The Finnish Room Committee:  

A group of volunteers dedicated to Finnish interests in the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs at the University of Pittsburgh.  The aim of the committee is to create a Finnish Nationality classroom.  The committee also aims to promote Finnish language and culture by sponsoring visiting Finnish musicians and scholars, presenting lectures on cultural matters, welcoming new Finns to the Pittsburgh community, and providing translation and language instruction. 

Our Goal:

The Nationality Classrooms at the University of Pittsburgh are a centerpiece of cultural activities in Pittsburgh. A common question of the many visitors — tens of thousands every year — who tour these rooms is: WHERE IS THE FINNISH ROOM? We of the Finnish Room Committee have made it our task to correct this unsatisfying situation.  However, it is an ambitious goal for us to raise the $300,000 necessary to cover all the expenses.  To reach this goal, we need the support of other Finns and Finnish Americans throughout the United States. 

The Purpose of the Finnish Nationality Classroom:  

The Finnish Nationality Room is much more than just a classroom, it will serve as the focus of the Finnish Committee activities.

The Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange of the University of Pittsburgh honors the people of many different nationalities who have come to America.  The collection of 30 classrooms showcase the rich cultural heritage of many of Pittsburgh’s ethnic groups. The rooms are gifts to the University and the ethnic committees formed to create classrooms honor and preserve the traditions of their heritage.

Nationality room committees sponsor workshops on ethnic studies and foster courses in the mother languages.  University classes meet in the classrooms from early morning until late at night, amidst surroundings designed to enhance the learning experience.  A single hand-carved chair or a stained glass portrait may set the viewer on a rewarding quest.  A steady stream of people — often families of three generations — come to see the world-famous rooms, which evoke pride in their own heritage and warm appreciation of other cultures.  The Nationality Rooms Program conduct tours 7 days a week.

The University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms’ Holiday Open House has showcased entertainers in native costume, ethnic foods, craft demonstrations, and tours of the 30 Nationality Rooms.  For more than 40 years, the rooms have been decorated by area residents who form the Nationality Rooms Committees to reflect ethnic holidays, including Kwanza, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, India’s Diwali (festival of lights), and Japan’s Kadomatsu displays of pine branches and bamboo for the New Year, as well as Christmas displays in other rooms.  Guides in national dress present the many holiday traditions celebrated throughout the world.  For many Pittsburgh families an annual visit to the Nationality Rooms during the holidays enables their children to experience the holiday traditions of their heritage as well as learn about the customs of other cultures. 

Upon completion of their rooms, the nationality room committees are dedicated to intercultural education as well as social and cultural events.  Since 1948, annual summer study abroad scholarships numbering more than 1500 have enabled University of Pittsburgh students and faculty to study abroad; lectures, concerts, exhibits, and social events highlight facets of some 28 heritages; distinguished international visitors are received by the committees at the University; special projects range from the purchase of books for the University libraries to publication of volumes on comparative literature as well as ethnic recipes.  Committees sponsor workshops on ethnic studies and foster courses in the mother languages.

How to Contribute to the Finnish Nationality Room Fund:

By Check:

Please make your check payable to the “University of Pittsburgh” and be sure to include “Finnish Room Fund” in the memo section of the check. Mail the check to the Finnish Room Committee, 1409 Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

You may also to contribute to the Finnish Room through the Finlandia Foundation. Checks should be made out to “Finlandia Foundation, Pittsburgh Nationality Room” and mailed to Finlandia Foundation, PO Box 92046, Pasadena CA 91109-2046.

Online / Credit Card:

You may donate online securely using Visa, MasterCard or Discover. Click Here for detailed directions on how to donate online.


For more information on contributions, credit card information or a donation in someone’s honor or memory contact our president, Seija Cohen, at 412-372-6876 or via email:

Contributions are tax deductible.

