Sajos becomes hub for Sámi culture and administration
Sámi Cultural Centre will strengthen the identity of the indigenous Sámi people of Lapland, who celebrated their national day on Monday
By Jenni Leukumaavaara in Inari
The Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos has been built on the banks of the River Juutuanjoki in Inari in the north-eastern corner of Finnish Lapland.
The building looks like it does not have a single right angle in it. The walls bent between the four extended arms of the building are like coves, while the large windows let in the surrounding nature in the form of light and raw materials.
The dark facade is clad with spruce, while the interior is mainly of light pinewood.
The word Sajos is old Inari Sámi, and it means ”base” or ”settlement”.
Today, on the national day of the Sámi, Sajos is already in full use, but its official opening ceremony will be held only in April.
”This is a symbol of the Sámi culture and autonomy. Above all, Sajos will improve the self-esteem of the Sámi people and strengthen our identity”, Juha Guttorm, Project Manager of Sajos, says with obvious contentment.
A place like Sajos was under planning already back in the 1970s.
It was also spoken about longingly in 1996, when the Sámediggi, the Sámi Parliament of Finland, was established. The actual planning process was launched in 2000, and in the spring of 2007, the government in Helsinki recorded an appropriation for the Sámi Cultural Centre in the state budget.
Sajos gave a permanent home to the Sámi Parliament after 16 years of nomadic existence.
The design of Sajos is not only about architectural tricks.
One of the criteria for the two-stage international architectural competition was that the building should depict the uniqueness of the Sámi culture.
One of the tips for the competitors was Sámi duodji (Sámi handicraft), which combines aesthetic and practical aspects, together with recurring soft and curvilinear shapes.
”The task was difficult, as there were no traditional large Sámi buildings as a reference, not even on the Norwegian side of the border”, Guttorm notes.
Norway, it should be noted, has a much larger Sámi population - it hosts around 60,000 to 100,000 of the roughly 130,000 Sámi living in the far north of Europe, stretching from the Atlantic coast round to the Kola Pensinsula in Russia
The winners of the competition were Janne Laukka, Tuomas Niemelä, and Milla Parkkali, a team from Oulu, which has later become known as HALO Architects.
”The most important influences we got from the Sámi artefacts, including kuksa (a drinking cup made from carved birch burl), jewellery, and komsio (a traditional cradle of a Lappish child). For the Sámi people, the outdoor space is an extension of the living and dining areas, which is why we wanted to bring nature as close as possible”, explains Janne Laukka, Project Manager of the team.
The final result is beautiful, even amusing. From the foyer to the right, there is the Parliament Chamber Solju, the round shape of which comes from solju, a Sámi silver brooch. On the wall of the hall, there is visual artist Outi Pieski’s work of art with recurring solju motifs.
To the left from the entrance area there is the Dolla auditorium, in the shape of an oval container or giisa. The building itself, seen as a bird's eye view from directly above, is like a reindeer hide hanging on the wall to dry.
Only later did the designers hear from reindeer herdsmen that one of the vertebrae in the reindeer backbone is of precisely the same shape as Sajos.
The four-arm construction of the building also makes it easy to arrange various activities: one arm is reserved for the Sámi Education Institute and its recording studio, another is occupied by a Sámi library, a third provides space for a restaurant, while a fourth arm accommodates meeting rooms.
The brand new Sámi archives are located on the second floor, collecting Sámi materials from other research institutes and above all from the attics of Lappish people.
”This was pretty much the eleventh hour to start rebuilding the history of Sámi people from their own perspective. Until now, research has been made mainly from the outside”, says researcher Suvi Kivelä, who is in charge of the archives.
Sajos has already hosted a great many events: theatre performances, concerts, conferences and seminars. In late January, the indigenous peoples’ film festival Skábmagovat attracted a good many Sámi filmmakers and viewers to Sajos.
The Sámi film and music culture is enjoying a boom, and Guttorm hopes that Sajos and its high-level technology would give it a further boost.
”A particularly important idea behind the Sajos centre is to reform and develop Sámi culture on the basis of traditional values. This is the reason why the roles of children’s culture, the music and film centre, and the Sámi Education Institute will be highlighted”, Guttorm explains.
There is also a silent wish that Sajos could provide a gateway for returning Sámi expatriates.
As many as 65 per cent of Finland’s approximately 9,500 Sámi people actually live outside the Sámi area. This is bound to have an atrophying effect on the culture and the three Sámi languages (Northern Sámi, Inari Sámi, and Skolt Sámi) spoken in these parts.
Sajos could offer work for the returning migrants and encourage them to develop their own culture in its heart and base.
FACTFILE: Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos
Sajos is the Sámi Cultural and Administrative Centre, completed in January 2012. The official opening ceremony will be held in April.
Sajos is the largest venue in Northern Lapland for conferences and events, and is also rented out even to outsiders.
The building accommodates the Sámi Parliament of Finland, the Sámi Education Institute (SAKK), a Sámi library and archives, the Regional State Administrative Agency for Lapland, as well as a number of associations.
Sajos employs approximately 45 to 50 people and about 30 students of communications and public relations.
The Cultural Centre Sajos cost around EUR 15 million, and it was built by the state-owned Senate Properties. The building has been financed by funds granted by the European Union and the state of Finland.
The building was designed by the Oulu-based architects' office HALO Architects, with architect Janne Laukka as the project manager. The main designer was Janne Pihlajaniemi from Arkkitehdit m3 Oy in Oulu.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.2.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Uncovering the secrets of the Sámi (14.2.2006)
Sápmi - a pale blue winter´s dream in the far north (20.1.2009)
Skolt Sámi celebrate 60th anniversary of resettlement in Sevettijärvi in Finnish Lapland (1.9.2009)
Sámi Cultural Centre Sajos
Sámediggi - the Sami Parliament of Finland
Skábmagovat Film Festival
Sámi people (Wikipedia)
JENNI LEUKUMAAVAARA / Helsingin Sanomat