Help wanted

6.5.1948 Mrs. Aropaltio is looking for an absolutely reliable housemaid

The Strange Home Atlas has been quiet lately and this post can give you hints why.

Some time ago I was looking up old newspaper archives in search for female architects, one of them was Elsa Aropaltio (1914-2008) who is known mostly for her many apartment buildings around Helsinki. To my surprise the search hits were mostly in the small ads. Else Aropaltio, the boss lady, had trouble combining work and family and seemed to be constantly looking fo housemaids and baby-sitters.

In August 1950 she needed a nurse too.
By November 1950 the earlier domestic help had apparently left and she needed a nurse/housemaid.
A year later, in September 1951 the search was on again.

Maybe she wasn’t a nice person or maybe good help was hard to find, but right now I can imagine how she was feeling writing those small ads late at night.



Back to Kotisiilo

I wrote about the strangest housing project in Järvenpää back in 2013. Now I visited the city on a rainy friday and, lo and behold, stumbled upon the just finished Kotisiilo!


The old silos were demolished and replaced by a new building with the same external shape. The architects Helamaa & Pulkkinen have slightly streamlined the design from 2013, for the better it seems. The distinctive silo-shape is formed now only by round balconies around a straightforward building core, but the effect is still quite striking.


Oddly enough there is a similar project in Oulu, called Tervahovin siilot, where old grain silos were replaced/renovated into apartments by Archeus architects, making for a truly memorable sight, as they put it in their description.

Although there is still something really weird about it, I am cautiously starting to like it (in the “why not” kind of way). The building actually feels almost cheerful in comparison with the other new buildings surrounding it, which are the usual well-meaning, not overly ambitious buildings that end up filling new neighborhoods.

Model Home no. 4

The last weeks I have been settling in a new home. That is when you suddenly become aware of the routines that make up daily life, and have to recreate them in slightly differently ways. The light switch can’t suddenly be found in the dark, you can’t recognise individual noises, things need new places, new formations. New ways of doing become small rituals of inhabiting, small meditative actions, before disappearing again from your consciousness, as they once again become routines, the kind of everyday life, that is hardly noticed.

Olari, photo Hanna Meriläinen
Olari home, 11.6.2015
photo Hanna Meriläinen

This has been on my mind thanks to Kirsi Saarikangas and her not at all new book “Eletyt tilat ja sukupuoli” (SKS 2006), where she investigates the boundaries between spaces and inhabitants, repeatingly emphasizing how architecture is constantly co-created by the people in a space, by their actions and reactions. Architecture encourages some behaviours more than others, but is also constantly re-interpreted and changed by its users. In her book this comes of course more elegantly put and with a hearty dose of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir.

Taking these thoughts to the 1970’s suburb of Olari in Espoo allows trying new perspectives. Olari can of course be looked at as belonging to a larger shift in society  in the 1970’s, from rural to urban, to new jobs in the city, to new industrially built homes for everyone. It is also possible to view it as an experimental project by an eccentric building contractor Arvi Arjatsalo and two young and ambitious architects, Simo Järvinen and Eero Valjakka, and as their pragmatic work of art.

Olari in the 70s, photograph Simo Rista MFA

But Olari is now something beyond what the politicians, city planners, builders and architects had in mind. For almost 50 years it has been a home for thousands of people hating and loving it. As the built environment might have changed their life, the inhabitants have left their own traces there, sometimes adapting, sometimes resisting change. For my book I visited homes in Olari that had virtually not changed in decades, looking like it was still 1972. Some homes had little resemblance to the world outside, living in their own time. New, overlapping, contradicting, personal layers of meaning have been added to the place and the buildings. People who spent their own childhood there come back with a feeling of nostalgia that was unthinkable a few decades ago.

