Marja-Leena Rathje
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my architect cousin

Seppo Mykrä has designed projects such as the Hotel Oscar expansion shown in the background, where hands were even wrung.
captured from Warkauden Lehti

Very occasionally I browse the online newspaper from Varkaus, Finland, the city where I was born and where most of my father's family came from and where many of my cousins still live. Imagine my stunned surprise last night when I was checking it out and found a photo and article about my cousin Seppo Mykrä. He has been the city's architect for 40 years and now has an exhibition of photographs of some of his hundreds of designs in that city.

Here's my translation of the article:

by Rauno Ylönen 4.8.2011

Architect Seppo Mykrä's touch is strongly reflected in the city of Varkaus and its streetscape. 70-year-old Mykrä has designed hundreds of buildings for Varkaus in the past 40 years.

Some of these are on display as photographs in the Unknown Creator exhibition at the Varkaus library starting this Wednesday. The exhibition is divided into three parts: industrial buildings, residential buildings and public buildings.

Photography and exhibition design has been carried out by Seppo Mykrä's granddaughter, Emma Luukkala, a student at the Tampere Art High School. We are still making the book of these photographs, Luukkala says.

Read more in Warkauden magazine on Thursday.

Unknown Creator - an exhibition of Seppo Mykrä's architecture in Varkaus from 1972-2011 at the Varkaus library exhibition room August 31st.

Can you tell how proud I am of my cousin, who is my late father's late sister's son? I deeply wish I could be there to see this exhibition and all his lovely family and home. The last time we met was in 2002.

Now, just a few words about the curious name Varkaus or Warkaus about which we are often teased:

Oddly enough, 'Varkaus' translates to 'theft', even though it is not the reason for giving that name to the city. In old Finnish, the same word also meant strait, and this city is located in the lake district [...] on straits between two parts of Lake Saimaa.

I've heard many different explanations for the name but this one is new to me and does make the most sense.

And, oh, I just remembered that it's my father's birthday today (as well as being special for a few others in our family). If he were alive he would be 91 years old, and very very proud of his nephew!


It's not often anymore for a city to choose one architect to design so much of its buildings. I bet it's a beautiful place and you have good reason to be proud of him.

Susan, yes, it does seem unusual to have one architect do so much for one place, especially his hometown. I'm still a bit stunned to have found this online. I still have to write him....

how extraordinary to stumble upon seppo like this! i didn't know all this about him. lovely. it is a special day xx

The title needs altering: My cousin, the architect. It's a jewish usage, amusing and gently boastful. As if there were a stream of cousins - the doctor, the musician, the international criminal.

In one of Raymond Chandler's novels, Phillip Marlowe is awakened by the phone. The caller announces, "Clyde Umney, the attorney."

"I thought there was more than one," says Marlowe. Note that wonderfully chosen surname, Umney.

Until granddaughter Ysabelle got her degree I couldn't say I was proud of any of my relations. Reckoned it was a judgement they could all get on without. Worried that pride might hint at a form of ownership I wasn't entitled to. To some extent that changes with younger relations. Now all she has to do is find a job.

I take it Seppo is a diminutive. But what is unexplained is the name of the exhibition. Surely there's a paradox here: Unknown Creator by Seppo Mykrä. Has he adopted a pseudonym? Or is the exhibition attributable to what the French call Le Grand Seigneur?

Sorry to go on picking but you know me, once I start... "this city located in the lake district" In Finland that hardly pins it down, does it?

Elisa, yes, extraordinary. I guess you were pretty young when you first saw him in Finland in 1983, then on his short visit here around 1986.

BB, cute story. You are right about the title but you may be disappointed to hear that my criteria is to be as short as I can so that it will stay on one line on my list on the left here. I tend to usually be spare in words anyway, and why I did not tell you much about my hometown as you can look it up if you are interested as the focus was on my cousin.

As for 'Seppo' that is a real honest full Finnish name. It is connected with 'seppä' (blacksmith), an epithet of the smith Ilmarinen in the Kalevala.

The title of the show refers, I think, to the fact that many residents probably do not know who is the architect of their city's many buildings. A clumsy title, I grant, especially in translation. Perhaps it's a play on 'Unknown Soldier', a famous Finnish novel.

And proud of the granddaughter too, I suppose! Not many high school students are brave enough to do something large under the public eye.

Marly, yes, of course! I wonder if this is her 'grad' project for her art and media studies, or something like that. They are an artistic family - her mother is an art teacher, her grandmother (Seppo's wife) is a weaver.

Fascinating. Are most of your family members artists of some sort? I do like the clean, simple look of those buildings.

Hattie, not most, but many of my aunts are/were weavers. The nordic style is clean, even postmodern. I wish I could see more of the photos - may have to wait for the book.