Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Travis Price in Home & Design

Founder of Spirit of Place - Spirit of Design, Travis Price, is featured on the cover of the architecture issue of Home & Design. If you're in the DC area, go get yourself a copy or read about it here. The beautiful home for Steve Salop and Judy Gelman overlooking the Potomac River pays homage to the natural elements of the site including the rising earth and clouds. It is divided into two parts, which the owners have nicknamed Terminal A and B because of the similarity of Dulles Airport by Saarinen.
The interiors are softened with warm woods by Thos. Moser and lots of built-in storage to keep the place clutter-free care of interior designer Barbara Hawthorne. Price says, "The home isn't sterile like the Bauhaus, but is full of natural rhythms. This is modern architecture with soul." That pretty much sums up Price's work. 

Photos by Kenneth Wyner.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Spirit of Place - Spirit of Design 2011 has been selected: NEPAL. We are joining forces with an established consortium of ongoing humanitarian and education programs in the Namje and Thumki villages of eastern Nepal. These remote villages comprise a rural and disenfranchised Magar community with a traditional agrarian economy, craft and building heritage, and cultural identity that is under threat due to rapid globalization. Take a look:

 Since 2001, international Peace Corps volunteers have worked closely with village residents, and several international grassroots organizations and NGOs including Greening Villages Movement, Greening Schools Movement, Living Earth Institute, and the Phul Maya Foundation.  Projects have included new school construction, clean water infrastructure, and sustainable agriculture education.

Beginning in January 2011, undergraduate and graduate architecture students from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC will explore the culture, history, and ecology of a village site and develop the design for the ‘legacy marker’ which will be built with local Nepali builders and village residents in summer 2011. In addition, the students will explore and envision models for schools, libraries, guest houses, and other rural community spaces through a full-semester studio, which, can be built in future phases within this community and/or other parts of Nepal. 

Nepal is undergoing an extremely rapid and haphazard phase of modernization as a result of globalization.  Hundreds of villages are losing their cultural identity in the transformation into concrete communities, as there are few demonstrations of alternative visions and ideas for architecture and community space.  Not only will Spirit of Place build this spiritual marker (which will reflect the Magar cultural heritage of Nepal), but students will also design models and renderings for schools, libraries, community spaces and other structures which could have an echoing effect across the region, helping to protect and promote the cultural heritage and environmental spaces.  It is a highly unique educational opportunity that will create a new force to preserve the spirit of Namje and Thumki for the future.

Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design will bring students from schools of architecture and design, all from different countries of the world, to design the project during the spring 2011 semester at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Following a January site visit to the villages for planning and consultation with community residents, Spirit of Place program instructors will lead the students into an immersion of Nepali and Magar history, culture, in order to design an evocative space to reflect and celebrate the spirit of the unique site. 

During the design process, students will develop metaphoric designs based upon Nepali culture and mythology, expressed in a modern idiom in a variety of media.  The students then create their own poetic and sculptural interpretations, and then further refine these into detailed architectural models:  both physical and in electronic media, as well as in working construction drawings.  Opportunities for public exhibits of the student design work will be sought in Washington and in Nepal.

In summer 2011, the students will be joined by local artisans to construct the Spirit of Place installation in Nepal in 9 days. 

The impact of this education on the students is invaluable and life-changing.  Their study of the history of Nepali architecture and the importance of religious and cultural metaphor in creating the historical architecture will enable them to be a part of creating a new international architectural language.  Additionally, the students will focus on exploring appropriate technology, local architectural techniques, and conservation practices for construction.  A significant goal is to learn about designing architecture that is environmentally benign in a modern world without losing cultural history and authenticity.  Subsequently, a record of vanishing Nepali architectural design and building techniques will be preserved hand in hand with the emerging design idioms.

