In the 2012 World Design Capital of Helsinki, Jennifer McMaster reflects on the Kamppi Chapel of Silence.
Helsinki is a happening place. Breaking free from its roots in the old Eastern Bloc, the city has transformed itself into a lively, liveable centre, with a focus on sustainable urban development. In light of this, Helsinki was crowned World Design Capital 2012. It was an honour taken seriously by the city, which has a rich design culture and an energized population of young architects, designers and urban thinkers.
The Kampii Chapel of Silence was commissioned to complement Helsinki’s selection as World Design Capital and, once the year-long festival is over, will remain in the city. Designed by K2S Architects, the chapel is located in one of Helsinki’s busiest retail squares. The skewed, ovular building sits confidently on its site, its timber rings contrasting the commercial buildings nearby. Up close, you can appreciate the fine striations of the spruce strips that wrap a beautiful warm envelope around the structure.
Entering the chapel, you experience an odd reverence, though of a contemporary kind, unlike that elicited by great monumental churches. The chapel commands respect for something greatly needed in today’s world: silence. It’s a unifying force that seems to touch all who enter the Kamppi Chapel, and the result is a near soundless space, a place of quiet reflection and refuge from the world outside.
As a space, it also encourages pause. The chapel is a subtle and beautiful building that aims for calm over grandeur. Its interior volume is a single ovular room, lined with curved timber boards. Slender and seamless, these warm boards encircle and cocoon the space, wrapping visitors in a gentle embrace.
A white ceiling hovers more than ten metres above, suspended in the space by glulam beams, surrounded by a halo of light. It too is gentle rather than dramatic, and casts a soft glow around the chapel, bathing it in sunlight.
The warmth of the timber contrasts with the dark-stained concrete floor, and furnishings in the space are sparse. Religious iconography is abstracted to a bare minimum – as currently, the chapel serves no religious function.
The Kamppi Chapel of Silence will be an enduring reminder of Helsinki’s status as World Design Capital. It is a quietly composed piece of architecture, devoid of frivolity and fuss, offering simply a place of respite from the city.