Third year Architecture students from the University of Westminster have designed and built a timber “laavu” or shelter in the Punkaharju forests of eastern Finland.

The structure was built without the use of power tools from locally sawn Red Pine. Construction was completed in nine days under the guidance of architects Sami Rintala of Rintala Eggertsson and Tom Raymont of Arboreal Architecture, who is also Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at Westminster.

The shelter was built spontaneously and collectively without the use of drawings, simply by arranging and adjusting elements until the group agreed on the correct design. From footings to floor, to columns, walls and roof: each part was built in response to the former but without predetermining what was to follow. The result was an intimately site-specific structure that responded to the adjacent avenue of birch trees, the gently sloping ground and the serpentine edge of the nearby lake.

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The structure forms a public gathering space for up to 20 people located just off a popular hiking and skiing path in the forest. It is in the grounds of the Lusto Forestry Museum and becomes one of their collection of timber structures and artefacts recording the last 100 years of forestry in Finland. The building was christened ‘Lastu’ in empathy with the museum building nearby. It means a flake of wood thrown out when cutting or chiselling wood.

The workshop was commissioned by the Finnish Institute in London. It is part of the Mobile Home 2017 project, a collaborative project between the Finnish Institute’s in Paris, Berlin and Benelux Countries. It is also part of the Finland 100 programme celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence in 2017.

Harry Charrington, Head of Department of Architecture at Westminster who was organiser of the project, said: “The project gave Architecture students an opportunity to craft their designs, not just draw them on a computer. This process of thinking through making is what so many of the architects working in London have forgotten, and which we so badly need to recover in making the city a more humane place to live.

“The project enabled students to link the immediacy of hand-building in the Finnish wilderness with the cutting-edge technologies of the University of Westminster’s Digital Fabrication Laboratory, and to harmonise the potential of both in an innovative new synthesis.”

Tom Raymont said: “I think this project has been hugely empowering to the students to see what a significant structure they can build themselves. It has already inspired them and could inspire other Londoners to self-build rather than use construction companies for small scale work. The cost savings are huge and the results more bespoke and personal. The experience of self-build – with the right knowledge and training – can be very rewarding.”

Pauliina Ståhlberg, Director of the Finnish Institute in London, said: "These architecture students may solve London´s housing problems. Many of the students had never held a hammer before the building workshop in the freezing Finnish wilderness. They learned essential skills such as realism, building quickly, and using only the available materials. They may well use these to build more economic housing in our cities in the future."

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