Finnish Pavilion at the World Expo 2017 

Finland Pavilion at Astana Expo2017 by Atelje? Sotamaa


Kivi Sotamaa
Ateljé Sotamaa

We had the rare opportunity to design the architecture and curate the exhibition for the Finnish Pavilion at the 2017 World Expo in Astana. We won the gold medal in our category on September 10.  We’ve had close to 300 000 visitors, which exceeded the expected number by 100 000 visitors and the pavilion was selected when foreign journalists named the best pavilions EXPO. More than 115 countries participated in this year’s world expo, including the USA, China, and Russia, as well as 22 international organizations, including the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Finnish pavilion at the Astana World Expo 2017 tells a story about Finland, a country, which is both technologically advanced and close to nature. It communicates a vision for the future where technology and nature are increasingly interdependent, and in harmony with one another. The pavilion is not only an exhibit of sustainable technologies but it is built sustainably from wood using cutting edge design and manufacturing technologies.


The architecture transports the audience to the Finnish atmosphere of powerful contrasts. The pavilion consists of five buildings and the space between them. There is a strong contrast between the white interstitial space and the warm interiors, which is supported by the careful use of sound and light. Both the architecture and exhibition of the Finnish Pavilion in Astana World Expo are designed by the same author. Ateljé Sotamaa has worked to make the pavilion a total work of art where architecture and exhibition content are intricately intertwined. The aim of the holistic design method is to create a powerful, emotional experience, which sparks people’s curiosity.


Finland Pavilion at Astana Expo2017 by Atelje? Sotamaa

The Digital and the Natural

The design oscillates between the digital and the natural in terms of its making and its formal sensibility. The forms are on one hand mathematical and digitally designed, on the other hand they seem natural, evoking associations to boulders, icebergs, canyons.

Layers of Experience

The experience of the exhibition content is orchestrated in layers. The first layer is atmosphere, which sets the mood in which the content is received. The second layer is artworks, which provoke and seduce the audience with the aim of triggering their intellect, and initiating spontaneous exploration. The third layer is exhibition objects, such as technological devices or models. The fourth layer is digital. It consists of touch screens with 360 images and embedded links deeper into content related to specific topic. The layered orchestration is aimed at engaging the audience as active participants in the construction of the exhibition narratives, and offering possibilities of delving deeper and deeper into the subject matter of their individual interest.


The atmosphere of the interstitial space is that of a Finnish landscape. Each of the four buildings has its own mood created by space, color, light and sound: Pure energy feels like a deep green forest, Smart City is a space filled with sunlight, Clean Water is a submarine experience, Excellent Education is full of life and color.


The pavilion delivers experiences to all of the senses. Touching exhibits and materials as well as sitting and spending time in the architecture is a crucial part of the overall experience of the Finnish pavilion.


The sound in the pavilion is best described as a digital sound sculpture made from natural materials by Ville MJ Hyvönen. It is built from digitally manipulated recordings of traditional vocal and instrumental artists and sounds from nature. Each of the pavilion spaces has its own soundscape, which sets the mood in which the visual content is experienced.




The lighting of the interstitial space in the pavilion is designed to simulate the famous cool, low level Nordic light. It is set in contrast with the warm tones found in the interior of each of the five buildings. The lighting goes through all of the four seasons within a 12-minute period. The Finnish pavilion is one of the first times when sophisticated film-set lights are used for architectural lighting. The advanced lights were used for the creation of nuanced, sophisticated and subliminal lighting effects by manipulating the color, intensity and direction of light in a very precise manner.

The exhibition

The exhibition, which is integrated into the architecture, is a narrative about Finland’s holistic approach towards problem solving and future building. There are five buildings, four of which contain narratives about energy and the Finnish society. The fifth one contains a bar with Finnish drinks. The 5 buildings are: Pure Energy; Smart City; Clean Water; Excellent Education, and
Koskenkorva Bar.

The space inbetween

In between the buildings are exhibits which communicate fundamental values of Finnish society such as the maternal care package, which every mother gets for free when their new baby is born.



Making the pavilion

The Finnish pavilion is a research project into sustainable wood construction in the digital age. Central to the philosophy of the Finnish pavilion is that everything about it should address the expo theme and consist of authentic content. The Finnish pavilion structure was used as an opportunity for research and development of digitally designed and fabricated, sustainable wood construction.

When combined with digital design and manufacturing techniques, wood is architecturally one of the most exciting materials to work with today. The five buildings which make up the Finnish pavilion were digitally designed in a collaboration between the architects and engineers. When the model was completed, the manufacturing documents where sent directly to Stora Enso factory.

The pavilion was made of over 300 unique 100mm thick Cross Laminated Timber elements, which were prefabricated by Stora Enso and shipped to Kazakhstan. The prefabricated CLT elements were assembled on site with the help of digital 3D documentation, drawings and a physical scale model. The assembly took 3 days per building, on average. Advanced digital design and fabrication methods made possible the economical realisation of a unique, bespoke architectural design within an extremely tight timetable and a challenging location.

Photo credits: Ateljé Sotamaa, Ville MJ Hyvönen, Finpro, Saara Alhopura and Iñigo Bujedo-Aguirre


Design and curation by Ateljé Sotamaa
AV Design by Ville MJ Hyvönen
Lighting by Digital Sputnik
Hand painted art by Pan Jianfeng
Interactive Game by Tuomo Tammenpää and Daniel Blackburn
Future of Energy interviews by Jaakko Tapaninen
Future of Energy Education interviews by Reetta Räty
Engineering by Vahanen Group
Wood elements manufactured by Stora Enso
Construction by Expro Solutions
Special thanks also to: Maarit Rossi, Kaarel Korsen, Lauri Sepp, HundrED.