The Embassy of Finland building in Washington D.C. celebrated its 20th anniversary in November. To mark this celebration of the building known as the Jewel of the Embassy Row, the embassy organized a special Jubilee program which included a unique tour with the architects Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen, a jazz concert by Iiro Rantala Trio, as well as a gala dinner.
When the architects Heikkinen and Komonen started to design the embassy building in the early 1990’s they wanted to build an embassy that would give Finland a tangible, modern presence in the United States. Now 20 years later it is clear that the architects have succeeded and that they were able to create a building that is both functional and fun.
The Jubilee week started with an architectural tour on November 19. Several architects and architect students, as well as the staff of the Embassy had the privilege to hear more about the Embassy building directly from its creators Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen. The architects discussed the design process and highlighted especially how closely connected the building is to its surrounding nature.
"When we visited this place for the first time we knew it’s a place where we can celebrate the nature. Here you can feel like you are in the middle of the nature," Mikko Heikkinen said.
Mr. Heikkinen said that the purpose of architecture is not storytelling, but architecture at its best can evoke wonderful stories. The embassy building is certainly full of stories which reflect the different aspects of the design. The architects mentioned that their favorite stories are related to the Rita Hayworth staircase, the Grand Canyon in the middle of the building and the sail covering the terrace in the back of the building.
The celebration continued with a jazz concert by the phenomenal Iiro Rantala Trio. Finnish Jazz pianist Iiro Rantala, drummer Peter Erskine and bass player Johannes Weidenmüller formed the trio just for the night, but they played as if they had performed together for years. The trio was a true all-star group.
The band played both their own compositions as well as classics such as Jimi Hendrix and Duke Ellington’s “In a sentimental mood”. The audience was thrilled and gave the group a standing ovation.
The highlight of the celebration was the 20th Jubilee Gala on November 20. Over hundred Finnish and American dignitaries attended the high-level event. A guest of honor was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, President Martti Ahtisaari, who inaugurated the building in November 1994, exactly 20 years ago. The other distinguished guests included Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John A. Koskinen and Drew Gooden, a Finnish-American NBA professional who currently plays for the Washington Wizards.
The Jubilee Gala began with welcoming remarks by the Master of Ceremonies, Donna Leinwand Leger, a USA Today reporter, and Ambassador Ritva Koukku-Ronde. The Ambassador thanked the guests for enhancing the relations between Finland and the U.S. “It is a great honor and pleasure for me to host an event with such an eminent group of guests. I am delighted to share this evening with you, celebrating Finnish knowhow, architecture and environmentally friendly design,” Ambassador Koukku-Ronde said.
After the welcoming words architect Markku Komonen introduced the Embassy building to the guests. His remarks were followed by speeches by Deputy Assistant Secretary Brent R. Hartley from the U.S. Department of State, Congressman Dan Benishek who is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Finland Caucus, Congressman Rick Larsen who co-chairs the Congressional Arctic Working Group and President Martti Ahtisaari. Both congressmen highlighted their personal relationship with Finland and with the embassy, and said they look forward to cooperating with Finland even more in the future.
President Ahtisaari focused on transatlantic relations in his keynote speech and noted that the relationship between Finland and the U.S. is excellent. President Ahtisaari also mentioned the inauguration of the embassy 20 years ago and said he is honored to have spoken both at the inauguration, as well as at the 20th Jubilee.
Towards the end of the Gala the guests enjoyed a musical interlude by the amazingly talented Iiro Rantala. When leaving, the guests received a gift bag with special Finnish goods, including Fazer chocolate, an Iittala glass vitrin, Lumene cosmetics, a miniature Finlandia Vodka and a book on education by Rovio Vision.
Finnish companies supported the 20th Jubilee Gala very generously and the embassy is most thankful for this. It would not have been possible to organize such a beautiful event without the support of our sponsors, which - in addition to the abovementioned companies - were Kemira, Kone, Marimekko, Neste Oil, Nokia, Supercell and Wärtsilä.
The embassy building has served Finland well and we are very proud of our landmark building. It is a privilege to work in such an environment and we look forward to having many more wonderful events in our house!