In Joensuu, technology, environmental aesthetics and ecology have been spectacularly integrated into the urban landscape. In Joensuu, in particular, there is a knack for building on two things that surround the city and its inhabitants: light and wood.
In and around the city center, there are a number of places that form an easily walkable or cycleable route. This peaceful, unobstructed three-quarter to four-kilometer walk shows how the excellence of Europe’s forest capital is manifested in the urban landscape.
Pearls of timber construction at the mouth of the river
You can start from the mouth of the river, on the northern bank of the Saimaa waterway. The Lighthouse Joensuu student residence building, a landmark of the Penttilä district, rises 50 meters above the shore. With its fourteen storeys, it is the tallest wooden block of flats in Finland.
The award-winning building is home to more than 100 students, but also serves as a significant carbon store due to its construction material. At the foot of the building, it is worth looking up to the sky and taking a photo of the work of light artist Kari Kola, which adorns the facade of Lighthouse Joensuu.
At the foot of the wooden block of flats begins another landmark that combines light and wood – the Ylisoutaja Bridge, through which thousands of city dwellers cross the river Pielisjoki on foot and by bike every day. The bridge connects Penttilä with the city center.
As its name suggests, the bridge is on the site where people used to take a rowboat to the sawmill that used to dominate the eastern shore. The bridge’s curved wooden structures, along with its lighting, create an almost magical sight over the Pielisjoki River at night.
But don’t cross the river just yet, continue along the promenade along the shore and stop to admire the Heart of Stove lightwork, which glows in different colours on the days that mark Joensuu’s history.
The world’s largest thermometer
Continuing along the eastern bank of the river, past the Heart of Stove, you soon arrive at Itäsilta, a bridge that leads you to an island called Ilosaari in the middle of the river. As the name (island of joy) suggests, this is Joensuu’s traditional place to have fun. Today, the island is home to the legendary rock club Kerubi, and during winter, you can enjoy open water swimming.
The renovated Ilosaari, with its walking trails and swimming beaches, is not only an oasis in the middle of the city, but also the world’s largest thermometer.
The renovated Ilosaari, with its walking trails and swimming beaches, is not only an oasis in the middle of the city, but also the world’s largest thermometer. Joensuu-based light artist Kari Kola has designed lighting for the island area that changes according to the temperature.
Coming into town from Ilosaari, you are almost immediately on the corner of the market square and, above all, in front of the new shopping hall. The Kauppahalli Joensuu, opened in the summer of 2023, showcases the contemporary use of wooden construction in Joensuu. The three-dimensional wood pattern on the building’s facade represents the traditional North Karelian building style, and wood also has its place in the interior of the shopping hall. Remember to also look for a selfie heart on the wall outside of the shopping center, with which you can send happy greetings from Joensuu by taking a picture in front of it!
The Market Square is also home to the Martta Café, another example of local wood expertise. The café’s dark surface is made of charred recycled wood, and the building is spectacularly connected in the middle, supported by CLT elements. The renovated Martta Café, relocated to the market square in May 2023, was constructed with the assistance of Joensuu students from various fields and education levels.
Towards the campus
If you continue straight west from Martta Café, you will soon come across the Joensuu Art Museum Onni. At the museum, make a slight bend and pass the building on the right, and after a few blocks you will arrive at the roundabout of Länsikatu and Siltakatu. This roundabout is the site of a wooden Growth Environment piece, completed in 2022.
Made of vinegar-treated radiata pine, the piece illustrates biodiversity, the importance of community and the path of each individual. The landmark, located at the corner of the university campus, also forms the logo of the University of Eastern Finland when viewed from one direction.
Photonics is a field of science and technology based on invisible and visible light, and one of Joensuu’s strengths.
If you turn left from Kasvu and immediately right again, you will reach Yliopistokatu. The road next to Mehtimäki Sports Park leads through the university campus. The campus area on the left is home to one of the most important European centers of photonics, the Photonics Research Centre, which has been studying the properties of light since the 1970s.
Photonics is a field of science and technology based on invisible and visible light, and one of Joensuu’s strengths. Optical fibers, touch screens, solar cells and many other modern technologies are made possible by the development of photonics.
The state of light and wood
As you walk through the campus, you can see the Metla building, a landmark of wooden architecture, on your right. It is one of the most impressive buildings in Joensuu. The building is a perfect blend of high-tech solutions and the traditions of wood construction. At the beginning of the 2000s, it was the first modern office building made of wood in Finland. Light and wood are so intertwined in the building that it has been awarded both a Finnish and an international lighting prize.
Almost all species of wood growing in Finland have been used in the construction and interior design of the Metla House. On a sunny day, the environment around Metla House smells of tar. Part of the façade has been treated with tar from a tar pit and the end of the building has logs that were already several hundred years old when it was built.
The building is used as an office, but in the lobby you can relax and listen to the soundscape of nature and admire Kari Kola’s light art reflected in the wooden structures of the lobby.
Almost all species of wood growing in Finland have been used in the construction and interior design of the Metla House.
If you don’t want to walk the whole route, you can easily choose the most interesting places along the walk. You can take great photos of the sites, and especially at night the lighting and light art of the buildings really comes into its own. Along the way, there are many atmospheric rest stops where you can sit down and enjoy a break.
The article was produced as part of the activities of the City of Joensuu Innovation Ecosystem Agreement (ERDF), co-funded by the European Union and the city of Joensuu.