The Stuff Between Buildings
Established in 1989, the Master’s Programme in Landscape Architecture (MSc) came to fruition during an exciting time in Aalto’s history — there was no university in Finland where you could get a degree in such a thing. With a heavy focus on sustainable design, Aalto’s MSc in Landscape Architecture remains the only place in Finland where you can study this area of architecture that looks at the stuff in between buildings — the landscape, the people and the plants — at the graduate level.
Then you have Aalto’s Mentoring Programme.
The first Aalto-wide Mentoring Programme was born in 2012 from a need to connect students who were interested in fully understanding the potential of their fields with alumni professionals who have been there, done that, and have a bunch of valuable experience at their fingertips.
Kati Wolff, a long-term international mentor with a teaching background in landscape architecture that spans more than 20 years — and her committed graduate student Anniina Pöllänen — talked to the Mentoring Programme about their specialized field of architecture and how the programme has helped them solidify their love for sustainable solutions.
Firstly, what exactly is landscape architecture?
‘Simply put, landscape architecture deals with planning, design and management of the areas outside of buildings. This field can be pretty broad and can include anything as complex as city planning to something as small as one plant selection,’ Wolff explains. ‘It’s a field that’s grounded in understanding the landscape — how it works and functions — in close collaboration with other fields like ecology, architecture and horticulture. It’s a sustainability-focused field that also needs an understanding of human behavior.’
Pöllänen decided to give landscape architecture a shot after studying architecture and geography as an undergrad. ‘After some time, I realized that I’m more interested in what’s happening between the buildings rather than the structures themselves. I continued studying geography but wanted something more — I found Aalto’s Landscape Architecture programme and managed to get in!’
Pöllänen soon realized that the depth of landscape architecture might be a lot to navigate without guidance from the field, and she decided to reach out for help.
The pair connected through the Mentoring Programme where Wolff has been guiding students since its conception. Pöllänen soon became Wolff’s eighth mentee! ‘I really enjoyed teaching at Aalto for many years but now I live in Luxembourg. I still want to be involved with Aalto and engage with students from abroad. Landscape architecture has brought me so much diversity. I think the core reason that I’ve been involved with the Mentoring Programme since the beginning is to give something back,’ Wolff explains. ‘During my studies I had so many great mentors and the Mentoring Programme provides me with another opportunity to help out – I enjoy that very much!’
When asked about how the Mentoring Programme has helped Pöllänen in her master’s studies, she said, ‘the outcome of joining this programme and being paired with Kati has been amazing! Kati has helped me realize my strengths while helping me find projects I really like — she asks the right questions and has helped me network with other professionals in the field. One of our collaborative goals was to uncover a theme for my master’s thesis, and now I have one! I’m so grateful to Kati for helping me narrow this down.’
‘In our first meeting I realized that Anniina had a lot on her plate and had studied many different fields. I like to ask questions, and through this process we were able to discover what Anniina’s core passions and skills were — now she can apply those to her thesis, successfully,’ Kati adds. ‘Mentoring is not a one-way road. I’ve learned a lot from mentoring Anniina — sometimes it’s better to NOT continue with things that simply don’t seem to be working, and that’s okay. It’s helped me tune my perspective.’
Through placing trust in the Mentoring Programme to provide a safe and collaborative platform for this type of exchange, a seasoned professional like Wolff was able to return year after year to mentor many students, while allowing Pöllänen to gain valuable insights into a focused field of work that is fueled by a true passion for sustainable solutions.
‘I’ve been hanging around Aalto for many years and I’d say the Mentoring Programme is an extension of Aalto solidifying itself in openness and multi-disciplinary collaboration. I believe the programme is one of the so-called “success stories” that highlights the aims Aalto wishes to achieve. This is my impression from following Aalto’s progress from a distance,’ Kati concludes.
Text: Michele Lawrence
Pictures: Kati Wolff & Anniina Pöllänen