Stories on Creativity: Hanna-Kaarina Heikkilä

Hanna-Kaarina Heikkilä had almost graduated as an architect, when she decided to pursue studies in ceramic and glass design. She now wants to combine her skills and unleash her creativity as an artist, designer and architect. Her glass objects have already aroused interest at the Milan fair and in Wallpaper magazine.

“I GREW UP IN the town of Kemi in the north of Finland, where I and another girl exactly the same age as me were looked after by a child-minder. We would draw all day long – so much so that our nanny decided to compile a calendar to schedule in other activities, too. It was obviously too late: I became an architect and designer, and my friend a fashion designer.

After upper secondary school, choosing the right career path was hard, as there were so many options. I was interested in studying architecture, but people would say it was so difficult to get in that there was no use trying, and apparently architects were always unemployed anyway. In the end, I decided to apply for everything I was interested in and forget about other people’s thoughts or presumptions.

I got into all the schools I applied for: business school, university and university of technology. The results for the entrance exams for architecture studies were the first to arrive. I knew what to pick straight away.”

“AT THE START of my studies in 2005, I didn’t really even know what architects did, but soon had the chance to gain firsthand experience by working at an architecture firm during my second year. That same year, we went on an excursion to Japan, which left a hunger to see more of the country one day.

In my third year, I decided to apply to study abroad – Japan to be precise. I was the only person from Finland to receive a EU-funded grant to study there. My adventures in Tokyo began in 2009, first attending a language course for three months before interning at a local firm. It wasn’t a surprise that the working hours would be rather different to what I’d been used to. To mark my first day, my boss let me go home earlier than usual; normal working hours were between 9 am and 8 pm, and this time I could go home at six. It did make me smile. 

After six months, I began to work for a larger firm. The company had a more theoretical approach to architecture, and the air was buzzing with wild ideas that most probably wouldn’t see the light of day in Europe. Fortunately, I was able to get by in Japanese by then, which meant getting involved in more interesting work. I don’t remember ever leaving work before 9 pm, often carrying on until midnight. Work and leisure time intermingled, but I was there to learn.”


"I’m no longer satisfied with how things have been,
 but want to keep gaining new experiences."


“I RETURNED TO EUROPE and Copenhagen for an exchange period, only to receive a surprising offer to work in Japan for a second year, this time at the Finnish Cultural Institute. The major earthquake in 2011 put my plans on hold for a while. During my first few months in Tokyo, I’d be woken almost every night by aftershocks.

As the Institute followed Finnish working hours, I finally had time to explore the city. I began to realize how, alongside architecture, I craved working with different materials and using my hands. That’s when I discovered ceramics. I loved the calming, almost meditative atmosphere of Japanese ceramics studios.

Spending two and a half years abroad made me see things in a new light. It also left a constant yearning in me to uproot to new places. I’m no longer satisfied with how things have been, but want to keep meeting new people and gaining new experiences.

When I returned to Tampere in January, the city seemed so bleak. The plan was to finish my architecture studies, but this soon changed, as I was offered a job at architecture firm OOPEAA in Seinäjoki, Southern Ostrobothnia. I got a transfer to the firm’s Helsinki office the same year, and decided it was a good time to apply to study at Aalto University. I was certain that the world of design would open up all sorts of new possibilities. It was now or never, otherwise I’d get stuck in working life.”




Hanna-Kaarina Heikkilä enjoys working at an architecture firm, while as a ceramic and glass artist she gets to work with her hands.

“WHEN I BEGAN to study Ceramic and Glass Design in 2013 at the age of 28, I was sure I’d be the oldie in my year, but it turned out I was somewhere in the middle. I will be writing my thesis ahead of schedule already this year. 

Together with other students at Aalto University, in spring 2015 I took part in the Salone Satellite event at the Milan Furniture Fair. The attention I received there felt unbelievable. It was flattering to be featured in the same issue of Wallpaper as Tom Dixon, Nendo and other design icons. My glass pieces were also featured in Architectural Review and Elle Decor.

Many people have asked me why I abandoned architecture. In my view, design and architecture don’t rule each other out, but instead complement and expand what I do. I haven’t thought about quitting my architecture studies at any stage, and will be handing in my diploma work in fall 2015.

I don’t spend too much time planning my future. The main thing is to keep finding new tracks and enriching experiences. I’m a passionate creator, who loves creative challenges.  I get excited about new ideas and having a whirl of thoughts spinning in my head. I’m good at handling stress without panicking or getting worked up about overlapping projects. Often they feed each other; one idea sparks another one, creating a good flow. It’s no use just waiting around for a major idea to strike, otherwise nothing will happen.

In the future, I see myself as a multi-expert working on different types of projects. I don’t really want to box myself into a certain mold; I see myself as an artist, designer and architect. I want to harness my diverse skills in unique projects.”•

 "If you just wait around for an idea to strike, nothing
 will happen."




Defining Career Moves

1 “Studies in architecture and design. I’ve loved every step of the way.”
2 “Group work visualizing a future city. The incredible team spirit lifted ideas onto a completely new level.”
3 “Grant to Japan, which gave me the chance to work, delve into the culture, learn the language and gain friends.”
4 “Working on an architecture initiative at the Finnish Cultural Institute in Japan.”
5 “My current position at OOPEAA, where I’ve taken part in interesting projects and competitions.”



Heikkilä’s glass pieces were introduced at the Milan Fair and originally designed as lightning. Photo by Ville Lahtinen


Profile photos by Maija Astikainen

Page content by: | Last updated: 04.11.2015.