Architecture student Mika Gröndahl wins design competition for his submission titled The Big Dipper:

A competition for the best potential design of the Finnish Nationality Classroom was sponsored by the Finnish Nationality Room Committee of the University of Pittsburgh. First place was awarded to Mika Gröndahl, architecture student from Oulu University, for his submission titled The Big Dipper. An overview of his design which combines traditional decor and state of the art audio-visual technology is displayed below. The second prize winners are a design team comprised of Eero Lunden, Heikki Muntola, Olli Saarikoski and Eero Tapio from Oulu University for their Karelian-inspired submission titled Piilu. The third prize winners are Jesperi Vara and Jussi Heinonen from Tampere University of Technology, for their innovative submission titled KUURA. Click here to view a .pdf file containing a description of the winning designs in both English and in Finnish.

The winning design titled The Big Dipper, by Mika Gröndahl, is based on an early Finnish smoke cottage and combines tradition with modern technology, original materials, and a coherent theme. The colors are dark and light woods. The dialog between the traditional elements and their new interpretation is fresh and modern. Reference is made to Finnish literature, in particular the story of The Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi. The brothers studied the alphabet in a similar room.  Click here to download a .pdf file (6.8 MB) by Mika Gröndahl describing his winning design. 

The design competition ended in March 2006 and was open to all Finnish students of architecture and interior design.  Entries had to incorporate the technological requirements of the contemporary university teaching classroom into an architectural interior that is expressive of Finland’s past, prior to 1787, the year of the University of Pittsburgh’s founding.  Portions of the winning designs will be incorporated into the final plans for the Finnish Nationality Classroom.  Click here to download a pdf file explaining the full contest rules.  We were pleased to receive many wonderful submissions and thank all who entered the competition.

About the Winning Designer:

Mika Gröndahl is a Finnish expatriate living in New York with his wife and three children. He is currently on a leave of absence from his employment as a Graphics Editor at The New York Times, while finishing his Masters Degree in Architecture from the University of Oulu, Finland. His thesis project is a 35-story Finland Center located in the heart of Times Square. After graduation Mika is looking forward to complete more design projects through the design company, Lumi 4, Inc., which he runs with his wife.

High Resolution Images:

Perspective looking at Walls A and B
Perspective looking at Walls C and D
Overview of Room
Overview of Room showing ceiling panels
Photos of
Mika Gröndahl: [photo1], [photo2], [photo3]
Design Documentation

Dedication of Gifts Ceremony:

On August 4th, 2003 a formal Dedication of Gift Ceremony was held at the elegant office of Chancellor Mark Nordenberg in the Cathedral of Learning. This was a glorious moment for the Finnish Nationality Committee - now the Finnish Room Committee. For years we have dreamed of a Finnish Classroom at the Cathedral of Learning. The classroom will serve as a long overdue memorial, a place where the relatives of the early Finnish immigrants will learn about their culture and remember the contributions of their ancestors, and a place where students and visitors will learn about Finland and Finnish traditions.  It will also serve as the foundation of the Finnish Room Committee cultural activities.

Finnish Room Committee Chairperson, Seija Cohen is shown presenting Mark A. Nordenberg with a Declaration of Gift for a proposed Finnish Nationality Room. She also gave him a basket of traditional Finnish sand cookies.

From left Chancellor Nordenberg, Lorraine Kasari Loiselle, Seija Cohen, E. Maxine Bruhns Director Nationality Rooms Programs, Dr. William I. Brustein Director University Center for International Studies

Finnish People in Pennsylvania:

Finns have played an important role in American history since 1638 when they constituted the majority of the residents of the New Sweden colony along the Delaware River. In the New Sweden colony Finns built their customary log dwellings, soon to become a traditional feature of the American scene, and also cleared the land using their kaskiviljely technique of burning the forest and sowing seeds into the fertile ashes. Their ministers were the first Lutheran clergy in America and their churches, law courts, flour mills, and homes were the first permanent ones in eastern Pennsylvania. Often they simplified or anglicized their names in the process, as did a 1641 immigrant, Martti Marttinen, when he altered his name to Morton Mortonson. The Mortonson homestead can still be seen near Philadelphia, but the achievement of his great grandson, John Morton, was an even more significant legacy. Morton, serving as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress, and briefly as its presiding officer, gave strong support to the decision for American independence in 1776.