New Models for Culturally Responsive Design:  Benefit to the Villages of Namje and Thumki

Currently, global architecture, especially in Nepal, has become a sprawling and misguided landscape of construction in search of a soul.  Modern development is severely lacking not only in ecological responsibility and historical literacy, but more importantly in Nepal, the reinforcement of its sacred cultural metaphors.  Globally, we are witnessing a rapid exhaustion of ecological and cultural resources.  Even more disconcerting, new construction is taking its toll on the human spirit, the rich ancestry of indigenous peoples, and their sacred geographies.  There is a compelling need in our emerging global culture to develop and record a new aesthetic archetype that speaks to these issues.  The Spirit of Place building expeditions have continually sought remedies to this cultural and environmental problem for over fifteen years. 

This year, the benefit to the Nepalese villages of Namje and Thumki of our expedition is manifold.  Building an improved design alternative based upon their historical architecture is crucial to avoiding the pitfalls of soulless modern construction currently rampant in Nepal.  The project at its core is developing an innovative modern architectural language for Nepal based on its sacred past.  In addition, local Nepalese will be working side by side with an emerging generation of American architects.  Both groups will be learning from each other during the experience.  More importantly, this expedition ensures that a built project will be left behind as a clear icon. As a design critique with its built manifestation, the project will be a clear milestone of change for others to emulate and from which to measure the built  progress of the future.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Kalevalakehto in Metropolis magazine

3 months later and still making headlines. Way to go SOP team!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kalevalakehto at night

You think it's gorgeous in the day, this one proves she's a looker at all hours of the day with the addition of a few peripheral candles.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kalevalakehto poetic

Poetic poem created during the 9 day charette in January at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC. Pictures depict the opening ceremony on August 26, 2010.

What's this Kalevala you speak of?

New to Spirit of Place - Spirit of Design? What in the world is the Kalevala we've been incessantly posting about? Fear no more, Kalevala 101 to your rescue. We were lucky enough to get a hold of the text from the curator from the Ateneum Art Museum's fabulous Kalevala exhibition last year to answer all of your Kalevala related questions and then some. For more information feel free to visit the Kalevala Society fantastic webpage. Browse around and once you've soaked it all in, ask yourself, "What's MY kalevala?" You can find this permanent post by clicking on this link.

About the Kalevala
(source:  Kalevala Exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum, 2009)


The Kalevala was published for the first time in 1835 and in a revised edition in 1849. The publisher was the Finnish Literature Society, which promoted the collection of old folk poetry.

Finnish rune-singing has a tradition going back over 2000 years. The poems are in a distinctive alliterative four-beat metre (trochaic tetrameter) that came to be known as 'Kalevala metre'.

They were sometimes sung to a kantele accompaniment. The ancient singing tradition was strong throughout the country up to the 16th century but began to weaken after the Reformation.

Elias Lönnrot gathered some of the poems together to form a single epic narrative. The result was a story with a continuous plot, held together in places with new additions.

When the Kalevala was published, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire. Right from the start, the work played a major role in strengthening the standing of the Finnish language and culture. The Kalevala began to be thought of as the country's national epic, and its publication aroused immediate interest abroad, too. To date, it has been translated into over 60 languages.

The Kalevala story begins with a description of the creation of the world and ends at the beginning of a new cultural era, when Christianity reaches Finland. It describes mythical events, the battles and heroic deeds
of two warring clans, the peoples of Kalevala and Pohjola.

The Kalevala has inspired artists in many disciplines. Its stories have been turned into not only visual art but also opera, comic strips, heavy rock, poetry, prose, drama and dance.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pekka Hako: The Interview

Pekka Hako worked as the Cultural Counselor when the students at Catholic University and Aalto University gathered at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, DC for a 9 day design charette to determine the design of what ultimately became the Kalevalakehto on Seurasaari. An avid filmmaker, Pekka knows what makes a story and how to capture it, but also easily manages to be the entertainment himself. There's never a dull moment when Pekka is around! I asked him some questions to which he responded with the following (again, never a dull moment!)

