July 25, 2023 Finland Alumni Excursion Raises $35K for Student Travel

A group of College of Architecture and Design alumni embarked on a transformative journey that blended architectural exploration with cultural immersion to Finland earlier this summer. Through $5,000 donations from each alumnus, the excursion raised $35,000 for the College of Architecture and Design to support student travel. 

“We have faculty experts and partners in Finland, so we started to ask ourselves how we can make a meaningful program for alumni there,” said Dean Jason Young, who led the excursion. “We did things you could never go and do without having the right experts involved. The experience created connections between alumni and current students, established a continuation of learning provided by the college, and impacted the future generation of students who will travel in our programs.” 

Scott Wall, professor of architecture, has traveled to Finland for more than 20 years for research and to lead fourth and fifth-year students in the college’s summer program based in Helsinki. He collaborated with Finnish colleagues to develop a six-day trip for the alumni, exploring the relationship between Finnish modernism and vernacular architecture. There was emphasis on the work of Alvar, Aino and Elissa Aalto across nine cities.  

Some highlights of the tour included the Aalto House and Studio in Helsinki, as well as the canonical Aalto designed Experimental Summer House in Muuratsalo and Villa Mairea in Noormarkku. The group explored numerous Aalto buildings at Jyväskylä University as well as Erik Bryggman’s Resurrection Chapel in Turku. The group also stayed the night in Aalto’s Säynätsalo Town Hall and on the grounds of the Paimio Sanatorium during the trip. 

The scope of work left architecture alumni Sheila Dial Barton (’97) and Nick Dryden (’95) feeling reinvigorated in their profession. 

Dryden, who has long admired Aalto’s work, realized the impact the architect has had on the firm he’s developed. Over the last 22 years, Dryden has built Dryden Architecture and Design with the same energy, creativity and collaboration that he experienced in studios while a student at UT. 

“It reaffirmed a lot of what I’ve worked really hard to do personally in our office,” said Dryden. “The focus on a Total Architecture resonated with me personally, as we consider design in a similar integrated manner in our own work. Being able to physically go and document these well-known buildings allows you to get in the head of the architects. I don’t know if you can truly understand the significance or power of those buildings unless you’re there.” 

The alumni’s excursion coincided with Wall’s program abroad course at Aalto University. For Barton, a principal at EOA Architects in Nashville, it reminded her of the formative impact that her study abroad course in Kraków, Poland had on her. Her experience inspired her to create the Sheila Dial Barton Travel Scholarship Endowment in 2019 for future students to be impacted. 

“It changed my life,” she said. “I think what the students in the Finland program will take away is a camaraderie, but also hopefully this love of travel and an appreciation of international design and culture that you should get when you’re that age.” 

The success of this trip to Finland drew those on the trip closer to the college, as well as forging new alum friendships. For them to feel so impacted and inspired by the trip means we made steps towards our goal of drawing the alumni network closer to the college through offering more opportunities for alumni engagement and education.