Soukka Gallery House

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The mid-seventies were a bleak time for Finnish architecture. At the same time more was built than ever before, mostly large suburbs to house people moving into cities. Professional conversation was filled with disenchantment, questions of responsibility and angry accusations. It was becoming quite clear that much of the new living environment was not very good. Engineer Eero Paloheimo actually said already in 1976 (ARK 1/77), that if more money had been spent on building quality and individual design of the new suburbs, people might like to live in them even 50 years from now.

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This apartment building though was one of the few examples deemed good enough for display in the architecture exhibition Suomi rakentaa 5 in 1976. Situated in Soukka, a southwestern suburb of Espoo, it was designed by Matti Vuorio in 1971 for Asuntosäätiö, a large housing company that had become a synonym for high quality when building Tapiola decades earlier. Built in a time when experimenting was not really part of Finnish architecture in general, this gallery house still managed to be a positive addition to its site and to existing housing architecture types. A bit of an oddity, that is.

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Soukka, a remote, mostly still rural part of Espoo was first called Lounaisrannikko “Southwest Coast” and even Alvar Aalto was invited to do some sketches for the new city in the 1960’s. But then the usual happened, and it was built as a pretty stereotypical suburb: almost identical high-rises scattered in foresty nature, roughly following the rocky landscape, a view to the sea from the upper floors. A small shopping centre, wide and empty streets.

Although nothing spectacular, Matti Vuorio managed to do a good job. The buildings are only four stories high and connect with the main street. The use of wood accentuates the smaller, friendlier scale. The smallest apartments on the ground floor have a small front garden. On the first floor there are spacious two-room apartments while big multilevel apartments upstairs have large roof terraces. The round stairs are the architectural highlight in the otherwise unassuming architecture. The well used gallery typology allows views into both directions and creates a house/apartment hybrid, probably much appreciated by the inhabitants. It seems to have remained a exception, because this type of gallery house is pretty much nonexistent today.

p.s. You can find the Strange Home Atlas now on Instagram as well!

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Malagueira morning

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A while ago I visited Quinta da Malagueira in Èvora, Portugal. It is Alvaro Siza’s architecture classic, that often serves as a prototype for social housing architecture. And while many classics have lost quite a bit of their charm over the years, this one hasn’t. The everyday clutter that unavoidably takes over cities and that architects often accuse for ruining their masterpiece, has here managed to merge comfortably with the austerity of the original buildings.

Alvaro Siza started to design Quinta da Malagueira in 1977 and it took more than 20 years to be completed. Built outside the city walls of Èvora, the neighborhood of 1200 houses contrasts strongly with the city. The open spaces in Malagueira rather resemble a Scandinavian suburb than the picturesque density of old portuguese towns. The housing shortage after the 1974 revolution was the starting point for building and Siza was invited to work together with workers’ councils. Due to this 60% of the houses are co-operatives and the rest mostly rental houses. The involvement of the councils and future residents helped control speculation, prices and allowed residents to buy their own house little by little. This has been one of the reasons that the neighborhood has aged so well, despite of being built with very little money for low-income workers.

For the plan Siza carefully studied the landscape, existing buildings, pathways and even traces of older inhabitation and adjusted the built structure to these. The result has often been stated to combine modernist ideals (notably the German siedlung architecture of the early 20th century) with vernacular architecture, but it is not as simple as that. The influences are much more subtle and refined. There was no money for public architectural gestures, so Siza planned a grid of aqueducts (that was also the cheapest way to do technical installations) to bind together the houses and form gates over the narrow lanes. These technical aqueducts are dictated by an aesthetic of necessity, and at the same time bear traces of Roman and medieval architecture. They create a combining tissue that is recognisable on many levels.

The architecture of the yard houses is simultaneously ancient, modifiable and a nod to modernism – that in turn has borrowed from the mediterranean vernacular as well. Siza’s architecture is not about superficial citations, but about complexity beneath a perceived simplicity. This makes Malagueira’s architecture succeed and live on. It is not destroyed by changes, but manages comfortably with people adding, changing and painting the doors in the traditional Alentejo way.

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Siza also had a house of his own in Malagueira where he stayed during the 20 years of design. It’s inner courtyard has almost a Pompeian feel to it. You can see more of it in the lovely documentary by Ellis Woodman for the Architectural Review.

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© Architectural Review
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© Architectural Review

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The large green central spaces do resemble a modernist Scandinavian suburb: empty and slightly melancholy. Much criticism has been directed to the unfinished feeling of the public spaces – and this is true. There were several horses quietly grazing on a quiet sunday morning, knowing it is a pasture more than a park. But to me this was also a familiar space – the kind of open, almost controlled nature between buildings, that is part of modernist urbanism where I grew up. And as much as I love the order of built city squares with fountains and shops, there is a secret place in my heart for this as well: green, open and quietly happy.

A shocking task

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Hämeentie 52 – Helsinginkatu 2, Gösta Juslén 1937

Here I can only quote the original project description from the Finnish architecture journal “Arkkitehti” from 1939 which is one of most entertaining project descriptions I have come across. It is unfortunately in Finnish and its brutally honest (or cynical) tone not easily translated. The architect Gösta Juslén bemoans the shocking task he was assigned on a site that is strange to say the least. Ok, I admit the site is a bit tricky because of the curve in the road but finally he did a nice job with it. After all Kurvi, as it is now called, is one of the iconic (and notorious) spots in Helsinki.

