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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Kupla – Helsinki Zoo Lookout tower in Finland by HUT Wood Studio/ Ville Hara, architect SAFA

September 23rd, 2011 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Avanto Architects Ltd.

Korkeasaari Zoo (Helsinki) and Wood Focus Finland organised an architectural competition for the students of architecture at Helsinki University of Technology, with the assignment of designing a ten-metre-high view tower out of timber for the Zoo.

Night View

  • Architects: HUT Wood Studio/ Ville Hara, architect SAFA
  • Project: Kupla – Helsinki Zoo Lookout tower
  • Location: Helsinki, Finland
  • Period of design: 2000-2002
  • Area: 82 brm2
  • Commander, user: Korkeasaari Zoo (Helsinki)
  • Developer: PWD (Helsinki City Public Works Department) Construction Management
  • Architectural design: HUT Wood Studio/ Ville Hara, architect SAFA
  • Structural engineering: DI Hannu Hirsi, DI Lauri Salokangas /Nuvo Engineering
  • Photography: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory
  • Software used: AutoCAD

Night View

The free form of my winning entry was motivated by the natural setting; it follows the surrounding stone wall and skirts around a group of birches. In January-May 2001 students at the Wood Studio workshop developed the draft design further by assembling scale models and exploring structural details. As the management of the irregular form proved difficult, I moulded a plastoline model. Digital images of the model then functioned as a basis for the AutoCAD drawings. Using the level drawings we constructed a 3D-computer model onto which we ”taped” the curved battens to form the gridshell. The most important lessons came from the laborious building of a two-meter-high one to five model. Finding solutions to the problems that came up at this stage saved us from many unpleasant surprises during the actual construction phase. The students participating in the workshop were from Finland, Japan, the U.S., the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. The workshop was supervised by Professor Jan Söderlund and architect Risto Huttunen.



After the workshop, I laminated full-scale test pieces of battens, which form the basket-like gridshell. I studied whether the pre-bent battens tolerate bending and twisting to a sufficient degree as to allow their use in a construction of this type. When the laminated timber resisted twisting I resorted to steaming, a traditional method in boatbuilding. The effect of surface treatment with linen oil-based wood balm on moisture content was determined by moisture tests and the durability of the joints was proved by tension tests.


Night View

Finally in June-August 2002 the tower was erected by an international group of eight students of architecture. The hot, sunny summer dried up the timber, and the duct pipes that were used for steaming proved useful. It took us three months to complete the job; now the bubble is a delicately transparent landmark of Korkeasaari Island.

Image Courtesy Jussi Tiainen

The site is eighteen metres above the sea level and the tower is very visible in the Helsinki sea line. A wonderful view of the sea and the city centre opens up from the ten-metre-high two-storey tower. The structure behaves like an eggshell; even when the gridshell, which consists of over 600 joints, is punctured it withstands the load. The load bearing structure consists of 72 long battens with a section of 60mmx60mm that are bent and twisted on the site from seven pre-bent types. As the tower has no structural protection against weathering, it is treated with a linen oil-based wood balm with UV-protection.


Image Courtesy Jussi Tiainen

Why did I choose the shape of a bubble as a basis for the design? As a rule, our western culture favours rectangular forms. The box is considered a standard shape the use of which need not be explained. In nature, however, curvilinear forms are present in everything from cells to planets. Cost-effective and durable, vault structures have been used throughout history, in native mud huts as well as in architectural masterpieces such as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, which was planned with the use of upside down hanging chain models. Curvilinear forms are also closer to the human physique than rectilinear, which is why people experience organic forms as humane.


Image Courtesy Jussi Tiainen

Professor Jan Söderlund initiated The Helsinki University of Technology Wood Studio workshop in 1994. The course was aimed to contrast the rather pragmatic building technology courses. It is characterised by innovation and artistic approach. The students are selected by an annual student competition and half of them are foreigners.

Image Courtesy Jussi Tiainen

Ville Hara (born 1974), architect, SAFA

Studies in Finland at Helsinki University of technology and in France at Ecole d’Architecture Paris-Belleville, graduated 2002. Has worked in France, Croatia and Germany (Sauerbruch Hutton Architects), 1999-2004 at SARC Architects. From 2004 own office avanto architects with Anu Puustinen and teacher at HUT.


Image Courtesy Jussi Tiainen

Nomination for Mies van der Rohe Price 2003; Archiprix 2003: honourable mention, participants’ favourite; Wuorio Price 2003; Ar+d Emerging Architecture Price 2003; 2006 Bryggman prize; 2006 Vähäkallio scholarship; 2007 State artist grant; Leonardo 2007, Minsk, Belarus, best built one family house


Image Courtesy HUT photography laboratory

Competitions: Das Neue Berlin 2nd prize 1999, HUT Department of Architecture Wood Studio competition 2nd prize 1999 and 1st prize 2000, Funerary chapel competition Vantaa Finland 1st prize 2003, Helsinki City chapel open competition honorary mention 2005, Tsunami Memorial International Design Competition, Thailand first runner up 2005 (all competitions from 2003 with Anu Puustinen)


Image Courtesy HUT photography laboratory

Various positions of trust: architecture students’ guild, HUT students union, the Finnish Association of Architects, The Museum of Finnish Architecture



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