Ville Hara

Specialized in Architecture Design.

Ville Hara

About Ville Hara

The name Avanto – literally a hole in the ice for winter swimming – symbolizes the office’s philosophy. The partners enjoy nature and hope to preserve the same opportunity for future generations too. Avanto Architects create architecture that is sustainable in the widest sense of the term. With works ranging from product design to urban planning, the architects aim to design through an understanding of the users of their projects, in order to create ambiences that evoke an emotional response. More than just physical buildings, they see architecture as a means to improve the quality of life for all who engage it.

  • Winner of the A' Design Award.
  • Specialized in Architecture Design.
  • Original Design.
  • Creative, Diligent and Innovative.
  • All Designs
  • Architecture
Loyly public sauna and restaurant

Loyly public sauna and restaurant

Architecture Design

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Interview with Ville Hara

Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
“I actually didn’t know anything about architecture so it was just a coincidence that I applied to the department of architecture. I thought I would like to do something creative like set design in theater. But it was better to apply to several schools at the same time not to be left without a study place anywhere. I got through the preliminary exam where you send your drawings to the jury and they select the ones that get into the actual exams. The test week was great fun and I got interested what this architecture is all about. I was really surprised to see that I passed and felt a bit guilty as there were many others who applied for e.g. sixth time and didn’t get in. I thought I took someone more motivated else’s place. But when the studies started it was great fun and here I am”, says Ville. “I was good at school in both mathematics and drawings so architecture was natural to me. I got in on the second try and in between I studied mathematics in the university and took a training course”, tells Anu.
Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
The name ‘Avanto’ – literally a hole in the ice – symbolizes our design philosophy. Our ambition is to create spaces that evoke. Instead of just producing physical buildings, Avanto Architects seeks to improve the quality of life using architecture as a vehicle of enhancement. The environs created by Avanto Architects encourage people to feel and respond emotionally as they move through the space. We enjoy nature and hope to preserve the same opportunity for future generations to do so as well. Avanto Architects strives to create architecture that is sustainable in the widest sense of the term. Careful design combined with a high standard of construction generates highly functional architecture that blends in with its surroundings.
What is "design" for you?
Design is a means to interpret the needs of a client and turn them into a concrete building or product. It is surprising how often you see designs that don’t fulfil this basic requirement. Like an art museum where the lighting conditions don’t allow presenting art works or that lack empty wall surfaces to hang paintings on. Sometimes the client has a strong view what he or she expects but it is important to question the given task. Defining the task is an important part of the design process.
What kinds of works do you like designing most?
We work in very different scales, from product design to urban planning. It is impossible to say what kind of tasks we like the most. Even a very modest task can be challenging and interesting. What is crucial is the co-operation with the client. In best cases the client challenges us and pushes us to even better performance. A mutual trust and respect is a must. In our most successful project we have had very close relationship to our client. We need to have same goal in order to create something extraordinary.
What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
We have no favorite design but maybe our first project, the Chapel of St. Lawrence is the most important for us as winning an open architectural competition allowed us to start our own office. Anu was still a student and I had just graduated so it took some time to convince the client that we are capable of doing the challenging design work. And finally as the process took more than eight years we were already quite experienced when the project was ready.
What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
We have no favorite material or technology. Contrary we like to explore new materials in every project. We have been criticized that we have no style of our own. However, this is exactly our aim. Instead of designing the same way again and again, we try to start from a scratch every time we start a new project. Afterwards we often see unintentional similarities to our previous projects anyhow. We carry our past projects and the research we have made with us after all.
When do you feel the most creative?
Creativity is not a fixed state and sometimes you feel more creative and sometimes it feels very difficult to get an inspiration. Just waiting for an inspiration doesn’t help. It is good to get some input and study successful examples during the benchmarking period. Seeing good architecture always wakes up creativity in you.
Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
It is all about equilibrium. You shouldn’t raise any aspect above the others. Like Vitruvius stated good architecture is beautiful, well-functioning and long-lasting.
What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
There are different phases during a design process. The feelings vary a lot. Self-realization is one of the basic needs of a human and design work can create a lot of pleasure when the end result is pleasing. But before we get there might be very different feelings as well starting from desperation. The biggest pleasure comes anyway when you have challenged yourself and when the process hasn’t been an easy one. If you just stay in your comfort zone the range of emotions is much more limited.
