Text by Sarah de Nardi
On 2 September 2022, when project leader Eerika and team assistant Jasmin offered to take me on a
tour of the JYU Seminarmaki campus, my heart sang in my chest. This meant that I would see, and
experience, by being there, several examples of the finest Alvar Aalto architecture in the city.
What I had not realised or expected on our walking tour, was the extent to which greenery
triumphed over bricks and mortar in the architecture and feel of the places we visited.
In Finland, nature enjoys the guest of honour place at the table; my immediate sense was that on
this beautiful, highly functional university campus, nature is a predominant part of a conversation on
learning, living well, and being a community. Trees and warm wood intersect clean lines of brick and
concrete. The qualities of the place challenged my previous experiences of what university campuses
offer in terms of spatial navigation, logic, and atmospheres. Leafy promises of relaxation and
contemplation interweave with technical, almost brutalist intimations of intellectual collaboration
and sporting endeavour- the latter exemplified by the deceptively clean lines of the Sports centre
and department buildings, spilling out onto the track and field as if to continue conversations and
processes that started inside the structures.
On our walk, we moved up and down in space, negotiating hilly rises and vast expanses in a way that
could remind one of a drift – in the order in which our feet took us, as opposed to a previously
agreed trajectory. The psychogeography of a campus; its eclectic genius loci greeted us at the turn
of every clump of trees, at the twist of each path. The sensory experience of being there, surrounded
by these buildings and greenery, can only make sense if one does not carry expectations of what a
place of learning and work should feel like.