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Culture and Creativity

Oulu: AaltoSiilo

From concrete cathedral to a multisensory cabinet of curiosities.

Type of project :
Size of city/region:
View of AaltoSiilo in Oulu, Finland.

Key facts

Architecture studios: Skene Catling de la Peña and Factum Foundation

Main sponsor: Factum Foundation

Expected year of completion: 2026 (project is ongoing)

Materials: reuse of existing timber structures, hempcrete sourced locally, renovation of the outer concrete layers

Total area: 525 m2

City / regional background

The Toppila Silo is one of the remaining buildings of the Toppila cellulose factory, designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto in 1931 in Oulu.

The architectural significance of the so-called AaltoSiilo was immediately recognised: its poured concrete structure, only 10cm thick, was deemed ground-breaking and a great example of the merging between engineering and architecture, between form and function.

The silo was left empty and abandoned after the factory closed in the 1980s. When the area was re-zoned at the turn of the 1990s, the silo was listed as a Nationally Important Protected Building.

While most of the factory buildings were repurposed, AaltoSiilo remains untouched: coherent but in a vulnerable condition, in an increasingly residential area.

Its repurposing fits into Oulu’s Cultural Strategy and Architectural Programme, which both seek to enhance the built environment, from urban planning to the finest details of individual buildings.

The City of Oulu will be European Capital of Culture 2026. The AaltoSiilo project is a lighthouse project and future legacy of the year.


In August 2020, architecture studio Skene Catling de la Peña and the Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Preservation acquired the building from Oulu City Council.

Together, they restore the silo to make it a reference for the preservation of other concrete industrial heritage. In doing so, they create a vibrant meeting place for the local community. The silo will be transformed into a multi-purpose public space that will function as a ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’. A public sauna, a cafe, a rooftop bar, and an outdoor amphitheatre will provide spaces for social encounters. In addition, a new radically ecological structure will be built on the site to act as a research centre.

One of the most complex aspects of the project was the insertion of a new staircase that goes through the existing concrete structure and meets today’s stringent building regulations, addressing disabled access and fire risk.

The outcome is a spectacular staircase that wraps around a central lift to bring the visitors to the different levels of the building, adapting itself to the building’s form.

The City of Oulu continues to work with the Factum Foundation to preserve the site, in particular by supporting the search for funding at national and international level.

Criteria for high-quality (context, sense of place, diversity, beauty)

  • By retrofitting and repurposing the silo, the project maintains a cultural landmark in the landscape. The new activities developed on-site will generate new social and economic dynamics. Existing timber structures were re-used in-situ or recycled to build new spaces, while hempcrete sourced locally was used to build the new research centre.
  • The repurposing of AaltoSiilo retains the historical identity of the building, preserving its architectural significance. AaltoSiilo is not only an architectural landmark, but it also embodies the region’s industrial and economic past and how it has impacted the community and the nature surrounding it.
  • The building, exhibitions and events organised on-site, will be a source of pride, identity, and employment. At a larger scale, the project provides a deconstruction methodology and building protocol for reuse of local concrete spolia and smaller architectural components.
  • The beauty and original character of Aalto’s work are preserved. A sculptural staircase, which adapts itself to the building’s form, was added to the building. The result is a stimulating journey, which brings the visitor into very close proximity to the building shell while manoeuvring between a highly dramatic structure and series of events along the way.

Planning and management

All partners and entities, directly collaborating on the implementation of the AaltoSiilo project meet every three months:

  • The Urban Planning Department and the Culture Services of the City of Oulu,
  • Oulu Culture Foundation – Oulu2026 European Capital of Culture,
  • Alvar Aalto Foundation,
  • Factum Foundation,
  • Architecture studio Skene Catling de la Peña,
  • Engineering office HRW Structural Design and Max Fordham Engineers.
  • Universities, architecture schools, the Architecture Film Festival, and local non-profit organisations were involved in discussions.

Budget and financing

The estimated budget for the project is €5 million: €2 million for the restoration and reinvention of AaltoSiilo; €3 million for building the new research centre adjoining the silo plot and public amenities.

Half of the financing comes from domestic and international foundations; 10-20% from the City of Oulu, 10-20% from the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, and 5-10% from the EU.

Transferable ideas

Devote ample time for planning: Allow all stakeholders to thoroughly analyse and address critical aspects of the project before construction begins.

Work with a motivated partner, willing to allocate the necessary resources, (budget and personnel), to engage in communication with the architect and project team and who is committed to the project's success.

Design a compelling architectural project, which enhances the overall impact and value of the project for people and the landscape.

Contact information