BW: Why and when did you stop loving the Kalevala ?  
PH: I never started. The Kalevala is, or was, obligatory reading at school, and I found it rather boring at the time. My links to the national epic are mostly indirect – i.e., via the music of Sibelius, the paintings of Gallen-Kallela, etc. 
BW: Have you ever actually read it as a great book? Recently?
PH: No.
BW: How did you get involved with Travis Price and the Kalevalakehto / Spirit of Place?
PH: I guess I have played a not inconsiderable role in the project. Travis came to Helsinki in connection with the Helsinki-Washington [My Helsinki] programme two years ago, and it started from there. I met Travis in Washington a couple of times, and the idea seemed interesting. The rest is history.
BW: What has this venture done to revive your perceptions of the Kalevala?
PH: Not much yet, but I expect it will help.
BW: What is one of the most amusing and odd things this has and is bringing to life?
PH: Don’t know about amusing or odd, but the project has certainly brought a new lease of life to the outdoor museum island of Seurasaari which has been in search of purpose for quite some time.
BW: What is your spirit of place, your sacred space, where do you go again and again to commune with the sacred?
PH: Uh-oh… a tall order. My sacred space is the City of Helsinki, its parks, streets and the sea. 
BW: Do you think the Kalevala story can go beyond “the Lord of the Rings”, Kalevalakehto, and if so where would you take it next.
PH: Someone will undoubtedly write a rock musical around it sooner or later.
BW: Who are you? What is the Finnish spirit to you?
PH: I’m largely a stranger to myself. The Finnish spirit is a combination of extreme ambition and low self esteem. No other nation would have rushed to demand a recount after the recent Newsweek magazine Best Country in the World award.
BW: What’s your favorite salmon recipe?
PH: One containing as little salmon as possible.
BW: Do you believe in metaphors?
PH: No. Anything can mean anything to anyone. It’s a matter of agreement.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 9 construction

Check out another day of construction from the build. Day 9!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

making headlines

Check us out! 

US Embassy in Finland. Click here.
This Is Finland, web magazine of Finnish Foreign Ministry. Click here.
Helsinki City Hall Virka Gallery Student Exhibition. Click here.
Helsinki Design Week article. Click here.
Helsinki Sanomat, International Edition article. Click here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

embassy life

US Ambassador to Finland Bruce Oreck, graciously invited us to the US Embassy of Finland for a pizza lunch during the construction of the Kalevalakehto. We were hoping our time schedule would be on target to allow ourselves a moment of refueling and needless to say, the team made all efforts to do so (you would too with that type of invitation right?). With a delicious and healthy feast of homemade pizza on rye, Ambassador Oreck did not disappoint. He gave a brief speech based on a recent address to a group interested in green business with a message that it doesn't matter what other people are doing in the field, it matters what you are doing. He traced the development of the green movement starting with Henry David Thoreau's poem "Walden Pond" and how it affected John Muir, which influenced Teddy Roosevelt, which in turn reached Rachel Carson of Silent Spring, and trickled down to the progress that's been made today. All of these changes based on the power of just one person. 
Not just talking the the talk, but walking the walk, he led us to the site where he and his wife keep bees. We can't thank him and the embassy staff enough for such a pleasant afternoon and for their massive support on this project. Thank you!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010


Beautiful photo by Bobby Blabobil.

Time elapse

We are done! 10 days later, the Kalevalakehto is complete and beautiful. Take a look for yourself from start to finish.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Day 7 construction AND U2 at our hostel!

Public opening

Opening night number two was much more low key. The singers floated back onto the island on their church boat while performing music. The kalevalakehto was lit with the Iittala candles that were generously donated to the project.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 6 Video

Opening Night of the Kalevalakehto

The finished product.

Lining the way to the Kalevalakehto for the guests.

The kantela players arriving to shore.

Junior Finnish national champions lined the path to the Kalevalakehto and performed.
After Travis Price's speech at the site, the crowd was led to the festivities area to watch a full performance of the dancers.
Reception at the restaurant.