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

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


Model Home No.3

SM kalustettu pohja100
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.

3542 -78 . N37107
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


Housing Normcore

Olari © Hanna Meriläinen


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.

And luckily I found the best homes!

I also found good stories and made interesting discoveries. The lovely photographs took my talented cousin, Hanna Meriläinen.

More about this soon!

Pikku Huopalahti © Hanna Meriläinen



Hello Mr. and Mrs. Koivisto!

Kotiliesi 8/1981

Kotiliesi is a well-known Finnish magazine for things around the home and it also used to present interesting homes. In 1981 they visited the then prime minister and future president of Finland, Mauno Koivisto and his wife, Tellervo Koivisto in their new home in Katajannokka.

What is especially intriguing about their home (apart from the fact that it is not a seaside villa with a five-car garage and a pool, or a jugend penthouse, but a pretty ordinary 107m2 apartment in a new building in a nice but hardly upscale part of town) is that almost everything from lamp shades to carpets is almost identical with everybody elses home in the early 1980’s. This is further emphasized in the text: Tellervo Koivisto mentions that they had a professional interior architect but she chose (surprise!) birchwood Artek furniture, natural colors, standard white kitchen furniture with teak trimmings (Serlachius Timjami), a dining room lamp that I remember my parents having (Orno Onkel, Länsisähkö) and a blue Tampella table cloth. The decorator and the Koivistos are a little sressed whether the red oriental carpets are a little too much, but in the end everything feels just right.

I don’t know how magazines would write about Alexander Stubb’s or Juha Sipilä’s home today, or how different their home would look from mine, but they would certainly not feel as comfortable telling where they bought their curtains (Stockmann) and carrying salad bowls and pottering around their home as the Koivisto couple. Different times?

This pronounced modesty and practicality of the article is striking and somehow lovable (Mauno is also presented as a handy-man and Tellervo has clever ideas about organizing the laundry space). It might have to do something with Finnish social democracy, a near-perfect welfare state, or the timeless Finnish design that the decorator  was trying to achieve, but is most certainly has to do something with a lost homogeneity of culture that either existed at its clearest in the early 1980’s – or just in my nostalgic mind?


Anyway, this is a perfect home to start a new, better year. Friendly, light & ordinary. Happy new year 2016!

Facts of life

Homes as found by photographer Simo Rista, taken on December 2, 1989, in a few apartments in Sofianlehdonkatu 10. The only criterion in the choice of apartments was that someone opened the door and let the photographer in.


Photos by Simo Rista, originally published in the Finnish Architectural Review 1/1990 – now poorly reproduced by the Strange Home Atlas. Bonjour tristesse!