Better thought-out architecture


We at Architects Soini & Horto believe that we can improve the world. “But how?”, one of my good friends once asked. An excellent and important question requires a thorough answer.

Our claim of a better thought-out architecture contains three words and meanings.

Good, better, best. We don’t claim to be the best at everything, but certainly better than many others. The idea also includes an attitude; we want to constantly improve, learn from each challenge, and share our lessons with others on the same journey. Having an attitude of “being the best” prevents change, but “becoming better” requires humble learning toward absolute best, which, however, can never be achieved.

Thinking. It is often thought that the architect’s most important tools are hand-eye coordination and a working pen. The assumption of craftsmanship lives strong. By sketching while searching for solutions, the architect works intuitively. We, however, dare to argue that the most important tool for any architect is the skill of thinking. Architecture is, after all, first and foremost thinking work and only after thinking comes the presentation of thoughts and ideas to others. Sometimes maturing an idea even requires postponing the drawing phase until the idea is sufficiently ready. Better thinking forms better life, goes a message from Esa Saarinen, a philosopher who is known for his systems thinking, among other things. Architecture, if anything, is a complex scientific-economic-artistic entity, where the understanding and application of different relations is at the centre of the performance.

Architecture. Love for our art is the reason why we have delved into the field and how we perceive the world. It is difficult, if not impossible, to crystallise the essence of architecture into one idea. Esko Kilpi said: “Architecture is the user interface of human physical life”. This idea involves experiencing the immediate environment with all the senses. The main focus is on the human experience and meaning that we create for ourselves and each other in our thoughts and through our senses. Architecture is like a system of meaning that is formed solely and exclusively in human relationships. It is the physical outcome of the values of different, sometimes contradictory systems – systems thinking at its purest.

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio is a Roman architect who influenced construction a couple of millennia ago, defining the principles of construction as beauty, durability, and usability. These values are still valid. Today, one more value needs to be added alongside these – responsibility. It´s right to ask whether a building can be beautiful if it is not produced responsibly. If people die at the construction site or the building destroys its surrounding environment, the building will be viewed as rather hideous in people’s minds, even if it would be otherwise fine. We have at times wondered whether it is no longer good to practice our profession at all because every new building generates a lot of waste and destroys natural resources. At the end of the day, we have however concluded that we are in a profession where our choices can greatly influence how a building is produced and how it lasts. It is a matter of a choice of values and a decision to act in accordance with the values, i.e., striving to think better and find the necessary means.

So, what does better thought-out architecture mean in practice? It means extending the architect’s professional image to tasks that have not traditionally been part of the architect´s work. The architect or another party in their network produces information for decision-making that is then considered in the design. This information can include, for example: carbon footprint calculations, cost information, and investment strategy, as well as several other goals and values under different systems. Traditionally, an architect has these details as a starting point and designs aesthetic entities based on them. In better thought-out architecture, the architect is also an active participant in these forums. In order to take part in the discussion and challenge the thinking, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of these systems. Not only an understanding of the construction industry, but also society, its drivers and trends, and the human mind in general.

The language of an architect is often architectural language. Also referred to as frozen poetry. Unfortunately, this conversation in architectural language often stays between architects and no one else understands it. In order to actively take part in the conversation, a common language is needed for the parties. Usually, it is a spoken or written language, in this article English.

Our thinking is built on our language, language emerges from culture, and culture is anchored in our history and our environment. Also, Finland’s unique architecture is ultimately based on Finnish culture and language. The richness of language is also the richness of thinking for the architect. Through spoken and written language, thinking improves and the meaning of things becomes clearer. And most importantly, shared communication can bring things to light and address non-architects as well. According to Jordan P. Peterson, there are practically only two ways to think – to speak or to write. Dealing with the complex issues of architecture requires common concepts and an understanding of their content. Architectural language alone is not enough; a common conceptual interface between professional languages of different fields is needed. It’s only achieved by speaking and writing. Otherwise, there is a danger that many important values are overshadowed.

At Architects Soini & Horto we believe in the power of communication as a strengthening denominator for both our community and our architecture. Openly and boldly. With trust and responsibility, in accordance with our values.

Better thought-out architecture is a holistic understanding of systems and value-based selection. By thinking and communicating better, we produce better solutions and create a better life for all of us.

Sami Horto
Architect SAFA, partner, Chairman of the Board