Finland is renowned for its architecture and design culture. Peter MacKeith, associate professor in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, has spent much of his career engaging that culture — living in Finland, teaching there, working in design practice and writing about the work of Alvar Aalto, Juhani Pallasmaa and other Finnish architects.
On Feb. 14, MacKeith was presented with the insignia of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Lion of Finland. Finland’s president bestows the honor annually in recognition of civic and cultural contributions to the nation.
Calling MacKeith “a true cultural ambassador,” Ritva Koukku-Ronde, Finland’s ambassador to the United States, praised MacKeith’s achievements, his work in promoting Finnish architecture and design over the last 25 years and his commitment to strengthening Finnish/American relations.
MacKeith was nominated for knighthood by the Finnish Association of Architects. The ceremony took place at the Embassy of Finland in Washington, D.C. — the first LEED-certified embassy in the U.S. and itself a notable example of contemporary Finnish design.
“This recognition of my work for Finland and Finnish architecture is deeply moving,” MacKeith said in accepting the insignia. “Together with my daughter, and my family and friends, and with the institutions that have supported and encouraged my work, I am honored and privileged by the insignia and the occasion.
“The experience of Finnish culture has been transformative for me, in ways both personal and professional,” MacKeith added. “This high honor only deepens my commitment to the nation and intensifies my sense of obligation to it.”
MacKeith’s knighthood follows his appointment, in 2012, as honorary consul for Missouri, in St. Louis. In 2009, he served as St. Louis coordinator for “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future,” a major retrospective of work by the Finnish-American architect who designed the Gateway Arch.
MacKeith first moved to Finland in 1990, as a Fulbright Scholar, and over the years has assumed many roles within its architectural culture. He has worked in architectural practice and, from 1995-99, directed the international master’s program in architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology.
After coming to WUSTL in 1999, MacKeith helped establish the Sam Fox School’s ongoing international semester in Helsinki for graduate architecture students. Over the last decade, the program has sent more than 200 students to Finland. During that same period, three WUSTL architecture graduates have themselves received Fulbright fellowships to Finland.
In addition to numerous articles on contemporary Finnish architecture, MacKeith is author of “The Finland Pavilions: Finland at the Universal Expositions 1900-1992 (1992)”; “The Dissolving Corporation: Contemporary Architecture and Corporate Identity in Finland” (2005); and “Archipelago, Essays on Architecture” (2006).
In 2005, MacKeith edited “Encounters: Architectural Essays,” a selection of Juhani Pallasmaa’s essays; a second volume was released in 2012. That same year, MacKeith curated and designed the exhibition of the Nordic Pavilion at the 13th International Venice Architecture Bienniale. He currently is working on two books and two exhibitions on Finnish architecture.
MacKeith’s daughter, Ada, was born in Finland. She is currently a WUSTL sophomore.