Press release 18.9.2019
25 Years of Education in Global Sustainability & Humanitarian Development at Aalto University
Exhibition at the Museum of Finnish Architecture, 26.9.2018 – 24.2.2019
Interplay of Cultures – the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s leading autumn exhibition – celebrates the 25th anniversary of education in global sustainability and humanitarian development at Aalto University, while also raising concern regarding the current state of world affairs. Our planet and living environment are facing irreversible changes due to megatrends such as globalization, climate change and urbanization. Thoughtful planning of cities can play a key role in preventing and alleviating many problems. Architects should therefore receive proper training to tackle the complex challenges of the future.
Curated by architect and Vice Dean Saija Hollmén, the exhibition highlights two of Aalto University’s inter-disciplinary, collaborative ventures. The Department of Architecture’s Interplay of Cultures course and the Department of Built Environment’s Sustainable Global Technologies (SGT) programme are run under the auspices of the Aalto World in Transition Research LAB (Aalto Wit LAB) research network, through which hundreds of architecture students have worked together to seek answers to wicked global challenges over the past 25 years.
The exhibition presents a selection of the students’ past projects – including a few realized plans – and revisits their journeys into new cultures. The presented examples show that global problems are forcing young architects to tackle ever more complex design challenges. The show also highlights their professional evolution into experts whose work is driven by a code of morals and ethical responsibility. For many of the young participants, working as a member of a multidisciplinary team in a foreign culture has been an important turning point in their careers.
The multidisciplinary courses help the students acquire valuable professional expertise such as skills in teamwork, project management, communications and community interaction. The ability to weave together architectural expertise, design know-how and engineering competence into a realizable plan is a skill that will grow ever more vital in the work of future planners.
The exhibition highlights the challenges and opportunities of university education in today’s globalizing world. The focus of development aid is shifting from top-down government involvement to grass-roots initiatives, opening doors to active participation by small-scale operators in the field of global sustainability and humanitarian development. By the same token, global challenges are alarming in their sheer scale, calling for cross-disciplinary teamwork across a variety of different fields. Here, universities have adopted an active role as bridge-builders between various stakeholders.
“The exhibition offers a platform for dialogue on the role of architecture in today’s globalizing world. It also questions the traditional role of architects. Our changing world is forcing us to work together to tackle wicked problems in unpredictable conditions across a wide breadth of cultures,” states curator Saija Hollmén.
“Ultimately the exhibition poses a beautiful ideological question: can architecture build a better world?” notes Reetta Heiskanen, interim director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
“Solving inherently local problems has taught the participating students about respect and empathy. Every cross-cultural encounter is unique – no two are identical,” adds Heiskanen.
A series of lectures and discussions will be held in conjunction with the exhibition to shed further light on the topic. In-depth articles and project descriptions will be compiled in an accompanying catalogue.
The exhibition was co-produced by the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture/ Department of Architecture, and the Aalto School of Engineering’s Department of Built Environment. Additional events funded by the Allan & Bo Hjelt Art Foundation.
Curated by architect and Vice Dean Saija Hollmén, with exhibition design by Maiju Suomi and Johanna Marttila as project assistant. Graphic design and catalogue by Salla Bedard. Technical solutions by Timo Vikkula.
Interplay of Cultures – the changing professional role of the architect
Interplay of Culturesis an architecture course originally developed and taught by architects Hennu Kjisik and Veikko Vasko under Juhani Pallasmaa’s deanship. The course has always been about reflecting on the values of our profession, and the moralities we choose to follow in our practices – and what we can learn from ourselves when venturing out into the unknown. It was, and still is, about mutual learning and respecting other ways of seeing the world.
The focal point of the course has always been more in theoretical exercises, creating understanding, and providing tools for analysis. However, a few student projects have led to realization through determined efforts and a fundraising process without actual commission. These examples show how profoundly significant the experience was to some of the participants, and how it shaped their professional and personal identities, attitudes and ways of working.
Sustainable Global Technologies (SGT) – Experience in global projects
The multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder SGT Programme was developed in 2006 at the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the former Helsinki University of Technology, with support from the rector, professor emeritus Matti Pursula, under the academic leadership of ProfessorOlli Varis from Water Engineering.The aim was to provide university level teaching that seeks to give a holistic view of the state of the world and its development, emphasizing the role of sustainability and technology, and providing practical experience in international projects.
Exhibition programme

Tuesday 25.9, 5 pm, Museum of Finnish Architecture
Lecture: Tomà Berlanda, Director and Professor, School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics, University of Cape Town, South Africa: Cultural Interplays between Empathy and Respect
Wednesday 24.10, 6 pm, Museum of Finnish Architecture
Round table addressing the themes of the exhibition moderated by Saija Hollmén, architect, curator of the exhibition and Vice Dean of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture
Wednesday 21.11, 6 pm,  Museum of Finnish Architecture
Lecture: Professor Ester Charlesworth, RMIT, Melbourne, Australia:
Architects Without Frontiers: War Reconstruction and Design Responsibility
Themed guided tours in 2019
Collaboration with: Helinä Rautavaara Museum
For Hires Press images, please contact
Ilona Hildén
Communications, Museum of Finnish Architecture
+358 (0)45 7731 0468
For more information, please contact
Saija Hollmén
phone +358 40 587 9808