On a practical level Olari homes have adapted remarkably well to completely new ways of living, thanks to the constructive system that was ahead of its time and already prepared for change. Instead of standard bearing walls there are bearing columns that allow a free flow of spaces and lots of individual changes. Freedom on the inside was contrasted with systematic repetition, even monotony on the outside, that was slightly softened by the ever-present forest surrounding the houses.

photo Hanna Meriläinen
photo Hanna Meriläinen

And the sauna. Olari was the first Finnish building project to implement individual saunas inside the apartments. The sauna space even had direct access to the balconies. The sauna was a technical novelty that in an unprecedented way managed to give new city dwellers a new sense of luxury as well as a sense of autonomy and emotional ownership. Standing in the bath towel on your balcony, drinking beer and watching the sunset. Now that’s being-in-the-world if anything, right Heidegger?

photo Hanna Meriläinen

Soukka Gallery House


The mid-seventies were a bleak time for Finnish architecture. At the same time more was built than ever before, mostly large suburbs to house people moving into cities. Professional conversation was filled with disenchantment, questions of responsibility and angry accusations. It was becoming quite clear that much of the new living environment was not very good. Engineer Eero Paloheimo actually said already in 1976 (ARK 1/77), that if more money had been spent on building quality and individual design of the new suburbs, people might like to live in them even 50 years from now.


This apartment building though was one of the few examples deemed good enough for display in the architecture exhibition Suomi rakentaa 5 in 1976. Situated in Soukka, a southwestern suburb of Espoo, it was designed by Matti Vuorio in 1971 for Asuntosäätiö, a large housing company that had become a synonym for high quality when building Tapiola decades earlier. Built in a time when experimenting was not really part of Finnish architecture in general, this gallery house still managed to be a positive addition to its site and to existing housing architecture types. A bit of an oddity, that is.



Soukka, a remote, mostly still rural part of Espoo was first called Lounaisrannikko “Southwest Coast” and even Alvar Aalto was invited to do some sketches for the new city in the 1960’s. But then the usual happened, and it was built as a pretty stereotypical suburb: almost identical high-rises scattered in foresty nature, roughly following the rocky landscape, a view to the sea from the upper floors. A small shopping centre, wide and empty streets.

Although nothing spectacular, Matti Vuorio managed to do a good job. The buildings are only four stories high and connect with the main street. The use of wood accentuates the smaller, friendlier scale. The smallest apartments on the ground floor have a small front garden. On the first floor there are spacious two-room apartments while big multilevel apartments upstairs have large roof terraces. The round stairs are the architectural highlight in the otherwise unassuming architecture. The well used gallery typology allows views into both directions and creates a house/apartment hybrid, probably much appreciated by the inhabitants. It seems to have remained a exception, because this type of gallery house is pretty much nonexistent today.

p.s. You can find the Strange Home Atlas now on Instagram as well!



Malagueira morning

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A while ago I visited Quinta da Malagueira in Èvora, Portugal. It is Alvaro Siza’s architecture classic, that often serves as a prototype for social housing architecture. And while many classics have lost quite a bit of their charm over the years, this one hasn’t. The everyday clutter that unavoidably takes over cities and that architects often accuse for ruining their masterpiece, has here managed to merge comfortably with the austerity of the original buildings.

Alvaro Siza started to design Quinta da Malagueira in 1977 and it took more than 20 years to be completed. Built outside the city walls of Èvora, the neighborhood of 1200 houses contrasts strongly with the city. The open spaces in Malagueira rather resemble a Scandinavian suburb than the picturesque density of old portuguese towns. The housing shortage after the 1974 revolution was the starting point for building and Siza was invited to work together with workers’ councils. Due to this 60% of the houses are co-operatives and the rest mostly rental houses. The involvement of the councils and future residents helped control speculation, prices and allowed residents to buy their own house little by little. This has been one of the reasons that the neighborhood has aged so well, despite of being built with very little money for low-income workers.

For the plan Siza carefully studied the landscape, existing buildings, pathways and even traces of older inhabitation and adjusted the built structure to these. The result has often been stated to combine modernist ideals (notably the German siedlung architecture of the early 20th century) with vernacular architecture, but it is not as simple as that. The influences are much more subtle and refined. There was no money for public architectural gestures, so Siza planned a grid of aqueducts (that was also the cheapest way to do technical installations) to bind together the houses and form gates over the narrow lanes. These technical aqueducts are dictated by an aesthetic of necessity, and at the same time bear traces of Roman and medieval architecture. They create a combining tissue that is recognisable on many levels.