What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
Often we feel gratitude. Architecture is team work and there are so many people involved: client, other designers and the builders. It is like a chain that is as weak as its weakest link. There are always some weaker links that we need to support in order to achieve a successful end result. But there are also wonderful talented people that we couldn’t do without. It is inspiring to work with people that are enthusiastic about what they do.
What makes a design successful?
A successful design is timeless and it works still after a long time. Time is the best judge to decide whether you have succeeded or not.
When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
A good design first of all needs to fulfill all the functional needs. But to become a piece of architecture it has to be beautiful as well. We judge architecture according to whether it evokes emotional response or not. If you don’t remember the building after you have visited it, it cannot be good design. A good design touches you and evokes positive feelings.
From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
A designer has to remember that we always design for people. In this empathy is a very good tool. It is important to image how people use a building and how they move in the space, what kind of views they see and how they feel the space. If we think about ecological sustainability we should ensure that future generations have the same possibilities to live as satisfying life as we have had.
How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
Instead of designing just physical objects architects and designers are taking a more versatile role and doing all kinds of interventions in urban life. We are sure this kind of social point of view will be more and more present in our field of work.
When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
We are happy that our work has been exhibited quite frequently. This year Finland is celebrating one hundred years of independency. There are lot of activities related to this. Right now our work is exhibited in exhibition Echoes – 100 Years in Finnish Design and Architecture. The exhibition is touring in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava and Berlin.
Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
This is a question that we are often asked. There is no specific source of inspiration. As a designers we have always our eyes open and all we see and experience affects our work. We could see that life is our inspiration. It is mostly unconscious influence. Only later you sometimes can trace back the source of inspiration.
How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
We have been criticized that we have no specific style. This exactly what we try to maintain. Each task is unique and needs an individual approach. Each client has specific needs and each site is different. Instead of pure self-expression, architecture is all about balancing different, often contradictory needs and wishes. Still the end result shouldn’t look like a big compromise but like a clear and simple solution to the given task. Good design looks easy.
Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
We live in Helsinki, Finland. This is why we are often asked about the legacy of Alvar Aalto. To tell the truth, we were never talked about Aalto at the department of Architecture. We were studying in Otaniemi campus designed by Aalto in a building designed by Aalto. Maybe this is why the professors thought that everybody knows the grand maestro already and there was no need to talk about him. It was surprising to find out that there were even two separate courses on history of Alvar Aalto’s architecture in Belleville school of architecture where Ville studied as an exchange student.
How do you work with companies?
Working with companies doesn’t differ much from working with private persons. In a corporate building project there are always certain people that are responsible for the building project. Whether the project is successful depends a lot on co-operation with the client.
What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
Our wish is to concentrate on quality instead of quantity. We know that measuring quality is not easy but it is worth trying if a client wants to have quality in his/her project as well. We fully understand that it is important to minimize the risks in a building project but hiring only big companies doesn’t make sure that timetables and budgets are kept. Contrary it might be that in a big office people in the project change all the time and nobody takes overall responsibility of the project. Smaller offices are more flexible and ambitious so it is worth trying younger architects as well.
Can you talk a little about your design process?
Our design process normally starts gathering all possible information. As there is a lot of data you might feel confused how to turn all this information into a project. Switching from rational thinking into creative process helps take some distance and clarify things. We work on several different tasks at the same time switching tasks whenever we get stucked. In a building design we need to adapt the building to urban setting, organize the spaces in plan drawing, create spatiality in section drawings and atmosphere with light and materials. You have to zoom between different scales from city structure to construction details. It helps to study built examples of the same typology and to learn from successful projects. It is good to give the process enough time. Even when not working your brain processes the task all the time and you might find a solution to a tricky question suddenly when doing something else.
What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
“It is a cliché but I don’t want personally too many visual elements in my own home”, says Ville. “I have white walls without any paintings or framed images. And I have the minimum of furniture: just a table, six chairs and a bed acting as a couch as well. This is all.” he continues. “I am not as strict”, says Anu. “I like Finnish design and I have collected some design classics like the famous hanging bubble chair by Eero Aarnio.”
