In the the darkening late-autumn twilight of Suvela, a Helsinki suburb, a young Chinese couple steps down from the bus at the neighborhood stop, returning home from their research day at the nearby Aalto University. Three Somali youths kick a soccer ball down the sidewalk, courteously allowing a hijab-adorned mother to push along a stroller. Behind them, inside the angled, prow-like form of the copper-striated, softly glowing Suvela Chapel, parishioners engage in spirited discussion with their pastors under the high, canted, and spruce-paneled surfaces of the worship hall. Across the chapel’s interior cobblestoned courtyard, children of all backgrounds laugh, draw, paint, and perform throughout a series of colorful classrooms, each opening onto a playground and the adjacent park.
“What is a church supposed to look like?” asks OOPEAA principal Anssi Lassila. “There is no prototypical way of making a Finnish church. For us, it is a meeting place—a community center more than a place of worship.” Lassila’s assertions bear weight, coming after OOPEAA’s completion of four significant and highly regarded Lutheran parish churches throughout Finland in the last 15 years, a sequence now punctuated by the September 2016 dedication of the Suvela Chapel, a parish center already a finalist for the Finlandia Prize, the country’s highest architectural honor.