Maija, how did you end up as a landscape architect?
Aesthetics in its various forms has interested me since I was little. As a high school student, I became interested in environmental issues and ecology. Landscape architecture seemed to comfortably combine aesthetics and science; art and rationality. As a landscape architect, I get to work for good values and feel that I can make the world a little better with my work.
What tasks have you done before AS&H?
During and immediately after my studies, I wanted to outline the field from different perspectives and learn design from a large-scale city planning all the way to small details. I have worked for a smaller architectural office (Arkkitehtitoimisto Petäjä), a large consultancy (WSP Group), a landscape architect office (Thomas Balsley Associates, New York) and city planning department (Helsinki City Planning Department). Before joining AS&H, I worked in environmental art, landscape design and area branding (Berry Creative) for a couple of years.
How did you become part of the AS&H family?
AS&H is one of Finland’s first architectural firms to understand the importance of landscape architecture as part of project development and building design. In Finland, project development often starts with the optimisation of floor area and the massing of buildings. The landscape architect will only be involved in the project at a later stage. At AS&H, I’m involved right from the beginning of the project and as an equal part of the design group. When a landscape architect is involved from the beginning of the project, the achieved results are even smarter and architecturally more complete.
In addition, I already knew a few skilled designers from AS&H and the office seemed to have a relaxed and honest atmosphere of working together. A positive company culture has a huge impact on the smoothness and comfort of teamwork. At AS&H, employees are genuinely cared for.
What does a landscape architect do in an architectural firm?
As a landscape architect, my job is to ensure that the characteristics of the environment are considered right from the start of the project. It avoids unnecessary technical challenges at a later stage of the project and achieves more architecturally holistic results.
At the beginning of the project, my task is to look at the environment of the design site from a broader perspective and map out the current weaknesses and future potential of the site. From an environmental point of view, it means, for example, mapping climate, water conditions, soil, vegetation, and history. In addition, understanding the identity of the area is important. Among other things, I ask: What does the area mean to users now and before? How can the area be identified? What makes the area special? My goal is to create designs where the environment is an integral part of the architecture.
What challenges can arise if the characteristics of the environment are not taken into account?
If buildings are to be placed on the site without an understanding of the environment, there is a risk that technically challenging and often expensive solutions will have to be resorted to at a later stage. For example, drainage and compliance with accessibility requirements may require costly solutions if they are not taken into account at the very beginning of the project.
Another challenge relates to the architectural quality of the site. Good architecture understands the nature and potential of a place and highlights it through various architectural means. How is the arrival to the building planned, what views open up from the building, what materials are used? …All of these questions require an understanding of the environment and the design context. When successful, architecture and landscape tell the same story and are perceived as one whole, where both support each other. The end result is inviting, experiential and effortless. At AS&H, we call it better-thought-out architecture.