Erik Bryggman's Resurrection Chapel is a gem of Finnish architecture

Amidst the tumult of the Second World War, architect Erik Bryggman designed a peaceful cemetery chapel in Turku, in which death is encountered with respect and gentleness. It has become a landmark of Finnish architecture.

Erik Bryggman

ON A SMALL MOUND, a simple white chapel lies almost hidden in the middle of a cemetery in Turku. Low steps paved with slate lead to the chapel. Surrounded by tall pines, the chapel is a place of refuge from the vain bustle of the world.

The entrance is framed by a low, intimate porch, whose glass doors, which are adorned with metal vines, afford a glimpse of the nave with its arched ceiling evocative of peace and eternity.

The restful mood is perhaps created by the curvature of the ceiling, or perhaps it is due to the soft light filtered through the high window at the end of the nave. The window is deftly positioned to create the impression of light streaming down from somewhere above us. The windows around the nave also bring the surrounding nature into the chapel.

Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Visitors walk through the cemetery to the Resurrection Chapel. The chapel lies on a forested mound, which is reached via natural stone steps.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The view from the lobby to the nave is adorned with wrought-iron vines.

An exceptional feature of the nave is the positioning of the pews: they are oriented at a 56-degree angle rather than facing the altar. Almost unawares, your gaze is captured by the large windows through which you can see the ruggedly beautiful forest landscape outside. The natural landscape offers consolation to people attending the chapel to bid a final farewell to a relative or friend. It reminds us of the natural cycle and eternity.

In addition to the view through the window, nature is present in the chapel's fine details, such as its decorative vines made of wrought iron and its tree of life, which adorns the pulpit and was created using the challenging intarsia technique.

The Resurrection Chapel is regarded as the highlight of architect Erik Bryggman's career.

Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Natural light slants sideways onto the altar wall, behind the triumphal arch. You cannot see the source of this light from the pews.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
It has been said that the chapel has excellent acoustics. The organ dates back to 1958.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The pews have been installed obliquely to direct the gaze of sitting visitors to the surrounding natural environment, as well as the altar.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
A tree of life, made with the challenging intarsia technique, adorns the pulpit.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Paavo Tynell created the decorative brass lamps in the chapel.

The Resurrection Chapel is regarded as the highlight of Turku-based architect Erik Bryggman's (1891–1955) career – and a gem of Finnish architecture – which leaves a lasting impression due to its humanity and exquisitely detailed design.

Bryggman was commissioned to design the chapel as the result of an architecture competition in 1938. Construction work began in the following year, but had to be suspended due to the outbreak of the Winter War against the Soviet Union in 1939. Bryggman continued working on the design and construction was resumed in 1940, during the Interim Peace. The building was completed in the following year. Wartime shortages prevented the original plan from being realized in full.

In addition to the view through the window, nature is present in the chapel's fine details.

Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Erik Bryggman used large windows to connect the nave with nature.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The Resurrection Chapel was built on a small mound and pays respect to its natural setting.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Large windows are located on the south wall of the chapel.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The morgue at the east end is separated from the chapel by a roofed passageway.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Turku cemetery was built in 1807, based on plans drawn up by Italian architect Charles Bassi. The classical colonnade at the main entrance is a direct reference to Bassi.

Erik Bryggman was already one of Finland's leading architects when designing the cemetery chapel. He graduated as an architect in 1916. During the early years of his career, he designed, among other things, villas, apartment buildings, and hotels in the Turku area. They were representative of the simple classicism of the period, based on the Italian vernacular architecture, architettura minore.

Bryggman's work changed direction in 1929. He became interested in the clean lines and practicality of functionalism while co-designing pavilions, alongside Alvar Aalto, for the Turku 700th Anniversary Exhibition and Trade Fair. Classical themes gave way to pure-white facades, minimalist solutions and more freely structured spaces.

Just a decade later, with the Resurrection Chapel, Bryggman made a clear departure from the more purist forms of functionalism. His architecture became softer, with more nuanced forms.

Bryggman blended influences from different historical periods in the Resurrection Chapel. The Chapel combines a modern spirit with the solidity of a medieval church, the simplicity of an Italian country church, and the delicacy of traditional handicraft. The overall result is amazingly timeless and continues to make a strong impression.

The Resurrection Chapel is an overall work of art, in which the space and each minor detail form a harmonious whole.

Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The Resurrection Chapel has several reliefs, designed by artists Ennu Oka and Jussi Vikainen.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The relatives' room is simply decorated, based on a harmonious color palette.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
Careful attention has been paid to the tiniest details: even the vent has been decorated.
Erik Bryggman Resurrection Chapel
The sacristy, relatives' room and office facilities are situated in the wing.

The Resurrection Chapel is distinguished by the detail of its design. The building is an overall work of art, in which the space and each minor detail form a harmonious whole. Bryggmann also took charge of the interior design.

The atmosphere of the Resurrection Chapel has remained unchanged up to the present day. You can still sit on its pews, admire the decorative lighting by Paavo Tynell, and enjoy quiet moments contemplating the landscape outside and the timeless architecture within.

Resurrection Chapel (Ylösnousemuskappeli), Hautausmaantie 21, Turku, Finland

Erik Bryggman
Erik Bryggman's work includes residential buildings, summer villas, educational institutions, hospitals, chapels and memorials. Image courtesy of Museum of Finnish Architecture / Hede.

Who? Erik Bryggman

  • An architect from Turku, Finland. Born in 1891, died in 1955
  • Graduated as an architect from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1916 and founded his own office in Turku in 1923
  • One of the earliest Finnish representatives of functionalist architecture
  • Best-known work: the Resurrection Chapel (Ylösnousemuskappeli) at Turku Cemetery, the Book Tower at Åbo Akademi, the Atrium apartment building, the Hospits Betel Hotel (now the Scandic Plaza), the Sport Institute of Finland at Vierumäki, and the Turku Cathedral and Turku Castle restorations.

See also:

Paavo Tynell created artistic light >

Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Images: Suvi Kesäläinen

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