- Kivi Sotamaa
Challenging Conventional Notions of Living
The Meteorite project defies expectations with its significant impact despite its small size. Our primary objective was to explore the use of sensation and experience to challenge conventional notions of residential living. We aimed to showcase the possibilities of wood and digital design and fabrication techniques. One of our goals was to challenge the notion of "phenomenal transparency," which suggests that a building should visually represent its interior. Externally, the project presents itself as a mystical object nestled within the forest.
Located in Kontiolahti, near the Arctic area in eastern Finland and close to the Russian border, its design exudes a distinct object-like quality. The presence of ice age boulders and rock formations in the region makes it less culturally unconventional than one might initially perceive. It is not uncommon to encounter imposing figures of similar nature in the forest.
Throughout the project, we sought to incorporate all our knowledge of form. Each side of the building is distinct, using apertures that cleverly disguise its scale and size unless a human figure serves as a reference. When viewed from the outside, it harmonizes with the surrounding environment and forest, concealing the interior's secrets.
On the inside, visitors are greeted by an intricate constellation of interconnected spaces surrounding an atrium that opens up to the sky. At the apex of the atrium, a spacious 10 square meter skylight creates a mesmerizing "James Turell moment." The entire floor, at a height of seven and a half meters, is covered with a catamaran net, allowing individuals to suspend themselves in the middle of the space and gaze at the sky. The construction primarily employs two layers of cross-laminated timber, with even the furniture built from the same material.
In a beautiful book* featuring our design, there is a drawing that embodies the key organizational concept of the project, which I refer to as the "Misfit." The idea behind this concept is that the external wall and the internal wall intentionally do not align. We create a series of interior spaces that respond to the human body, as well as the scale of objects like guitars or dogs. Simultaneously, the external form is designed to harmonize with the surrounding environment. The Misfit between these two aspects gives rise to a spacious void used for appliances, technical systems, storage, and the distinctive indentations found within these larger spaces. This space also serves insulation purposes, allowing air circulation to keep it dry in the event of any leaks in the outer envelope.
My first encounter with the concept of the Misfit was through the proposal by Jean Nouvel and Philippe Starck for the Tokyo Opera House competition. It featured a black monolith with golden concert halls and stages within it. The space between the monolith and the inner structures, referred to as the misfit or poche space, was designated as public space. This organizational diagram, where the interior and exterior don't align but create a poche, offers tremendous opportunities. It opens up various technical possibilities, but more importantly, it affords unique experiential possibilities. It allows for the design of an external experience that sets the stage for the internal experience. In the case of the Meteorite, you can observe how the intricate constellation of forms on the inside is wrapped within the polygonal shell, connected by what we call window tunnels. These tunnels are deep enough that one can even sleep in some of them.
Our endeavor revolves around the exploration of creating a fresh lifestyle and a new aesthetic for wood architecture, which, particularly in Scandinavia, carries significant conventions and traditions. It may not be regarded as the most exhilarating architectural material in terms of expressive possibilities. However, our aim is twofold: to initially provoke you with the creation of this remarkable and peculiar structure, and then to make it inviting enough for you to contemplate and explore. Through experiencing it, we hope you undergo a transformative journey, altering your perspective and emotions within the world. Frankly, that encompasses much of what architecture, as an art form, can achieve. It cannot coerce you into specific actions. While I appreciate the beauty of wooden constructions, that alone does not determine the architectural or artistic merits of a building. In my opinion, those aspects are evaluated based on the experiences the structure engenders—whether it possesses a "cultural escape velocity," capturing people's imaginations and sparking conversations, and whether it prompts individuals to contemplate themselves and the spaces they occupy in a different light.
Upon entering the building, you encounter a small kitchen, followed by a set of stairs leading to a mezzanine level. Every aspect, including the furniture, is crafted from the same material and deliberately devoid of specific instructions for use. The case of the Meteorite has been particularly beautiful to witness, as the family has wholeheartedly embraced the building. Completed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it transformed from a simple guest house into an office, school, and home. Its adaptability does not stem from movable walls but rather from its openness to interpretation and its abundance of potential uses. To put it differently, it is filled with spaces that lack predetermined functions—some might consider them useless spaces. However, these areas become sources of discovery for the family, children, and guests, offering different affordances and playing a crucial role in the building's flexibility and success. While we approached the project with a specific organizational strategy, at the same time we opted for a nearly completely open-ended program. Here, the program is designed to be invented by the clients themselves. Certain spaces, such as the bathroom with a shower and toilet, and the kitchen with appliances, maintain their intended purposes, but beyond that, interpretation is encouraged.
Ultimately, when working with form, especially in this context, we contemplate the atmosphere it creates and how that atmosphere influences social space. By social space, I simply refer to how the nature of a space impacts life, how a particular ambiance subtly evokes certain emotions. It sets the stage for social interaction, and in a home, this aspect holds particular importance. In the case of the Meteorite, it is a residence where all spaces are intricately interlocked around a central void. This means that you can communicate from the kitchen to the catamaran net, from the net to the second floor platform, and even to someone perched up in a window tunnel near the skylight. The space somewhat resembles Hitchcock's "Rear Window." Across the atrium, you can find your secluded corner, observing your family while maintaining privacy.
The ultimate goal of all these considerations is to create a stage for a better life—a platform that fosters interconnectedness and enhances the enjoyment of family life. It allows for a different way of being together. In architecture, function is undoubtedly intertwined with form, and vice versa. While certain constraints determine what can or cannot be achieved in design, incorporating potential for interpretation and leaving room for open-ended possibilities is crucial for optimal outcomes.