Can you describe a day in your life?
Hahaa! It is all about work. We both teach beside work in our own studio and have other side activities as well. This is why often the days in office are quite long as we need to get the work done anyway. But we balance this with nice hobbies like sauna bathing.
Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
We wish we could. But we have noticed that it doesn’t help a lot to give other people advice. You learn best when you have first-hand experience, not from things you are told. But we would like to encourage young designers to set up their own practice and do some individual creative work. It is a pity to see many of our talented students take the easy path and to work in a big office where they cannot use their full potential. Life is short so you shouldn’t wait with your dreams. There is only here and now. It doesn’t help to worry about past or future things.
From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
Positive is that you can use your creativity in your work. Everybody has a need of self-actualization and it is great if you can fulfil this need in your professional life instead of hobbies for example. This might be the negative thing as well as some people think creative work is no work at all and are wondering why they should pay for this at all. They might think you do this just for fun.
What is your "golden rule" in design?
Never forget that you design for people. Put yourself to the place of the final user of the building and live through how people use the spaces.
What skills are most important for a designer?
You learn many skills during your studies but communication is something you have to practice a lot in real life. Good communication skills are needed both inside the office and in contact with clients.
Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
It seems that our toolbox is becoming emptier and emptier as almost everything is done on a computer. This is sometimes really frustrating even if computer aided design has made many things much easier and opened new paths in architecture. We enjoy turning back to sketch paper and physical pens. Freehand drawing allows a connection between brains and the hand. We also like to do physical models even if this might take much more time than producing a 3d-model on computer.
Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
To tell the truth, we don’t manage our time that well. It would help to learn to say “no” and to concentrate in essential things. It is all about priorizing.
How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
This is hard to tell. All the projects are so different. Sometimes it is easy but sometimes the design process is far from linear and you have to explore several dead-ends and to go back in previous step and to try something else. We have had a look on average design times in different architectural project and we have found out that we often use quite much more time to a project than out competitors. But this is exactly why our clients come to us. There is a strong reliance between the design time and the final end result. It is hard to create good architecture in hurry.
What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
Maybe it is where we get our inspiration or how we work together. People often ask us which one of us is responsible for a certain project. This tells that they don’t understand the way we work. Of course it is always just one person who is the contact person with a client. But our working method is more like playing tennis: after working separately on something we put the project to other partner’s table for review and further development. It helps to do this switch as you easily get stuck when working alone.
What was your most important job experience?
The Chapel of St. Lawrence was our first project and allowed us to start our own company. This is whu it still is our most important job experience – and maybe will remain.
Who are some of your clients?
We work both for private people and both corporate and municipal companies. Our private clients often want to stay anonymous. Our biggest clients are cities like Helsinki and Espoo.
What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
The preliminary design phase is always pulsating as it is the most creative phase of design process. This is why we enjoy doing competitions. But it is important to do working drawings as well and be active during the construction site. For us it is hard to understand for example the German system where it is different company that does the preliminary design and the working drawing phase. You cannot create good architecture if you don’t control the whole process from first sketches to the last touches on the construction site.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
We wish to get a bit bigger project next. Our projects are often very long. Our last bigger project sauna Löyly took six years altogether. After that we have had several smaller projects at the same time. It is sometimes challenging to work on so many different things at the same time.
Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
It is all about teamwork, both inside the office and with other designers and clients. The contact with builders is important as well. The process goes much more smoothly if the co-operations works.
Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
We have been working on many small projects some of which are outside our normal scope of works. For example we are designing exhibition architecture for one of the biggest fairs in Finland, the furniture fair Habitare. This proved to be surprisingly challenging as our design always starts from the context but in an empty fair hall there is no context at all and we felt really lost in the beginning. It was like starting drawing on a big empty white paper. We didn’t know where to start.
How can people contact you?
That is easy. You find our contact information on our web site. We get a lot of emails so we enjoy more talking face to face.

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