Traditional Finnish Timber Construction

Nordic countries have a long tradition of using wood as a construction material and Finland is no exception. Log cabins, churches, town halls and other buildings such as traditional Finnish bbq huts were constructed from logs, and sometimes entire tree trunks, due to the abundance of timber growing freely in this region.

Traditional Finnish log construction is characterised by a distinctive simplicity. The uncomplicated rectangular buildings with gently sloping roofs are much the same as today’s modern log cabins and bbq huts. This style of building has been enjoying a revival in recent years. During the early part of the 20th Century, the American lightweight timber frame style of building, then new, was widely adopted in Finland, and mostly replaced the native style of log construction by the 1930’s.

Before long, lightweight timber frame structures became the favoured option, with traditional log construction being viewed as outdated. The opinion was, that the traditional Finnish log construction method too laborious, and timber frame structures used less used wood, and were quicker to erect.
Aside from a post war period of reconstruction in Finland, when nails and other resources were scarce, traditional log construction became an antiquated and obscure building method. Many of the original log structures were demolished during the 1960’s and 1970’s, and very few remain today. The general consensus was that new buildings were easier to construct, in comparison to repairing or renovating old log structures.

Recently, the positive qualities of log buildings have led to people embracing traditional Finnish construction methods and architecture once again. Log buildings are now considered to be durable, aesthetically pleasing and ecologically sustainable structures of an extremely high quality. Log buildings are also perceived as being ‘healthy buildings’, due to the fact that there is a good amount of air flow within them, which permits the buildings to ‘breathe’.

So, are these structures healthier? Although this question has not been widely researched, there does appear to be some evidence to back this up this claim. Recent studies by the Research Centre of Finland (VVT), did show that wood, when used as a hygroscopic material, could noticeably improve the air quality inside a building. Wood could also potentially reduce the need for heating. This is because the hygroscopic material (wood) allows for more air to circulate, which in turn, cuts down the need for ventilation by up to 15%, so less heat can escape.

The 1950’s saw the beginning of the industrialisation of log construction, leading to industrially produced round logs replacing the hand hewn variety. At this point, there was little input from experts such as architects and designers, but this changed in the 1960’s to 1970’s when the market for log buildings opened up. Technologies such as CAD, have allowed for traditional style log structures to be mass produced to a very high standard. Today, Finnish industrially produced log cabins and other types of buildings have become country’s chief export, with the products being shipped to over 30 countries worldwide.

Finland is now home to the world’s leading log factories and log construction companies. These traditional Finnish log buildings are not just exported, and domestic sales have increased, with log structures accounting for 10% of all new homes built. These new builds are mainly in rural areas, but more homeowners than ever are interested in this style of home. There are also moves to reintroduce the log building back into Finland’s towns and cities.

The University of Oulo has played an important role in the modern revival of traditional Finnish wood buildings. The Wood Studio of the Department of Architecture, has run many competitions for students to explore this traditional construction method with fresh eyes.

Other projects in Finland such as the Kierikki Centre, which is the country’s largest log building, and the Kärsämäki shingle clad wooden church, have become flagships for traditional Finnish log construction, but with a modern twist. These structures are elegant, simple and durable.