Heinävaara Elementary School opens

Heinävaara Elementary School opens
September 1999

Juhani Rouvinen, the mayor of Heinävaara, Finland, and architect Antero Turkki attended a conference in Helsinki where they listened to a representative from Cuningham Group speak about the latest research on how children learn in different ways and what that meant for school design. They immediately envisioned the possibilities for their new school in Heinävaara and commissioned Cuningham Group to lead the process.

Cuningham Group met with community members to help them understand how the learning landscape was changing. “We asked a lot of questions and we listened,” says Principal Judy Hoskens. “Together, we created a vision for their new school. Once the community understood that we shared their values and priorities for their children, you could feel the tide turn. The most vocal adversaries became our strongest advocates. The experience was exhilarating!”

Educational “houses” in the 26,000-square-foot school open to a central gathering space with media center, performance area and cafeteria that are available to the community in the evening. A focal point of the gathering space is a 10-foot-high, soapstone fireplace used by students for activities such as baking traditional Karelian pies.

To boost the local wood-products industry, Heinävaara used the school project to learn North American wood platform-framing. Contractors from the United States worked hand-in-hammer with the Finns for a month, teaching the technique, which is faster than traditional Finnish building methods and reduces lumber waste up to 30 percent.

“It’s been nearly 20 years since I collaborated on Heinävaara School’s planning and design, but I can honestly say that this project is still the most special of my career,” says Principal Judy Hoskens. “Architecture is all about relationships we cultivate, and I feel like I have family in Finland. It doesn’t get any better than that. Through enduring friendships, I remain connected to Heinävaara. Its commitment to the priority of learning for all children has furthered my resolve to making this a reality on all my school projects. I am indebted for the impact Heinävaara School has had on me, both personally and professionally.”