In 1983, the trustees of the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation decided to donate an art collection to the city of Rovaniemi. The Foundation had already chosen a building to house the collection, namely, the northern wing of a post bus depot, a brick building in the centre of the city. The donation was made on the condition that the city should refurbish this building to appropriate exhibition and storage facilities. Anyone who remembers the oil and sooth-covered garages or the cramped gloomy tyre storehouse on the first floor, will be impressed by the imaginative, not to say remarkably optimistic, vision of the trustees.
The main part of the depot is one of the few brick buildings to have survived the war in Rovaniemi. Thus, despite its unremarkable architecture, the building possesses both historical and emotional value. The section allocated to the museum is an extension of the depot, built shortly after the war. Many locals no doubt remember Vikke the Gypsy who rummaged through the gutted houses with his horse and cart collecting the bricks for the extension. The building itself is therefore a kind of museum which preserves the bricks that survived the wartime devastation of Rovaniemi.
The refurbishment involved converting the garage into complete art museum facilities: an exhibition space for the permanent collection, a space for temporary exhibitions, offices, storage space and facilities for preparing exhibitions. The exterior was modified slightly so as to express the building’s new cultural function. Even during planning it soon became clear that there was insufficient space, particularly for storage and exhibition preparation. However, it was hoped that the museum will shortly acquire additional facilities once the remaining bus maintenance workshops would have been moved elsewhere.
Due to the limited width of the building and the heavy concrete structure of its intermediate floor, a narrow little annexe was built in the yard to accommodate the stairs and the lift. A small self-service cafe and the air conditioner unit were also placed in the annexe. Most of the first floor windows were blocked in order to maximise continuous wall space. The windows of the new annexe were also utilized as vitrines for sculpture display. The mounting of the opening exhibition already showed that display arrangement would have been made easier had the remaining windows also been eliminated. On the other hand the views outside provide a sense of orientation and the windows help to articulate the original character of the building.
The main exhibition space was lit by specially constructed skylights which also improved the exterior profile creating an appropriate museum look. The skylights were positioned on the sides of the building in such a way that the walls extend upwards into the skylights which makes the rather low peripheries of the space seem higher - an important psychological detail. In the ground floor exhibition area the steel doors of the garage were replaced with upward-facing windows, which also yield a kind of skylight effect.
The building meets modern museum standards in terms of air conditioning, and temperature and humidity control. The air vents are located in the floor and roof structures. The artificial lighting fixtures include both indirect general lighting and spotlighting for individual works.
Only minor alterations were made to the street facade. However, the narrow "slice" of an annexe has changed the appearance of the yard. When the entire garage building is eventually renovated for cultural use the grim atmosphere and proportions of the yard can be remedied by means of new structures. Plans include an auditorium building in the northwest corner of the site, which would complete the U-shape of the whole, enclosing the yard and insulating it from the noise of the nearby motorway.
The main entrance is flanked by a kind of minimalist sculpture, an abstract assemblage composed of granite columns, which both provides a visual emblem for a cultural building and creates a miniature entrance courtyard on the pavement. The sculpture juxtaposes different types of granite and varying degrees of polish, producing a tension between symmetry and asymmetry. A narrow brass collar is used to highlight the ornamental character of the columns. The columns also feature in the museum logo.
Galleries intended for modern art tend to be designed in homogeneous, immaterial white. In Rovaniemi Art Museum, by contrast, materials were chosen with an eye to creating a more traditional museum atmosphere: warm and cosy hues, as opposed to neutral and cold laboratory colours. The contrast between the old, crudely constructed brick building and the delicate modern components was pursued in a collagist spirit - after all, the building itself is a collage of Rovaniemi’s prewar houses.
The interior walls have all been rendered and painted white, with the exception of the stairway area, where the bricks of what used to be the exterior wall have been left in view. The ceilings have been panelled in Lappish timber made of dead standing pine, and the ground floor is surfaced with grey-green Lappish marble. The exhibition space upstairs has brick-coloured tile floors.
To eliminate a narrow impression, the annexe (which is just 350cm wide) has been opened and extended in many different ways in both vertical directions. Storage space for graphic art has been provided close to the cafeteria, using a sliding wall solution. Other works are stored in the north end of the first floor. They are mounted on sliding wall units and are available for research purposes.
The building was opened in October 1986.
Finally, the former Rovaniemi mail truck depot became Korundi House of Culture. Construction work on the Korundi House of Culture began in October 2009. The building was opened to the public on May 2011. See the link below to find out Architect Juhani Pallasmaa's view about the renovated Korundi building.