Souru sound tower and renovation of historical iron mill village.
Vesa Honkonen & Juha Westman
Mari Koskinen, Ulla Kuitunen, Oliver Walter, Mikolaj Smolensky, Tiina Olli
Juhani Väisänen / Insinööritoimisto Juhani Väisänen Ky
Finnish National Board of Antiquities
Souru is located in a beautiful lake area in eastern Finland, close to the town of Kuopio, and was once a village. Its foundations go back to 1868, when several iron mills were taking their raw material from the bottom of the lake. Souru grew up around a huge factory building equipped with a steam engine, a steam hammer and a tall chimney. The village only existed for 40 years, from 1868 to 1908, but it nevertheless had street names, street lighting with gas lamps, and even a small hospital. In its heydays it had a population of some 600. The village school and houses for the workers were located a mere 200 meters or so from the factory, and fields were situated nearby, but life in Souru was not easy, as it involved twelve-hour work shifts and no meal breaks. Be that as it may, some 2,000 people spent most of their lives within its confines. In 1905 the workers’ houses were destroyed by fire, and the decline of Souru began.
Now, almost 100 years later, Souru is a fascinating place to visit. It has basically reverted to forest, with pine trees, spruces and birches covering the whole area. Most of the buildings were demolished after the Second World War and the materials used elsewhere. The only thing that still stands proudly is the factory chimney. The Finnish Board of Antiquities began studying the possibilities of preserving the site a few years ago, clearing undergrowth away from the old streets and the area where the factory once stood to reveal the old foundations of almost every building. Apart from these efforts, the forest was left untouched, preserving its atmosphere.
We were asked by the Board to come up with ideas on how to make the former village an interesting place to visit. Visiting the site was fascinating, as one could sense the traces of people as if they were still around. We could almost hear the steam hammer, the children running to school and the fishermen returning from the lake. This gave us the idea to recreate the place with sounds and recall the past with written artifacts and old photographs. In other words, to create an architecture that addresses the senses.
Since the best way to present the sounds was to use a Dolby surround system, we needed a place to house the loudspeakers, a shelter or structure that would enable visitors to experience the sounds and observe the area. Our solution was to create a tower, a time tower. In terms of design, we wanted its form language to distinguish it from the traces of the past yet still create a relationship to both the place and life as it was once lived in the village. For this reason, we chose rough Finnish pine with a tar finish as the main material. Moreover, the structure had to be capable of being built on site, which required a certain amount of detailing. As we did not want it to point too clearly to the ruins or stand in visible relationship to them, the wooden tower takes up the rhythm of the pine forest.
Since we wanted the sounds to seem to move around inside the tower, an asymmetric circular ground plan was the result. The curve of the walls becomes stronger the higher they get, with the result that they start to lean out as if succumbing to centrifugal forces. The aesthetics of these shapes becomes more apparent when the tower is seen in the play of light and shade. Slits in the walls make them semi-transparent and provide views of the surroundings; the slits are achieved by using wooden slats randomly held together by small wooden blocks. The scent of tar addresses the senses.
People coming to Souru will see the tower, and the moment they enter it history will start to speak, recreated by a sound recording that automatically starts when visitors climb up to the entrance. Old maps and photographs are displayed on the upper level of the tower, which in itself is a monument to the people who lived in Souru in 1868 and 1908, as commemorated on a cast iron plate. For ten minutes these people come alive again. And when the visitors leave, the tower goes back to being part of the forest and landscape.