Egg in a Cage?

17 August 2012 | This 'n' that

Noises off: the Chapel of Silence. Photo: Mika Huisman/Decopic

A windowless wooden construction with a timber interior sits on a busy route between the bus and railway stations in the middle of Helsinki. The egg-shaped Chapel of Silence contains simple wooden benches, offering a moment of peace and quiet for anyone passing by.

Almost 12 metres high, 270 square metres in overall footprint, it is a sacral space, with a small cross and an altar at the back, but it is not intended for liturgical purposes – however, social services are available for private conversation during opening hours.

Helsinki is this year’s World Design Capital – together with the neighbouring cities of Espoo, Vantaa, and Kauniainen, and Lahti, a hundred kilometres to the north. Every second year the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design recognises one global city `for its accomplishments in utilizing design as a tool to improve social, cultural, and economic life’.

Room without walls: the Pavilion. Photo: WDC/Aki-Pekka Sinikoski

The Chapel of Silence (designed by Mikko Summanen) in Helsinki was erected to be used by citizens and visitors alike. Also new is the Pavilion, an open-to-all space – close to the Design Museum – and showcase of Finnish sustainable wood architecture (designed by Pyry-Pekka Kantonen).

Among the events that take place there are music, lunchtime yoga and various discussions; it is rather like a living room without walls.

We suspect that curiosity may be a stronger motive than the urge to experience a moment of silence – but nevertheless, since the opening on 1 June the Chapel has been visited by more than 100,000 people.

The smooth wooden surfaces – spruce outside, black alder inside – and soft lighting do have a soothing effect on the restless passer-by – provided you are able to concentrate on your inner life instead of listening to the noise caused by other visitors shuffling on the floor, whispering, coughing, opening of doors etc. In the year of his centenary, a Cagean experience, then?

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