Tuuli, Noora and Inari started their university studies in 2004, and have been friends ever since. After a study trip to Cambodia, the girls, along with 3 other girls, decided to do something brave. They felt that they had gained so much from their time in Cambodia, and being aware of their own privileges coming from a country with social welfare system and free education, so they wanted to bring something back to the community. They also wanted to test and develop their own skills as architects, working in sustainable ways with local ecological materials in a collaborative and participatory way.
The 6 young women (Noora Aaltonen, Sisko Hovila, Tuuli Kassi, Maiju Suomi, Elina Tenho and Inari Virkkala) began in 2010 to plan and design a large building in Cambodia, looking at the different ways they could use local sustainable products such as bamboo. They also worked with the local community and architect students in Cambodia to make sure the place would be suitable for its purpose, that it would be used and that the community would also gain a sense of ownership over the project. In 2012 construction of the Kouk Khleang Youth Center began and is due to be completed by the end of 2013. The center will be operated by two Cambodian organizations Cambodian Volunteers for Society (CVS) and Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA).
"A participatory way is the only way to make a project like this in a sustainable way"
The youth center will serve as a place for vocational training and language courses, and host dormitories, especially for girls as they have a much lower access to accommodation in the city. In this way, girls from neighbouring villages gain better access to training and education.
"The whole idea also of building something so far away is also to provide architecture services to communities that would normally not be able to afford them"
During this whole process these 6 young women started KOMITU ARCHITECTS, "a group of young Finnish architects and architecture students who want to create socially and ecologically sustainable architecture together." In addition to building the Kouk Khleang Youth Center in Cambodia, they have hosted a number of workshops in Finland, including projects with the Roma people in Helsinki, and sustainable design workshops with students. Also, they have been active in creating products and events to sell to help fund their project in Cambodia. They themselves are working on voluntary basis to make the Kouk Khleang Youth Center become a reality.
Footage and photographs from Cambodia used in the video were generously lent to us for use. Thank you! Credits go to: Noora Aaltonen, Sisko Hovila, Tuuli Kassi, Maiju Suomi, Elina Tenho, Maude Chaveau, Chum Chuon, Kong Kimsour, Montana Rakz, Kevin Rowell, Sirpa Pietilä and Pen Somony.