

We began our careers as independent architects while we were still undergraduates, as is typical of our profession here in Finland. After winning an architectural competition along with six of our fellow students, we set up our first practice, 8 Studio, in Tampere. We learned the basics of working as architects in those productive years spanning 1986–1992. Through our success in competitions, we learned to appreciate the value of dialogue and open studio collaboration by constructively critiquing each other’s work. Our current office grew out of our early collaboration at 8 Studio, and even today the majority of our realized projects are still based on wins in architectural competitions – a well-established institution in Finland that we support passionately. With a competition entry, the only thing that guides the result is your own creative vision.

An architect’s formative influences and early projects often have a lasting impact on their later professional evolution. Our earliest projects had a distinctive “80s morphology” about them. The geometry of our floor plans is often based on intersecting lines that converge from different angles, creating an element of surprise yet also continuity in the spatial programme (Hausjärvi Old People’s home, Lusto Forest Museum, Finnish Folk Art centre). Intersecting lines have become a signature motif in our designs, as have, later on, contrasts between straight and irregular lines. The juxtaposition of contrasting forms underpins the architectural dynamic of our latest works, including the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, the Kotka Maritime Centre and the Haltia Finnish Nature Centre. We use undulating lines to complement asymmetries in the natural terrain, or as a device for creating flexible layouts. Wavy lines also have a narrative or symbolic function, evoking mental associations with the waves of the ocean or a dried-out riverbed.

We adhere to a school of thought that sees buildings not as objects, but as part of their environment. We believe that, throughout history, Finnish architecture’s greatest assets have always been based on this simple principle. The form, dimensions and materials must always be reinvented anew with each unique context. Certain features might carry over from one project to the next as part of the architect’s signature style, but the overall design must be reborn anew with every new project. This is why we have traversed what we regard as a very broad spectrum of different styles.

Many of our public buildings have a ceremonial quality about them, mapping a clear route for the visitor through the use of recurring elements such as stairways, ramps and paths. We want the visitor’s encounter with the building to unfold gradually, slowly preparing their senses for what is about to be revealed next. The dramaturgical arc is built upon a play of scale, both between the building and its surroundings and between details and larger volumes. The key element is the space itself – immaterial, able to be sensed and experienced, yet not seen.

Our approach to architecture is based more on continuity and tradition than radical new departures.

Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects
Founded in 1997, based in Helsinki
Partners: Ilmari Lahdelma, Rainer Mahlamäki

Kastelli School and Community Centre
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects
Kastelli School occupies an expansive, flat plot separate from the urban fabric between parklands and a hospital. The layout is designed around four interconnected ‘dice’. The architects’ goal w ...
Gross Area: 24632m2
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects
The museum is a bold, simple box clad with silkscreen-printed glass panels and perforated copper panels. In the interior, the boxiness gives way to a cave-like feeling, the double curved bearing walls ...
Gross Area: 18300m2
Competition: 2005
Completion: 2013