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Kärsämäki Shingle Church

The building of Kärsämäki Church answers the call of the local municipality, which in 1999 asked via open student competition to rebuild the original church of Kärsämäki parish, built in 1765, and later demolished in 1841. With no document witnessing the original appearance of the building, the brief of the competition – organized within the Department of Architecture at the University of Oulu- asked for building a new, modern church using traditional 18th century methods. The design of the church is based on Anssi Lassila´s winning entry “Cantata”.

The task was to design a contemporary sacral space to be constructed with traditional handicraft methods. The aim was to achieve a sense of serenity and sacrality, an ecumenical atmosphere that would feel compelling and natural to all people. The building is characterized by a strong sense of materiality evoked by the natural roughness of the handcrafted wooden elements.

The building consists of two basic parts: a log-built “core” and a black, tarred and shingle-clad “cloak”. With the chosen concept an atmosphere of archaic simplicity and optimal weather resistance is endeavoured. The space between the cloak and the church houses the vestibules, vestry and a storeroom. When entering the church one is led through a dimly lit space towards the lighter colored main space lit by natural light from a lantern skylight. The natural light works in harmony with this interior space underscoring its character as a space for quiet contemplation. When dusk falls outside, the interior space is lit by movable, candle-lit glass lanterns and tinplate lanterns carried by churchgoers. There is no fixed seating in the church and the altar is movable.

The building method employed resulted in a unique atmosphere and finish, very seldom attained in a building today. Although the shingle church is small, the exceptional hand made building method called for an extensive amount of study and leaning of traditional building techniques. Much adaptation was needed and new solutions based on age-old traditions were devised. Long hours of discussion and exchange of thoughts with builders and designers in different fields were instrumental in achieving the right solutions.

Kärsämäki, Finland

Parish of Kärsämäki

200 m²

competition, 1st prize

1999 (competition) – 2004 (completion)

Anssi Lassila

Shortlisted for European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, Mies van der Rohe Award 2005

The European Façade Contest 2004, 2nd prize

Bryggman Prize 2002, mention prize

The Best Building Act in Northern Finland 2002

Jussi Tiainen