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Finnish Architects in the Spotlight: Ari Sipinen

Man holding a bouquet of flowers.

Miina Jutila

For the architect behind the 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture winning refurbishment, the most important recognition is the appreciation of the building's users.

Text: Anna Rusi

Ari Sipinen, who has led his own practice for almost two decades, is known for designing practical, user-oriented and high-quality buildings. Founded in 2005, Arkkitehtitoimisto Sipinen has both designed new buildings and renovated old ones.

Before setting up his own practice, Sipinen worked for a long time in his father Arto Sipinen's office. The path towards his own practice flowed naturally, as Sipinen was able to act as project manager on many of his father's projects. "I have a huge respect for my father's work," says Sipinen.

Architecture made for users

Arkkitehtitoimisto Sipinen is a one-man office, and both the architect and the clients enjoy the approach. "Clients have always been happy when one person answers questions immediately. I also enjoy working on my own, even if it takes a lot of effort at times," says Sipinen.

However, collaboration with other practitioners and teamwork is a priority for Sipinen, and for example, four sub-consultants were involved in the refurbishment of the Jyväskylä University's library. "I like to visit construction sites in my spare time and talk to the builders," says Sipinen, "My background as a construction architect is also visible in my work: the plans have to be able to be built in reality."

Practical and functional solutions are also directly reflected in user satisfaction, which Sipinen describes as the value that guides his work the most: "The most important thing to remember is that the design is done for the users of the spaces. Everything I do is based on this idea." Luckily for the client, Sipinen also says that staying on schedule is one of the most important principles of his work: his projects have not been delayed once so far. "I prefer to work ahead of schedule. This also leaves the client more time to give their own comments."

Award-winning refurbishment

The refurbishment of the Jyväskylä University's library, led by Sipinen, was recently awarded the Finlandia Prize for Architecture. However, Sipinen considers the feedback received directly from users to be the most meaningful praise: the renovation has successfully responded to the needs and wishes of the university's staff and students. The building, completed in 1974, was originally designed by Arto Sipinen.

Sipinen, who has designed both new buildings and refurbishments, describes the latter as a demanding process that requires a balance between new and old solutions. Sipinen's experience in the renovation of the university's Athenaeum building helped him in designing the library. With the technical design already on a solid foundation, it was possible to focus on other things in a new way and to dare to make major changes.

Left and center: The award-winning Jyväskylä University's Main Library. Right: Sipinen designed the Otalampi House, a school and daycare centre completed in 2008 in Vihti, based on his winning competition entry. photos: Riikka Mäkipelkola, Ari Sipinen

In planning the refurbishment of the library, Sipinen emphasised both practicality and the potential for new library functions. The building was stripped down to its concrete frame and renovated to meet new technical, ecological and functional needs. At the same time, it was important to balance the new functions with the library's heritage. For example, a completely new entrance, which concentrates all maintenance functions, was masked to match the original entrances.

The interior, for example, highlighted the new need for group work spaces and acoustics, and the extensive skylight installation was updated to the present day. Formerly known as the Yellow Library, the building retained its original colour scheme but now bears the name Lähde, which translates to 'Source', or 'Spring'.

Sustainability is the starting point

Sustainability also plays an important role in Sipinen's design: "Ecology has guided my work for a long time and is already an automatic part of every design, for example through material choices." This is also evident in the refurbishment of the library, which was awarded the Breeam environmental certificate with the highest rating already at the design stage. "Applying for the certificate was part of the plan from the very beginning," explains Sipinen.

"I still plan to do some minor work on the library's surroundings. For example, I would like to add a spring in front of the library. It would create a nice summer garden for students and would fit in with both the name and the history of the library, as my father's work often included some sort of water element."

Read more about the winner of 2022 Finlandia Prize for Architecture through this link. 

Finnish Architects in the Spotlight invites architects or architectural practices to share their values and design principles through images and short texts. Ari Sipinen’s photo series will be published on Archinfo’s Instagram account through this link.

All posts featured in the Finnish Architects in the Spotlight series can be found by using the tag #FinArchSpotlight and all articles through this link.