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Finnish Architects in the Spotlight: Saatsi Architects

A couple sits on a tree branch.

Anette Sundström

The spring’s first Spotlight will feature an architectural office known especially for their expertise in renovation. The architectural couple, who run a family business, believe that the appreciation of architectural heritage should reach all the way to everyday buildings.

Text: Anna Rusi

Pekka and Emilia Saatsi have been running the architectural office, originally founded in 1955, for almost twenty years. Operating throughout Finland from an 1880s stone building in Kruununhaka and a 1930s log house in Porvoo, the family firm, known as Saatsi Architects since 2008, preserves the old through renovation, restoration and building history surveys and also creates new, sustainable built cultural heritage.

For the Saatsis, new construction must above all be healthy and meaningful. "When we design new buildings, we ensure that the built heritage is preserved for future generations. Our passion is to build in a way that works in harmony with the laws of nature. This combines historical buildings with new high-quality architecture," says Pekka Saatsi.

Saatsi Architects was responsible for the renovation and modification of the old Skräddars bakery in Nauvo, and carried out two extensions. The wall structures of the new parts are plastered straw elements. photo: Anders Portman, Kuvatoimisto Kuvio

"All new construction is complementary building. Every new building should improve the environment," says Pekka Saatsi. According to the office, successful building design requires a broad understanding of the realities of construction: the natural resources and energy used must be able to serve for as long as possible and the capital invested in the building must retain its value.

Designers carry a great responsibility in the cross-pressure of sustainability and productivity. "Repairability and adaptability help meet future needs," says Emilia Saatsi, "People want to maintain an economically profitable building."

In the face of the increasingly frequent demolition news, current mindsets need to change. "We should respect our existing cultural environment more, including ordinary everyday buildings," Emilia points out. Having restored numerous historical sites such as churches, manors and villas, the Saatsi office understands that it is easy to respect landmarks. "The appreciation should extend to everyday buildings such as kindergartens, offices, schools and, in general, the conventional buildings of the last decades, which make up the most significant part of our building heritage," she continues.

The Yhdyskulma House was completed in the centre of Kuusamo in the 1950s. Saatsi Architects restored the former bank building and converted it into a café and residential use. photo: Anders Portman, Kuvatoimisto Kuvio

The appreciation of architectural heritage tends to lag behind, and it is often only a sufficient distance in time that seals a building's status as universally appreciated. In recent years, modern buildings in particular have come under threat of demolition.

"There are many good solutions in the modern building stock. For example, 1960s apartment buildings often have excellent and functional floor plans and bright apartments," says Emilia Saatsi, but she also notes that renovating buildings is challenging. "It is important for the building industry and researchers to work together to find answers and share information about successful solutions, in order to increase knowledge and courage in renovation."

Saatsi Architects not only renovates buildings, but also promotes access to renovation-related information, for example through their comprehensive blog posts. Pekka and Emilia Saatsi hope that architects will actively participate in the debate on construction and urban planning, seeing it as socially important.

"We have tried to re-establish the architect's role in construction as a more holistic one than it has been in recent decades," says Pekka Saatsi. "This means, for example, taking over the role of the principal designer in a more comprehensive way." The starting point for successful planning is a multi-professional team led by the principal designer, with everyone working together, he explains.

The historic buildings of the Pasila machine shop have been converted into a stage for the Finnish National Theatre, a grocery store and a wholesale centre. Saatsi Architects has been responsible for building conservation expertise and the main design of the restoration of the old assembly hall and paint shop building as part of a multinational team. photo: Anders Portman, Kuvatoimisto Kuvio

Finally, the Saatsis point out the shared responsibility of the profession: "The requirement for sustainability also applies to architecture. If we build, we must build responsibly and meaningfully." "Good proportions and high-quality, beautifully ageing materials are ways of doing this," they continue. "Multi-storey buildings should return to solid structures and over-renovation should be abandoned. Instead, the focus should be on the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of buildings."

Saatsi Architects’ vision for the future is impressive in its simplicity: the culture of construction needs to change. The role of the architect has grown from being simply a designer of new buildings to being more comprehensive – and perhaps more complex – than ever before. Care and appreciation create a long-lasting and meaningful environment. It is clear to the Saatsis that the old must be repaired more and the new built less.

Read more about Saatsi Architects’ work on their site 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. See Saatsi Architects’ photo series on Instagram through this link.

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