International Section - english

First Prize: arch. Matti Sanaksenaho

St Henry‘s Ecumenical Art Chapel


Jury’s Assessment:

An especially interesting religious space which conveys the message of ecumenical integration. The building, situated on a hill, opens on to a small square which acts as a place for meeting and socialising, combining perfectly landscape and architecture."


The chapel rises from its site: a knoll surrounded by pine trees.

It rises from the landscape like a traditional sacred building, resembling an upturned boat – or the shape of a fish.

The project communicates using contrasts between light and shade, copper and wood. The copper facing will turn green with age and blend in with the trees and natural surroundings.

The existing buildings, part of the centre providing services for cancer patients, form a village from which the chapel rises, offering itself to patients and visitors as a place for contemplation.

The chapel’s form speaks softly: the idea was to create a large landscape sculpture and a small building.


The walk towards the chapel slopes up the hill. On entering, you cross a small foyer leading into a spacious entrance, the fish’s stomach: the fish was a symbol used by the first Christians and this ancient symbol fits the chapel well, because its ecumenical nature is meant to appeal to all Christians, irrespective of their congregation.


Lamellar pinewood ribbing forms the chapel’s load-bearing structure. Untreated wood panelling, tending towards red as it ages, covers the walls.


Although the competition’s programme contained the idea of integrating art with religious space, it was the painter-priest Hannu Konola who thought of building a Chapel where Art and Religion could commune together.


The chapel has excellent acoustics for concerts and the space behind the nave can be used as an art gallery by removing the pews.

Light filters through the high stained-glass windows onto the altar wall.

Apart from copper and wood, the most important building material is natural light, which gives life to shapes, spaces and surfaces during the day. The idea is of movement across shaded spaces towards the altar and the light, whose source is hidden from view.


The feasible project was drawn up in 1998, with the guiding principle that each and every detail should be simple and pure. Copper for the exterior covering and wood for the interior therefore play an important part in this plan.

The customer is a non-profit organisation.


Four architects worked together alongside Matti and Pirjo Sanaksenaho on the feasible project.

Building work commenced in 2004 and the Chapel was consecrated in May 2005.

Matti Sanaksenaho was born in 1966. His career as an architect began in 1989 when, at just 23 years of age, he won the Architectural competition for the design of Finland’s Pavilion at the 1992 Seville EXPO, along with four fellow architectural students. As a result of the Pavilion’s success he was chosen as a candidate for the Chapel competition.


The plaque at the entrance of the Ecumenical Chapel