Later Finns were among the immigrants who came to work in the Pennsylvania steel mills. The autonomous relation with Russia had created many difficulties for the Finnish people in Finland so many came looking for a living in the industrial centers in the USA, among them Monessen, New Castle, Steel City and other parts of Western Pennsylvania. The Titanic carried many Finns headed for this area, some of whom lost their lives when the ship sank. The Finnish people who lived and worked around Pittsburgh kept their language and culture and they supported the Finnish churches. St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Monessen still had a Finnish pastor in the late 1970s. The Monessen Orchestra Band, “Louhi,” produced band leaders who were composers of music which still is played today. (To read more about the “Louhi” band see

During the Celebrations of the 350th Anniversary of the Swedish Colony, Dr. Matti Kaups, University of Minnesota, Duluth concluded his presentation about the Delaware Finns and the American pioneer culture by saying that America is a nation reaching from sea to sea, not a simple country on the ocean shore, because of the heritage of the inhabitants in inland and their teachers, the Savo-Karelian Finns.

Finland Today:

Industry and Technology:  Today Finland is a leading country in many fields and is especially known in design, architecture, and digital technologies. The communications company Nokia started in Finland and has become a major multinational company, which invests heavily in R&D and conducts a large share of its research in Finland. But more than just Nokia, there are hundreds of small and medium-sized fast-growing companies in the so-called Finnish ICT cluster. As a leading IT country, Finland’s industries have linked state-of-the-art technology with excellent design.

Finland is a large exporter of metals and timber which are widely used in architecture, industry, and manufacturing around the world. This abundance of building materials has influenced the Finnish people to embrace industrial arts, design, and architecture. Finland’s recognition as a leader in design is based on its strong history, original styling and high-quality manufacturing. The companies Artek, Arabia, Iittala and Marimekko all became large exporters of Finnish design.  Finland’s architectural accomplishments are many and recently include a young trio of architects who share an award for designing the “World’s Best New Building” in 2001 as decided by an international jury.

In October 2000 Finland was ranked second in economic creativity by World Economic Forum. It was ranked the most competitive country in the world in 2001 in the Global Competitiveness Report. Finland ranked at the top in 2000 by Transparency International Index as world’s least corrupt nation. It is at the top of the list in a new barometer of 122 countries’ capacity to protect the environment while at the same time advancing economic growth. Helsinki’s air is the cleanest among European cities. Helsinki gets high marks in a public transport survey, second only to Barcelona. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s report in 2001, Finland ranked at the top as the world’s technologically most advanced nation.

Education: Finnish students consistently rank in the top three among the world’s nations in reading and math ability. Language skills are emphasized in Finnish schools and today virtually every Finn up to middle age can communicate in a foreign tongue, most often English. A basic education in Finland is free to all school age children. In addition to teaching this includes all school books, learning materials, and one hot meal a day. Teachers in Finland are highly esteemed and there is a lot of competition for teaching positions.

Higher education is divided between universities and polytechnics. University education prepares the students to conduct scientific research. The polytechnic provides instruction that focuses on the skills necessary in the workplace, providing a degree with a professional emphasis. Higher education and training is free of charge in Finland at all the public institutions and universities. The universities decide which students to enroll through entrance exams.

Music: Another interesting feature of the Finnish education system is that enhanced music training is available to most school children. This has generated a strong interest in the musical arts and created an active and encouraging concert public. The Finns embrace the music of their heritage evident in the lasting popularity of folk music, a genre that has undergone continual evolution and revival. Moreover, the Finns have a long tradition of excellence in the musical arts. While the great composer Jean Sibelius, creator of Finlandia in 1899 as well as many other national treasures may be best known, over the last 25 years Finnish music has experienced unique growth, and today Finland has an exceptionally high number of noteworthy composers and conductors. Finnish conductors are leading the Los Angeles Symphony, the Minneapolis Symphony, and the Toronto Symphony. Long noted as a country producing great new opera, Finland’s Kaija Saariaho’s “L’amour de Loin” (Love from Afar) had its U.S. premier at the Santa Fe Opera July 27, 2002. “Luther” by Kari Tikka premiered in the U.S. October 25–27, 2001.

To learn more about Finland, we suggest checking out Virtual Finland.

[content questions]  [home]