WITH ALL SENSES: Ilona Rista’s wooden walls and reliefs

By Finnish Timber Council

Ilona Rista’s wooden walls and reliefs mesmerise people around the world. They are beautiful, conceal much behind it and can be experienced with all the senses.

Illona Rista designed the wall for the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva

Rista’s best-known works are at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, the Finnish Embassy in Paris and the OP-Pohjola office building in Vallilla in Helsinki. All of Rista’s walls are unique works. They were created to meet the customer’s needs while taking into consideration the space.

In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the walls can be used to control the acoustics of a space by regulating the resonance and echoing of sounds. Numerous different functionalities can be integrated into walls, including storage solutions, AV technology and air circulation vents.

The design and realisation of the walls utilise the newest technology. The walls are designed using 3D modelling, which is used as a basis for moulding boards with CNC machines.

The Finnish Embassy in Paris wanted to display Finnish wood know-how on its wall. Storages spaces are concealed inside the wall.

In the work “Hän katselee sinua” (She watches you), the roles have been changed. The nude woman in Edouard Manet’s “Luncheon on the Grass” appears momentarily as someone walks by the wall, only to disappear into the shadows of the wooden surfaces to watch the passer-by.

The walls’ most visible surface is glue-laminated birch board. Rista has worked with numerous types of wood, but in the end glue-laminated birch was selected as the primary material because of its even colour. CNC machine blades and their rotation speeds are adjusted according to the birch to create a flawless finish.

Panels are attached with hidden aluminium strips to a wooden structure behind the panels. To emphasise a work’s depth perspective, panels can be located at numerous different levels.

Depth perspective can be further heightened using lighting. The lighting utilises LED strips, and their location in the structure is selected based on the desired effect. The appearance can be varied by adjusting the lighting.

When necessary, the boards can be treated with a fire-retardant agent. The material for the vertical and horizontal structures are selected according to the situation and can also be treated with a fire-retardant agent and varnish.

The total depth of the structure depends on the features desired of the wall and what technology will be located in it. At its smallest, a wall can be as thick as a board with the thickest walls being 240mm. The greatest need for space is usually caused by ventilation channels.

Dampening materials to regulate acoustics also require room. Dampening is always done using dampening wools intended specifically for that purpose. Surfaces that remain visible can be covered with a separate fabric. Fire-tested options are available for these as well. 


The work MÄNTYMETSÄSEINÄ (pine forest wall) was designed and carefully dimensioned for the auditorium at OP Vallila’s new office building. The split rock theme of the building, designed by JKMM Architects, can be seen in both the façade and the faceted walls of the large light well, and in the style of the walkways leading into the office spaces. From this cliffside bathed in light one can enter the dim auditorium with the MÄNTYMETSÄSEINÄ work covering the opposite wall, as if one were looking from a crevice in the stone through trunks and branches into the light.