Markku Pääkkönen: Transparent Wall

Markku Pääkkönen

Transparent Wall

”…what architects can learn from artists is the incorporation of such emotional areas that architecture fails to deal with.” -Juhani Pallasmaa


Colour escapes definition. It always looks different from what I expected. Colour is like quantum space: only when measured (or, in this context, when I mix it and put it in its place) does it become one of the possibilities it originally had.

When you are only after an aesthetic appearance, which is the area where I operate and mix my colours, you can only define colour in relation to the adjacent colour and the environment. There are other methods of definition, surely: historical references; symbolic values; various colour systems; beliefs; notions of the psychological effects of colour; odd theories; and commercial tone and matching charts.

By combining different colours you can build visual spaces, which could refer to anything at all. It is a different story altogether whether the viewer, the user of the space, sees anything more in the spaces apart from judging them as beautiful or ugly or ”I kinda like that” or ”that colour sucks”.

Using colour does not require knowledge, it takes skill and competence. And, as is the case with all skill and competence, you can learn to control colours by practicing, by using them. Yet even after long practice, long experience, you can make a wrong choice: colour deceives you.

Colourspace contains all hues of all colours, with all saturation and value differences. The average human being is able to see 10 million colours – any 10 million, that is, depending on where you start.

I wander freely in colourspace. I can start where I like. I first construct a vision, a concept, a drawing, a plan, which may be not unlike a mathematical formula. This colour must have the same value as the next, but the hue must be that much different. When I continue my colour series I stick to my chosen structure, and if the outcome corresponds to my vision and I have selected my starting point so that there is enough colourspace to implement the plan, I will not need to start over again.


When I place two pieces of board against the window, against the light, so that one of the boards partly covers the other, the one in front reflects the light coming through the window on the one behind it. And when I paint the first board with a given colour, the one behind is coloured with the same colour. It is like magic.

What emerges is a wondrous, heavenly sense of immateriality. Colour becomes light and board turns into paper. And when I run my colour series along the surface of the board, the colour becomes spatial, like a transparent space.

In his buildings, Juha Leiviskä uses wooden panels that diffuse light and appear transparent against the light. Leiviskä sculpts light. He is very good at carrying it.

I was very much obliged when Leiviskä asked me to design a work of art for the church hall of St John’s church in Männistö (Light, Grace, Consolation, 1992). As I knew I would have to make the work on the site when the construction was still going on, I practiced my colour series for a couple of years with a scale model. I painted the series on the church walls and the light-reflecting panels during the six months when the interior of the church was being completed.

I think I did well. Of course, when I first saw the work after the scaffolding had been dismantled, I wished I had done some things differently. But that is how I feel every time I have completed something. It is hard to leave a project behind. But it is also better to leave your works slightly unfinished than overworking them to perfection.

The altar of the church of the Good Shepherd in Pakila is dominated by Leiviskä’s light-sculpting verticality. When I had finished the model for the altarpiece, I recall thinking that I did not want to mess with that, it does not need anything. Yet I changed my mind, thanks to the encouragement I got from both Leiviskä’s office and my assistant Panu Ruotsalo (Gabriel’­s Wing, 2002).

When the idea of prisms turned out to be feasible, I gave up the colour series. In my own works I had actually already given them up. Even Männistö church had been completed a decade ago.

I built the work around prisms and individual reflections. There was not much time, less than a year. Studies in the variations of light had to give way to polishing technical details. I spread the coloured reflections all over the altar wall. They are dark – well, the darkest hue is lighter than my skin in the winter, but yet they manage to cast a shadow-like reflection on the white panel.

And yet I think I made it. Juha told me a while ago that he had got used to the work by now. Perhaps, if I could have spent more time on working with the model as I did with Männistö, the outcome would have been slightly different…


I was sitting in the office of Pentti Kareoja, destroying the ARK-house architects’ colour chart.

Kareoja had been a kind of fairy godfather to my public works for quite some time, bringing me and Leiviskä together, for instance. We also collaborated on a number of art competitions, which in our opinion called for the dialogue of architecture and the visual arts.

Pasting the pieces I had cut out from the colour chart, I sketched five versions for the entrance façade for the Mustakivi school and community centre in Vuosaari (Angel’s L­adder, 1998).

Earlier, I had made two colour scheme designs: a competition entry for the Tikkurila paint factory, and, at the request of Esa Laaksonen, for the conference room in Siilinjärvi spa.

I was operating on foreign ground. I was unable to mix my colours myself, I had to build the concept by guessing whether I could manage to filter a single combination that would meet my requirements out of the 2000 options in the factory catalogue…

The only way for me to influence the architecture was to re-divide the surfaces with colour. I was on the skin of architecture.

The commission concept, too, was different from the usual. Kareoja had managed to insert the idea of the colour scheme in the construction expenses. ”This is how we get a full-fledged work of art for a fraction of the usual price”, said Kareoja.

My friends shook their heads when I told them what they paid me for the colour scheme design. Mustakivi was commissioned by the City of Helsinki. An interesting addition to the discourse was later contributed by another city department, when they bolted a ”no parking” sign in the middle of my work of art. Is that historical layers or what?

The colour band for Pikipruukki in Vaasa was made in several parts (Intervals 1-3, 1999-2002). For that, I utilised a colour chart of coated hardboard with some 100 hues. This made the number of available concept versions somewhat lower, but in the end the choice was self-evident. All colours exist in colourspace, be they few or many. Any given colour matches any given colour. You only need to place them correctly in terms of quantity.

Mauri Korkka asked me to participate in the colour designs of his town plan drafts (Transitions, 2000). Once again the concept was new and strange to me, taking me further away from the physical interaction involved in the mixing of colours.

To design a skin for the idea of a building. To create colouring that might just be possible, without knowing anything about the materials, basing everything on a vague idea of the final space. The idea was against everything I had learned about colour and how I had learned to use it. But then the process proved to be immensely meaningful and interesting: endless development of concepts with a computer, without having to think whether they were feasible in colourscape.

How the decision-making process takes to colour schemes in town plans is another story altogether.


I operate in a field of art where it is difficult to recognise the outcome as a work of art. I have been asked many times whether I go with the architect’s plans when creating my works. On the other hand: because I go so near, on the very skin of the building, my works may have quite intensively contributed to the appearance of the architecture.

To me, art means the spiritualisation of architecture, deepening its own breathing. The problem of originality in these projects is essentially different from making a painting. I take architecture, the building, as a painting base. I study the interaction between my base and my ’originality’ and take the building as one of the layers in the work. My approach is more visual than conceptual, however.

I do make paintings as well. They have just unavoidably been left in the shadow of my truer object of interest. My paintings are like walls, the skin of which I modify, using them for finding concepts for new buildings.

Colourspace, wide as it may be, has gradually become insufficient for me. What I am now increasingly interested in is the human brain, the regularities of perception and r­eflection.

What if I could modify the perception of a building using light and the ways of seeing: to create a transparent concrete wall?