The AALTOSIILO rethinks materiality for the 21st century and the role industrial heritage plays in memory, in shaping place and cultural identity.

Our world is at a crossroads. Not only are people at risk, but our cultural heritage is under threat from lack of resources, natural disasters, climate change, terrorism, mass tourism and war. There has never been a more critical time to use technology for preservation. In the 21st century we have the technological means to do so much: we urgently need to act now to record and preserve our cultural and environmental heritage for future generations. The creation of a centre of technology applied to creative preservation in Oulu is a thoughtful and provocative call to action. Aalto’s Silo, a space once used for storing wood chips, will become a store for knowledge – a place focused on sharing human skills, transferring technology and gathering diverse types of information and activity. The Research Centre set up by Factum Foundation in Hassan Fathy’s mudbrick building at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings (now the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative headquarters), focusses on recording the tombs in the Valley of the Kings. In the four years since its launch, it has become an example of capacity building in Egypt. It has trained a local team and now employs seven people, stimulating both local knowledge, skills and the cultural economy.

The proposed AaltoSilo in Oulu will focus on digital recording, processing and output technologies in the north of Finland. Specific projects, funded from both public and private sources, will focus on diverse forms of digital recording, processing and visualisation. Architectural and environmental preservation will sit alongside digital recording and creative ways to record our changing environment.

In Oulu the catchment area will be regional, with a focus on the recording of the industrial architecture of Finland and the Arctic Circle. Industrial buildings inside the Arctic Circle are being severely affected by the melting of the permafrost. The intention is to develop a close relationship with Oulu University, Oamk (Oulu University of Applied Sciences) and the city to offer both training and practical recording courses to students and graduates, individuals and new arrivals in this dynamic and increasingly important city.

"Being unused for decades, the Silo provides possibilities, unique challenges and great potentials in reuse as well as in architectural and structural innovations. Rehabilitation of the landmark building will hail a new period, not only in the neighbouring Toppila area but also in the City of Oulu. The Alvar Aalto Foundation looks forward to the rise of the Phoenix!”
Alvar Aalto Foundation

The Aalto Silo Repurposed

© Otto Lowe

In August 2020, Factum Foundation and award-winning architectural practice, Skene Catling de la Peña purchased Alvar Aalto’s iconic wood chip Silo. This experimental concrete ‘cathedral’ in Toppila has been sitting empty and derelict since the cellulose works were closed in the mid-1980s. Despite several attempts over many years of trying to fund and use the Silo, the Oulu City Council decided to sell in the hope that someone would emerge to save the building. There was concern that it would be demolished like Aalto’s later silo at the Sunila Pulp Mill, currently being considered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The AALTOSIILO partners feel that this is too important to lose and are working towards transforming the Silo into a research centre promoting architectural preservation and re-use. A point of focus for digitising and communicating the importance of the industrial architecture of the north and – in turn - the impact industry has had on the environment.

The main challenges are twofold and concern finding solutions that can satisfy both the structure and Aalto’s vision behind it, in accordance to the SR-1 category of protection on the Silo. The new Silo aims at becoming a centre for the preservation of industrial heritage - an area of work that until fifty years ago wasn’t even considered in restoration.

Preserving natural and industrial heritage

The Aalto Silo Centre for Digital Preservation in Oulu will initially focus on LiDAR recording and high-resolution photogrammetry applied to the digitisation of wooden buildings and Industrial Heritage in Norway, Sweden and Finland. This will be based on the successful model that Factum Foundation developed and has been running at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University (GSAPP) in New York. We have also been working with the Oslo School of Architecture and Design and are developing a number of projects that will start next year including the 3D recording of Stave Churches and Pyramiden, a disused mining community in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. The emphasis on recording industrial buildings will be extended to look at the environmental impact of industrial waste on the flora and water resources of the region.

The Aalto Cellulose Silo will become a symbol for the application of technology to the preservation of natural as well as cultural heritage. An archive of the flora of the region will form a second element of the Aalto Silo archive. Factum Foundation operates internationally and will be bringing in preservation bodies from around the world to focus on the use of technology in preservation. This resonates with Oulu as a city known for its technological innovation. Earlier this year Jose Gordillo Martorell, the programme manager at Norrbottens Museum, Lulea Sweden, contacted Factum Foundation with a proposed collaboration aimed at capacity building among the Sámi people.

© Otto Lowe

The projects mentioned above demonstrate an existing need in the region which led to Factum Foundation’s interest in the Silo. The projects envisaged for the new Research Centre at Alvar Aalto’s Silo will be diverse. But true to Factum Foundation’s mission, they will focus on the role and application of technology in preservation and on the training of, and transfer of skills to, a local team.