Stage in Joensuu market square is the hub of North Karelia

In the center of Joensuu, the regional capital of North Karelia, Finland, is the market square, at the heart of which is a stage. Work on revamping the market square took 18 months and was completed in autumn 2018. The project was an extensive one and among other things included building a subterranean parking facility for 400 vehicles under the market square, surfacing the market square with more than 73,000 slabs of stone and creating an impressive stage platform.

The stage opens up in two directions, both towards Kauppakatu, which serves as a pedestrian street, and towards the market. The building required special construction and is around 8 meters high and 25 meters long. Wood has been used in the stage walls, pre-patinated copper in the roof and black natural stone in the floor. The roof arcuates at both ends.

Multipurpose stage

“The market square stage is in frequent use and serves as a venue for events, such as the Ilosaarirock Festival in the summer and the award of biathlon prizes in the winter,” says architect Osmo Karttunen, who designed the stage, at the architect office of Karttunen–arkkitehtitoimisto.

The stage, commissioned by the City of Joensuu, also serves other purposes. The northern end of the stage acts as an entrance to the parking facility and is also where the parking facility’s ventilation duct can be found. This part of the stage has been clad with Cor-Ten rainscreen panels supplied by Ruukki and which in winter 2020 were still in the patination phase. The panels have also been perforated.

“Initially we made some ten drafts, from which the project team chose the snappiest version, the curving roof plastic option, for further work. The design wasn’t completed in one go, but the proposal chosen for further work was perfected one stage at a time,” says Osmo Karttunen.

Natural materials a feature

Joensuun market square has a red granite surface, Karelia Red. The red granite paving slabs used were quarried in Ylämaa near Lappeenranta and the black granite in Varpaisjärvi in Lapinlahti. The red and black in the market square surface also reference the colors of Karelia.

The stage also features natural materials such as Cor-Ten made from steel. According to project architect Lasse Nevalainen, Cor-Ten can be used to create a living surface and lends itself to public constructions in prominent places.

“We sought inspiration for the stage by studying what had already been done elsewhere before setting out to create a unique solution that is both sustainable and blends in with the environment. We had been waiting for a site where we would have a chance to use authentic materials such as stone, copper and Cor-Ten,” says Lasse Nevalainen.

Inspired by Karelian women

The Cor-Ten rainscreen panels used in the market square stage have been perforated so that the light passes through the building. An alternative solution would either have been windows or some other cladding letting light through in some of the wall surfaces. Cor-Ten enabled a peaceful, well-balanced entity to be achieved in a relatively small building using just one material instead of many different ones.

“The panels in the wall have been perforated so as to depict human figures in much the same way as the bustle of people at the market. The perforated surface is in a way a contemporary version of traditional Karelian embroidery and a reference to the sixth sense of Karelian women, a sense of beauty. Images of People is the embroidery pattern used in the market square stage,” says graphic designer Arto Liimatta, who was responsible for the artistic side of the Cor-Ten panels.

Source of feelings

“Everything about the stage is special – the appearance, the design and materials. There’s nothing like it anywhere else, this is the finest in the world and completely unique. This has been created to withstand the weather, time and people,” said Ari Varonen, city engineer at the City of Joensuu, in a Finnish Broadcasting Company interview.

Impressive buildings in a prominent location trigger feelings, whereas traditional solutions are usually met with silence. Sparking a debate is an indication of the successful creation of something new.

“There’s certainly been all sorts of comments, but we’ve not dwelt on the less favorable ones;” says Osmo Karttunen.

“This is an elegant solution for a market square stage and Cor-Ten is a really great material. Perforation makes it even more impressive;” adds Arto Liimatta.

The market square stage has been in use for more than a year. Does Lasse Nevalainen still have a good feeling?

“It’s been great to see a plan become reality.”