The architecture of the yard houses is simultaneously ancient, modifiable and a nod to modernism – that in turn has borrowed from the mediterranean vernacular as well. Siza’s architecture is not about superficial citations, but about complexity beneath a perceived simplicity. This makes Malagueira’s architecture succeed and live on. It is not destroyed by changes, but manages comfortably with people adding, changing and painting the doors in the traditional Alentejo way.

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Siza also had a house of his own in Malagueira where he stayed during the 20 years of design. It’s inner courtyard has almost a Pompeian feel to it. You can see more of it in the lovely documentary by Ellis Woodman for the Architectural Review.

© Architectural Review
© Architectural Review

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The large green central spaces do resemble a modernist Scandinavian suburb: empty and slightly melancholy. Much criticism has been directed to the unfinished feeling of the public spaces – and this is true. There were several horses quietly grazing on a quiet sunday morning, knowing it is a pasture more than a park. But to me this was also a familiar space – the kind of open, almost controlled nature between buildings, that is part of modernist urbanism where I grew up. And as much as I love the order of built city squares with fountains and shops, there is a secret place in my heart for this as well: green, open and quietly happy.

Model Home for sale!

copyright (Kahdeksas päivä Oy)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the house Toivo Korhonen built for himself. And now this iconic modern house is for sale. Unfortunately, icons don’t come cheap but cost around 1,2 million euros, which is a bit too much for me. But if there is someone out there with fine taste and extra cash…

(Small note to real estate agent: This is not really an example of  corbusian brutal (sic!) concrete architecture, but perhaps the prospective buyers are not as particular on right terminology as architecture bloggers with less cash.)

Now off for a short summer break, more homes in August!

Model Home No. 4

© Hanna Meriläinen

In the 1960’s modernist architecture suddenly started to be appealing to the masses. It was presented in magazines as white, clean and luxurious, symbolizing a new modern, progressive way of life. Something that the middle class wanted to have alongside a private car, a television set and a new kind of independence. Although people were moving into cities, the bourgeois ideal was very much privacy and freedom of choice as a counterbalance to busy urban life. Architect Toivo Korhonen built a supermodern atrium house for his family in Lauttasaari, Helsinki in 1960 and described the benefits of his home:

Meitä eivät häiritse pikku sateet, hetken auringonpaisteen voimme käyttää hyväksemme, lapset pääsevät jo maaliskuussa eroon talvitamineistaan j.n.e. ja ennen kaikkea olemme kääntäneet selkämme muulle maailmalle – elämme rauhassa omaa elämäämme.

(We’re not bothered by a little rain, we can enjoy every moment of sunshine and the kids can take off their winter gear already in March. Most of all we’ve turned our back to the rest of the world, we live our own life here.)

FINLAND. Helsinski. Portrait of architect Toivo KORHONEN. 1969.
Portrait of architect Toivo Korhonen 1969 in the atrium court of his house. copyright Rene Burri / Magnum Photos
Model home for the modern family. Orapihlajatie, Helsinki. Jaakko Laapotti 1964. Documented 20.5.2015

This is one of the model homes from that era. An elegant row house apartment, designed by architect Jaakko Laapotti (who used to work for Toivo Korhonen as a student) in 1964. Black and white, spacious and full of light. This one does not have an enclosed atrium garden but an inside atrium with skylight windows, an elegant fireplace and two balconies opening to the forest beyond the houses. The buildings are slightly lifted off the ground to emphasize the contrast of the forest site and the white buildings.

It hasn’t changed much from 1964. The current resident has only opened the kitchen into the living room to make the downstairs space even bigger and changed the upstairs bathroom, that originally had a bath tub, to fit larger washing machines.

