Almost old

The old and new building in Snellmaninkatu 23

It took me a long time to discover this building. It stands so comfortably there with its old neighbor from the 1890’s and tries hard not be noticed.

Although it almost fools you, this building was built in 1988, designed by Heikki Elomaa. It is one of the few examples of historicist postmodernism I have seen in Helsinki, but that might be because there so far has been plenty of space to build on – there has never been a great need for urban infill here. In most cases architects didn’t have to bother with thoughts of how to adapt their buildings to a multilayered city structure – there was simply nothing else there. For a long time Finnish architecture only really felt at home in a virginal forest. Or next to other buildings that have been designed with virginal forests in mind.

In this case the choice of style clearly makes this house extraordinary, at least in a Helsinki context. The historicist approach is in a way an answer to the popular longing for “good old times”. But this answer is not populist but understated and almost sophisticated. So what did Heikki Elomaa exactly do? He borrowed from his distinguished older neighbor the facade material (yellow plaster), building height (and at the same fitted six floors in a space that was enough for four a hundred years earlier), building mass (nice chamfered corners) and the distinction between ground floor, upper floor and attic. Then he took up some postmodern themes, but not in an ironic way:  a symmetrical street entrance, a protruding part with a terrace on the top and proto-zucchian window frames on the upper floor. Then he had to compromise a little with changed living standards and put balconies in the building. That of course wasn’t necessary in the 1890’s so it looks a bit strange but still he managed quite well.

So far I’m really pleased with the result. The building fits, has nice proportions and makes some playful allusions to classicist architecture. But most of all, unlike most postmodern architecture, it emits a feeling of sincerity. That feeling made me want to see what the life inside looks like. Are the apartments as self-conscious, roomy and elegant as big bourgeois apartments of the 19th century?

Main floors and attic

Disappointingly the answer is no. Each floor of this little building is crammed with three tiny apartments  that don’t have any of the charm of the outside. They have the required amount of inbuilt storage space and kitchen desk, dark bathrooms and rather smallish rooms where you have one predefined (and one possible) space for your table, your sofa and your bed. Nothing strange here.

Attic and terrace detailing

The sauna terrace is nice, though.


One thought on “Almost old

  1. When I was a kid visiting Helsinki, I said the rule of building a new building next to an old one seems to be to choose an unmatching style and equally unmatching colour. Nice to see an exception!

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