Riitta Nikula
Humanist of the day

Riitta Nikula

Riitta Nikula, professor emeritus of art history, is specialised in researching 20th century Finnish architecture. The built cityscape, the significance of city blocks and buildings in the fabric of the city and its residents’ lives have fascinated her as a scholar for almost 50 years. When teaching at the University, Professor Nikula took a dialogical approach and encouraged students to be experiential – to go on excursions and cycle and walk around. In Professor Nikula’s view, more can be learnt on excursions than when sitting alone cramming for exams with a set text.

Riitta Nikula

Riitta Kaarina Nikula
Born March 15, 1944, Lahti

Master of arts 1969 and PhD 1981 (art history), University of Helsinki

Professor emeritus of art history 2007–, University of Helsinki
Professor of art history 1994–2007, University of Helsinki
Head of research 1988–1994, Museum of Finnish Architecture
Academy of Finland research fellow and holder of several posts at the University of Helsinki 1970–1988
Employee of the Museum of Finnish Architecture 1967–1970
Theatre journalist 1965–1967, Ilta-Sanomat

Academy of Finland research projects:
Nainen, taide, historia (‘The woman, art, history’) 1985
Arjen taidehistoria (‘everyday art history’) 1990

Director of the national doctoral programme for art history 1999–2007
Member of the Doctoral Council of the Estonian Academy of Arts 1994–2007

A selection of publications, research projects and other academic activity on Professor Nikula’s homepage, or presented in their entirety on the University of Helsinki’s TUHAT database

Awards and honours
Finlandia Prize for Nonfiction, honourable mention 1989 (Armas Lindgren)
Finnish Art Society’s Literature Award 1991 (Erik Bryggman)
Honorary member of Architecta (association of female Finnish architects) 1992
Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters 1993
Overseas member of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences in Gothenburg 1997
First Class Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland
Museum of Finnish Architecture Bronze Medal of Merit
Wilhuri Foundation honorary award 2007
Honorary PhD , Estonian Academy of Arts
Gold Medal of the City of Helsinki 2009
Nonfiction writer of the year 2015

Photo: Mika Federley
Written by Riitta Nikula and Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta
Translated by Matthew Billington

Riitta Nikula’s father, a lawyer and architecture enthusiast, led her to investigate the built environment. As a school girl she dreamt of becoming an architect, but learning about the reality of design work already dispelled the allure of Helsinki University of Technology when she was at upper-secondary school. Nevertheless Nikula did not stray too far. “I matriculated at Munkkiniemen Yhteiskoulu in 1962. That same autumn I enrolled at the University of Turku, where I studied aesthetics, psychology and ethnology for one year. In addition I went to drawing school.”

Read more

I have already written and spoken about art for a living for over 40 years, but nevertheless it still doesn’t feel natural to talk about my research as a ‘profession,’ let alone a ‘career.’ It is easier to account for the other sides of work. I have always wanted to write, and assignments, either of my own invention or from elsewhere have offered themselves more or less by chance.

Read more

During my student days, the university of Helsinki was full of experiences. After school, it was amazing to be able to participate in the lectures of one’s choice and get to know how matters could be formulated and presented in different ways. Back then, professors had the time to prepare their lectures carefully and include much that was certainly not written into the study programme. Before work began to take up too much of my time, I listened to lectures from literary scholars just for the fun of it. The Department of Art History operated on the top floor of the Main Building together with its own library. It was a bottomless treasure trove. From the open shelves one could find anything whatsoever – in addition to the thing one was actually looking for.

Read more

I dream that I will be able to continue writing and that someone will still publish some of my texts.

I also dream that in the future the University will remain a place that gives new students a sense of the unlimited possibilities of study.

I hope humanities students will…

Read more