This home makes you almost believe in modern times again.

copyright Hanna Meriläinen
copyright Hanna Meriläinen
copyright Hanna Meriläinen


Sanna Meriläinen: Tavallisia koteja etsimässä

This week I’m a visiting blogger for Rakennustieto: Check it out!

Tieto rakentaa laatua

Kun arkkitehtuurista kirjoitetaan, kerrotaan useimmiten poikkeusyksilöistä: ainutlaatuisista rakennuksista ja yksilöllisistä huviloista, rikkaista mesenaateista ja normeja uhmaavista sankarisuunnittelijoista. Kuitenkin suurin osa rakentamisesta on aina vähän toisenlaista, laadultaan vaihtelevan mukiinmenevää arjen arkkitehtuuria.

Suurin osa Suomen kaikista rakennuksista on rakennettu vasta viimeisen sadan vuoden aikana. Niistä valtaosa on melko tavallisia asuintaloja, joita ei ole rakennettu yksilöllisiin asumistarpeisiin, vaan ratkaisemaan ainainen asunto-ongelma. Niihin on muutettu asuntosäästämällä, lisätilan tarpeessa, rakennemuutoksen paineissa ja pienten unelmien perässä. Tavalliset asuinrakennukset muodostavat meidän ympäristömme perusrakenteen, sen melko huomaamattoman taustan, jota vasten poikkeukselliset rakennukset erottuvat.

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Model Home No.3

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Model home for the nuclear family, Helsinki, Maunula. Hilding Ekelund 1951-1956. Documented 30.7.2015.

With the emergence of the suburban home in the 1950’s many people had for the first time suddenly the opportunity to actually live inside the modern society. The suburban high-rise home met the technical criteria of the future and had standardized, functional spaces and modern comforts designed by the best experts for the ideal domestic life.


That ideal was of course a family with a working father, stay-at-home mother and as many children as possible. In Finland it was touchingly promoted by Heikki von Hertzen in his book Koteja vai kasarmeja lapsillemme (Homes or Barracks for our Children) since 1946 and finally started to bear fruit in the early 1950’s when building was started on a bigger scale after the war.

© Hanna Meriläinen

That ideal has of course its blind spots, at least in hindsight, but it transformed our ideas of homes in a way that has not changed a lot in the last 60 years. Earlier working class apartments were mostly rooms with little possibility for privacy or even most basic needs like cooking or personal hygiene. Upper class homes had until the war primarily continued a tradition of representation, where the emphasis was on entertaining guests comfortably, servants and children hidden from view.

The middle class of the post-war era had no use for either and readily adopted the technically modern but socially conservative, even paternalistic view on how to live. This view was translated into reality luckily by talented architects as Hilding Ekelund, who managed to design homes that actually improved homes for women and children. Indoor bathrooms, larger kitchens connected to the living rooms, balconies and laundry rooms made domestic life a lot easier, but these homes were beautiful as well. Some of them had even architectural qualities, like this attic floor apartment that uses the empty space above a neighboring apartment as an extra room. The living room is higher than usual and opens to the north, east and south.

The big open courtyards and forests surrounding new suburbias were good places for children to roam.In places like Maunula the roaming children have grown up and left. But some homes are still filled with the memories of family life.

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Sahanmäki, Maunula 1955. © Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Heikki Havas

Model Home No. 2

Rautpohja Apartment 20.8.2015 © Sanna Meriläinen

Model home for a factory worker & family, Rautpohja, Jyväskylä, Finland 1938-1940. Designed by Airi Seikkala-Viertokangas & Märtha Lilius-Tallroth. Documented 20.8.2015.

Kitchen, water closet (unusual luxury back then), living room, bedroom & alcove with window. Very little in this home has changed since 1938. The kitchen has been renovated somewhere around 1960 (replacing the wood-burning stove with an electric one) and fridge and washing machine have been later added by residents. Originally the residents had a separate sauna building with laundry rooms, nowadays shared shower and sauna facilities are in the basement.

Rautpohja apartment © Hanna Meriläinen