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New Chair boosts the national effectiveness of Archinfo Finland

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Janne Pihlajaniemi

In October 2020, Professor Janne Pihlajaniemi started as the new Chair of the Finnish Centre for Architecture, an organisation that maintains Archinfo Finland. As an architect from Oulu, this Doctor of Science in Technology will bring a Northern dimension to Archinfo, complemented with a strong connection to the academic world.

Janne Pihlajaniemi, appointed the Chair of the Board of the Finnish Centre for Architecture in September 2020, will replace Asko Takala, who was the Chair of the organisation maintaining Archinfo Finland almost from its inception in 2013. 

The Board of the Finnish Centre for Architecture guides the operations of the architecture information centre Archinfo Finland and supports the Director responsible for the practical operation of the organisation. Katarina Siltavuori stepped up as the new Director in June.

Pihlajaniemi is Professor of Architecture at the University of Oulu, and since recent years, he has also headed the Oulu School of Architecture. Parallel to his university work, he engages in practical design at his own architecture office, M3 Architects. This autumn, Pihlajaniemi was selected as a member of the National Council for Architecture and Design.

With regard to architecture organisations, Pihlajaniemi has also experience from the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA) where he was a Board Member and Vice Chair in 2004–2009. SAFA is one of the founders and member organisations of the Finnish Centre for Architecture.

Janne Pihlajaniemi, you have wide knowledge of the field of architecture, allowing you to view it from various perspectives. What are you bringing with you to Archinfo Finland?

I believe that my background helps me to strengthen two dimensions in particular: Archinfo Finland’s national character and its connections with universities.

The Helsinki Metropolitan Area is naturally the most important operating environment of national operators, such as Archinfo Finland and SAFA, but we should keep in mind that the field of architecture reaches over the entire country. From the perspective of Northern Finland, it can sometimes seem difficult to participate in the activities in this field. You could say that I represent the country outside the metropolitan area in Archinfo. On the other hand, the main tasks of Archinfo are not tied to any place, and the necessary shift towards online events this year opens up new opportunities to participate all over the country.

In addition, I feel that a link to universities is important to Archinfo and creates new opportunities for new operations and cooperation. Research into the built environment presents new information about fascinating topics but the results do not easily find their way to public awareness. It has often been noted that there is a need for some kind of platform for popularising science, and because communications are at the core of Archinfo, it could serve as such a platform and a tool to communicate research results to a wider public.

We are living in an era of great transformations. What social or topical phenomena do you think the field of architecture should especially address? 

An understanding of the built environment promotes the creation of an environment perceived as high quality, which in turn has an effect on our well-being, and that is another reason why I think it is important to “popularise” architecture. People often have a distant relationship to architecture; it does not touch us all even though we all live in architecture. The promotion of understanding and interactivity would also improve the playing field for architects.

In addition to the transformation of work and lifestyle, there is an ongoing transformation in construction. During the last decade, the nature of public procurement has changed. To keep up with this transformation, we should look at the role and impact of architecture from a wider perspective.

The climate crisis requires actions on all fronts, and the construction industry has a significant impact on the climate. How do you see Archinfo Finland’s role in this context?

It is evident that all of us should try to contribute to reducing climate change, and one of the key questions is how. I believe that research-based knowledge is a key perspective here as well, and Archinfo Finland could enhance its effect by presenting topical research topics and communicating on the results.

In addition to research, it is important to highlight how the architectural practice addresses this challenge. Archinfo Finland can communicate on this theme and encourage architecture offices and the entire construction industry to meet the requirements of sustainable development.

Archinfo Finland was established in 2013. It has started to gather speed and is already somewhat well-known. When you look at Archinfo’s operations with fresh eyes, what is your perception of it, and how does Archinfo fit into the field of architecture in your opinion?

I see a lot of potential in the young age and small size of Archinfo. It does not have the burden of history, and it can respond agilely and rapidly. There is always room for improving the visibility of a young organisation, but I think that Archinfo has already managed to gain trust as an independent operator that unifies the field of architecture.

Member organisations of the Finnish Centre for Architecture, the key operators in the field, are represented on the Board of the Finnish Centre for Architecture. My first impression of board work is that Archinfo unifies the operators in a fantastic way. It is an excellent forum for a wider discussion of related topics.

The task of Archinfo Finland is to act as an intermediary organisation, not just within the field of architecture but outside the field as well. What are your thoughts about developing Archinfo Finland? 

I am not worried about architects having trouble finding information about architecture. The greater challenge is the general public. It is important to find ways to increase awareness of architecture and discussions with wider audiences. In my opinion, that is Archinfo’s most important scope for action. Naturally, communication and activities for professionals as well as the lobbying of decision-makers are also important. Through the architectural policy work, Archinfo already has close and well-functioning connections with the Ministries, creating a foundation for a wider impact.

With regard to international activities, Archinfo Finland is one of the key players in the field of Finnish architecture. Archinfo could bring even more open international connections to this field. The future Architecture and Design Museum provides an effective platform and tool for this work, and close collaboration with the museum will certainly be a priority for Archinfo’s operations.

2021 marks the end of the current five-year strategy period, and it will be interesting to focus on Archinfo’s development as the new strategy work begins.

How do you see your role as the Chair of the Finnish Centre for Architecture, and what do you personally hope to gain from participating in this work?

In some organisations, the Chair of the Board can have a very visible role but my predecessor Asko Takala promised me that I could work more in the background. Of course I will always step up when necessary and aim to address the current challenges. As the Chair, my aim is to be a link connecting various actors.

I hope that Archinfo Finland will further widen my perspective of the field of architecture and keep me up to date on topical phenomena. I have strong belief in Archinfo’s potential, and that is why I am pleased to participate in the development of its operations.