Interviewed in Ljubljana 10 April 2009
Sami Rintala is one of those unique architects who look upon architecture in its entirety, as a separate discipline following its inner laws, but also as a form of direct action, deeply immersed in the reality of the world. Today, Rintala is a partner in Rintala Egerton, a small ‘family’ firm, as he says. The conceptual thread of his projects, from installations to current interventions, is a sensitive and empathetic approach to the subject and location he deals with, but his projects retain a particularly architectural and autonomous character. Rintala relies on an introspective attitude to the task, but his authorial effort avoids the trap of naïveté or literalness, so the results are simple but formally impressive artefacts in an active relationship with nature and the life it fosters.
ORIS: The geopolitical history of Finland has some similarities to former Yugoslavian countries in terms of its liminal, in-between position between big powers. Can you relate this geopolitical relation with the cultural production of Finland? Its cultural identity is well-known worldwide, especially if we speak about design or architecture. Was the cultural production part of the attempt to strengthen national integrity as a reaction to the powerful neighbors, not only from the Russian side, but probably also from other Nordic countries?
Rintala: This is the official history line. In the second half of the 19th century a movement was started that was led by composers, painters and other artists who were trying to find the sources of Finnishness mainly in nature and Karelian mythology. They were actively using culture to create politics and this position grew strong. I don’t think it works any more at all. I would state that the position of creative cultural humanism has been weakened in reality because the construction industry has overrun the cultural position of especially architecture. Every once and a while it is used as a sign of Finnishness, but what you raise as a sign of Finnishness now in contemporary architecture in Finland is one question, when people and ideas criss-cross as everyday reality. Another question is who needs these national symbol roles for architecture anymore. Perhaps just politicians.
There’s a feeling, which is right, that Finland is not standing in the middle of a dynamic change in architecture towards something new at all. Only recently are there some programmes that are starting to promote new concepts. There are naturally some young offices that are very interesting, but they don’t have work. Tradition also means that you are moving step by step towards the position where you start making, for instance, public buildings. I hope that this is shaking a little bit, because it is not healthy, there should be some side paths, other kinds of expression. Unlike in Finland, in Norway the architectural tradition is not that strong, and it is not blocking those paths, so there are many interesting things happening there, partly due to the lack of heavy tradition, partly due to the fact that they have a lot of money.