Finnish ‘Architect of Light’ Juha Ilmari Leiviskä Passes Away at 87

Finnish ‘Architect of Light’ Juha Ilmari Leiviskä Passes Away at 87

Juha Ilmari Leiviskä, one of Finland´s foremost architects recognized for his design of light-filled poetic spaces, passed away on November 9, 2023, at the age of 87. Born in Helsinki and educated at Helsinki University of Technology, Leiviskä developed a personal style throughout his six decades-long career, working with his own family of forms to design buildings with unique identities, yet unified by their treatment of light and geometry. His architecture has been praised for its serene, hones, and timeless qualities, earning him numerous awards and international recognition.

Among his most distinguished buildings are the Myyrmäki Church outside Helsinki (1980–84) and the Männistö Church at Kuopio (1986–92), both emphasizing sacred spaces infused with serene light. The first one caught the attention of architectural historian William J. R. Curtis, who visited it with Balkrishna Doshi in 1991. Impressed by the “sublime light, vibrant space, and “musical” rhythms of floating planes,” Curtis included the church in his third edition of “Modern Architecture Since 1900” (Phaidon, 1996), along with contemporary masters such as Tadao Ando and Álvaro Siza.

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Leiviskä also worked on secular projects at a variety of scales, from the Kouvola Town Hall in the late 1960s, designed in collaboration with Bertel Saarnio, to the German Embassy in Helsinki (1995), the Dar al-Kalima Academy in Bethlehem (2002), Villa Lepola at Espoo (1998), and the Swedish School of Social Sciences in Helsinki (2009). In each project, natural and artificial light plays a role as important as the architectural materials. His work escapes easy classification, being informed not by architectural styles, but by a social vision and adherence to the core principles of architecture.


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Leiviskä aspired towards the timeless values of architecture, drawing inspiration from the cultural and natural landscape of Finland as well as from complex modern Finnish tradition, always in dialogue with the history of architecture. “I believe in the permanency of the basic features of architecture, the so-called eternal values,” he once declared. The dramatic treatment of natural light in German Baroque churches and the compositional principles of Dutch De Stijl architecture of the 1920s influenced his mature style. Music also plays a crucial role in his career, infusing the spaces with rhythm and balance. Leiviskä often said that he aspired to be a pianist, but chose architecture instead, “channeling music into another medium and another art form” in the words of Curtis.

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Architecture is closer to music than to the visual arts. To qualify as architecture, buildings together with their internal spaces and their details, must be an organic part of the environment, of its grand drama, of its movement, and its spatial sequences. To me a building as it stands ‘as a piece of architecture’ is nothing. Its meaning comes only in counterpoint with its surroundings, with life, and with light. – Juha Leiviskä

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Leiviskä had a joint architect’s office in Helsinki with architect Vilhelm Helander – Vilhelm Helander, Juha Leiviskä arkkitehdit SAFA. In 2020, Juha Leiviskä was recognized with the Daylight Award 2020 for Architecture, further strengthening his position as one of the most significant contemporary architects in Finland and highlighting his ability to make daylight an integral element of the architectural spaces he creates. His architectural designs embody humanity, humility, tranquility, and optimism. They exude a welcoming and gentle atmosphere, deliberately avoiding any inclination to dominate, impress, or divert attention to the architect.

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