The Leisure Studio
Kimmo Aslak Liimatainen
Text editor Anneleen Van Ingh
The Leisure Studio was a small studio designed by 4 Finnish students of architecture, who were later nicknamed ”The Group” by international media. In order to maintain maximum control, the whole project was conceived, funded and designed by the architects themselves, and built mainly with their own hands during 1989-1992.
The translucent forest studio was conceived as a flexible and versatile summer house, not intended for winter use. It would allow various artists to live and work together and facilitate free artistic cross-discipline thinking. A dark central core of stone, also acting as a thermal store, contained a small kitchen, washing facilities and a sauna. The transparent skin of the building consisted of individual polycarbonate sheets affixed to the wooden structure by means of clear adhesive tape.
Through this open-minded use of atypical housing construction materials, the architects aimed towards low construction costs. They paid special attention to soft translucency in buildings, and their design reflected the return to modernistic qualities after post-modernism and deconstructivism. The concept of the Leisure Studio gained critical acclaim on the international architectural scene. The Group was awarded the Golden Lion, the highest award at the 1996 Architecture Biennale in Venice.
Despite the massive international success of the Leisure Studio, the project turned out to be a catalyst for The Group’s demise. The all-encompassing and demanding responsibilities assumed by these young, idealistic students put tremendous pressure on the social dynamics of The Group. Set against the backdrop of the Finnish recession in the 1990’s, they also struggled with financing the project. Additionally, their unconventional approach and ambitious experimentation with design solutions were not of interest to prospective clients in the conservative construction sector. Unable to overcome these hardships, The Group members went their separate ways.
More than 25 years after completion, the Leisure Studio, too, has been altered beyond recognition, but its innovative designs and approach remain surprisingly refreshing to this day. Since architecture is a slow discipline, maybe now the time is ripe to reflect on their significance. In the context of an increasingly globalizing world and the implications that ensue, could we find more value in trying to rethink architectural concepts through open-mindedness and courage?
Another lesson worth emphasizing for aspiring architects is how much there is to learn from, early on in their career, being deeply involved in a supervised team project for which they carry all responsibility - from the design over financing to the actual construction of the building - all the while having to consider the full range of facets of their solution such as functionality, economical feasibility or sustainability. Nothing prepares an architect for their future career as such a project, by teaching knowledge and perspective, helping to gain confidence in one’s abilities and learning problem solving and negotiation skills while under high pressure. That is the way to set young architects on a successful path where they believe in themselves and are not afraid of challenging conventional practices.