Dream of Marble

Koy Hirviniemenranta
Hirviniemenranta
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© Kiinteistömaailma

The Strange Home Atlas continues to explore the architecture of Timo Penttilä. This is probably the best known of his residential buildings, Hirviniemenranta in Kuusisaari, Helsinki from 1981. Perched on a tiny peninsula on a small island filled with embassies and private villas it is of course quite something special and not intended for ordinary mortals. You notice that when you enter through a gate decorated with a huge elk head sculpture by Kari Juva into a closed courtyard, completely clad in white marble. In the middle of the square is a huge oak tree the architect wanted to leave at the center of an open square. The buildings turn their expensive-looking white marble backs to this square and open each to the sea and to a private beach strip. Finnish architecture is hardly ever glamorous, but this might be as close as it gets.

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On the northern side of the square there are a few smaller apartments and two attached houses with a swimming pool downstairs and living quarters upstairs, but the real highlight are two gigantic apartments with swimming pools, spiralling staircases and countless bedroom suites. They are so out of scale with 1980’s housing standards that they were clearly intended for representational uses. One of the apartments is apparently the home of an ambassador. On the shore side of the buildings there is a complicated terrace system on two levels sheltering the private gardens, probably designed so that there is a direct access to the sea from each bedroom via balconies and elevated walkways.

Alongside Carrara marble Timo Penttilä and architect Heikki Saarela used only very luxurious materials like grey granite, copper and Oregon fir. The details inside and outside also reveal a healthy amount of design work.

The architecture seems partly high-brow (small cultural center), partly high-life (case study house, Los Angeles) and self-confident above everything else. While the architecture language is recognisably Finnish the attitude is not.

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There is a strange but evident connection with these buildings and Penttilä’s writings (and their attitudes) from the same period. In the same issue of “Arkkitehti” magazine where these buildings were published in 1982, Timo Penttilä was invited to review the exhibition “Suomi Rakentaa 6”. He does not really bother with the exhibition, but spills out an angry five-page monologue about the inadequacy of the new pluralist architecture around him. In the same fierceness that he used to attack the structuralists a decade earlier, he now claims that the emerging environmentalist attitude is nothing but a praise of mediocrity. He uses the word environmentalism in a broad sense encompassing all that annoys him: post-modern ideas, historicism and a pronounced sensitivity to place.

He can hardly control himself when he states that “preservation is the embodiment of cowardice” and that in the long run the “good environment” (that all architects are all suddenly trying to achieve) will turn out to be prude, boring and welfare-socialist (I don’t know exactly what that means in this regard). He tries to plea for the integrity of good architecture in itself and also for a theoretical structure for 1980’s architecture that is not based on relativism, but probably only managed to upset everybody.

There is a strong ambivalence between this outburst and his built marble outburst. While not mediocre in any way, there is a strong sense of the exact attitudes he disagrees with so strongly: a careful adaptation to the environment, the symbolism of the materials and archetypal forms, and even the quest for a “good environment”.

But surely Penttilä would have hated the fact that this house is now listed by the City Museum as a candidate for future building preservation.

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Hirviniemenranta, fake fireplace tastefully in marble probably added by resident, © Kiinteistömaailma
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© Kiinteistömaailma

And by the way: those of you who really liked the place: there is actually one apartment on sale at this very moment! And only for 2,9 Million euros.

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