Here are three old buildings from Helsinki that I often pass by on my walks. They show how good residential architecture is often created by accident when buildings change their use or their surroundings change over time. It sometimes seems that it is easier to design good and unconventional apartments when you can’t start from scratch. When the building already exists the solution can be slightly stranger than otherwise. New apartment houses tend to follow the conventions of the trade. Are architects so dull? Or maybe the people who sell apartments?
This building with a lot of old world charm and a beautiful plaster finish was originally the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, built in 1937, designed by Yrjö Sadeniemi, head of the National Building Board. It is situated in Hermanni, close to the Sörnäinen prison. It now houses rental apartments. Judging from the street, the apartments have a thoughtful atmosphere and high ceilings. The inhabitants make most of it by hanging impressive lamps from the ceiling.
The building in Aleksis Kiven katu 11 is a former factory building from the 1920’s by Architect Runar Finnilä and was turned into rental apartments in 1996. Its neighbor is the Meira spice factory, so you can smell coffee, cardamom and sometimes cloves or cinnamon walking by. The apartments are small: many have two rooms and two floors, so they’re actually tiny duplex apartments (The plans can be found here). In addition the lowest floor apartments have small private gardens in the back – the upper floor apartments have skylights.
This building stands alone by the abandoned railway leading to the old Pasila wagon factory. It was designed by Ture Hällström, built in 1924 for railroad officials and was according to local history called Bethlehem. The transformation here is of a different kind because it is still an apartment house – but the railroad, the factory and the people working for it have left, leaving it standing dramatically alone on a hill.