I am extremely happy to announce that my first book, Tavallisia koteja (Ordinary Homes) will be published February 29 by Rakennustieto!
In an offspring project from the Strange Home Atlas I went searching for typical Finnish homes from the 20th century, wanting to document the everyday architecture of the last century, architecture that is so ordinary that it is hardly noticed, missing from glossy magazines and from interior decoration TV shows. The initial thought was that strange houses are so rare that there must be some special reason for this homogeneity of building and living. The homogeneity suggests a strong, generally accepted model for good living that changes very slowly, and I wanted to see how people actually live in those model homes, that were once, and some of them still are, examples of good life.
This, at first rather plain, corner house was built as part of the International Building Exhibition IBA 1984 in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It was also the first building the internationally known architect Álvaro Siza Vieira realized outside his native Portugal. The thought of an infill block with regular facades, contextual sensitivity and shops on the ground floor was almost revolutionary after the anti-urban modernism of the 1970’s. Back then this house was close to the Berlin wall, practically at the edge of town, but now it stands in the middle of 24-hour-party-people Wrangelkiez.
I did not pay much attention to it, seeing it for the first time ten years ago – just noticing the strange graffiti at the gable of the house saying “bonjour tristesse”. Just recently it has acquired a new graffiti stating: “Bitte lebn” – please live. The original graffiti, french for “Hello sadness”, was added around 1985 and could refer either to the austerity of the architecture, the austerity of living in Berlin in the early eighties and/or to a french novel and Deborah Kerr movie by that title from 1958. The eye on the movie poster actually resembles the eye-shaped hole in the curving roofline of the building.
One critic called the building an architectural modulation of the neighboring 1950’s houses and argued how the graffiti and its message actually enhance and affirm the gestures of the building. Or at least lend it a feeling of soft irony. They blend together in such a recognisable and emotionally expressive way that people were very upset about the new boisterous graffiti and demanded that it must be removed and the “bonjour tristesse” restored to its former glory (with upside-down s and all).
So, seeing the house now, being back after ten years, my first feelings were tenderness and melancholy.
” We are also creatures who, with no possibility of profit or power, occasionally carve friars out of stone and mould angels onto walls. In order not to mock such details, we need a culture confident enough about its pragmatism and aggression that it can also acknowledge the contrary demands of vulnerability and play – a culture, that is, sufficiently unthreatened by weakness and decadence as to allow for visible celebrations of tenderness.”
Alain de Botton: The Architecture of Happiness, 2006.