“Pohjapiirros julkaistaan ainoastaan osoitukseksi minkälaisia järkyttäviä tehtäviä arkkitehtiparka joskus joutuu ratkaisemaan. Tontin muotoilu on lievästi sanottuna omituinen. Tehtävästäni oli järjestetty viiden arkkitehdin kesken kilpailu. Pohjaratkaisuni ei siis liene kaikkein huonoin mahdollinen. Tontti on rakennettu rakennuttajan toivomuksen mukaan viimeistä cm2 myöden. Lyhyt aika teki mahdottomaksi katuviivojen muuttamisen: “asemakaavamuutoshan” vie, kuten tunnettua, valitettavasti kuukausien ajan ja on lisäksi “jumalten armoilla” (Herroja on monta). Torni motivoitiin puhtaasti siten, että se muodostaa taustan Hämeentien onnettomalle mutkalle.

Talon julkisivu on rapattu Kesto-rappauksella, joka uutena oli hauskannäköinen, mutta nyt kemiallisista vaikutteista pilalle tummentunut.”

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Now after 75 years it’s not really that bad, is it?

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Kurvi, Helsinki 2008, copyright Matti Paavonen via Wikimedia Commons

 

Summer greetings from Turku!

Picks from the Strange Home Atlas Summer Tour 2014:

As Oy Kiikari, Läntinen rantakatu 25 ( Jaakko & Unto Rantanen 1977)
Slightly faded seaside elegance of As Oy Kiikari, Läntinen rantakatu 25 ( Jaakko & Unto Rantanen 1977)
"Tähtitalot", Toivolankatu 13-29 (Viljo Laitsalmi & Annikki Harlas, Turun kaupungin talonrakennusosasto 1949-51)
1950’s municipal romantic realism of “Tähtitalot”, Toivolankatu 13-29 (Viljo Laitsalmi & Annikki Harlas, Turun kaupungin talonrakennusosasto 1949-51)
Iso-Heikkilä suburb, Kanslerintie (Aarne Ehojoki & Veijo Kahra 1953-57)
“Finnish Forest City” at Ruokaravintola Haka-Sali, Iso-Heikkilä suburb, Kanslerintie  (Aarne Ehojoki & Veijo Kahra 1953-1957)
Rakuunatie 47-51 & Niittykatu 30-34 (Lauri Sipilä 1939)
Turku – Dessau of the North? At Rakuunatie 47-51 & Niittykatu 30-34 (Lauri Sipilä 1939)

 

Finland’s roundest house

Spring sightseeing in Pikku-Huopalahti, a forgotten postmodern gem.

Herukkakuja 2, Pikku-Huopalahti 1992, architect Eero Pettersson, Finnmap Oy, Imatra
Herukkakuja 2, Pikku-Huopalahti 1992, architect Eero Pettersson, Finnmap Oy, Imatra

 

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Pikku-Huopalahti was designed and built in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s making a distinct break from modernist architecture and its city planning traditions. It is still the only realized example on city scale that could be described as postmodern architecture. Architect Matti Visanti was responsible for much of the town planning in the Helsinki City Planning Department but he has never consented to the label “postmodern”. The intention was to create a “flourishing, rich and colorful” city that would bustle with life. This was of course realized within the standard guidelines of the building industry without any real revolution in building techniques and focused thus mostly on exterior decoration (which of course is not at all in contradiction with the ideas of postmodernism, where the idea of the “decorated shed” was formulated in the first place).

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a view from the nearby park reveals a wider collection of geometrical forms.

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This little building at the edge of the park is definitely not one of the prominent buildings here, the most famous being the terraced tower house by architect Reijo Jallinoja. The town plan called for small villa-like, round buildings. Which means that this building ended up being round, impeccably round. Although this building faithfully follows the town plan guidelines it still seems to be a rather reluctant example of postmodernist architecture. There are no funny details, no allusions to any kind of children’s book fantasies that the building shape immediately suggests: Endless picnics in the garden, the round house watching over you like a maternal figure…

The one truly original thing – the round plan – looks like a square was squeezed into a round shape without much fun. The outer walls, although curved, are standard sandwich elements with a window in the middle. The entrance shyly plays around with classical pediment themes confusingly combined with metal masts and wires. An ironic nautical theme? All in all you get the feeling that the architect was playing along with the new rules but his heart’s not in it. Was he only forced to do it because of the overly eager town planner? And curiously this ends up being almost the only building among many “decorated sheds” that one might following Venturi call a “duck”. A more or less desperate duck.

Conclusion: Strange because round. And because it does not really want to be round at all.

Herukkakuja 2. facade
Herukkakuja 2. facade

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Secret Courtyards

When trying to get a better look at Mariankatu 22 from the inner courtyard I accidentally found a series of small courtyards in neighbouring Mariankatu 24 that almost remind me of Berlin and its successive courtyards, the “Höfe”. This house type is quite rare in Helsinki: probably  a product of late 19th century building speculation and an abnormally deep plot. For some reason the bit connecting Maneesikatu and Yrjö-Koskisen katu is missing and created this secret inner city space.

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Courtyard nr. 2, Mariankatu 24
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Courtyard nr. 4, Mariankatu 24
Backhouse, Mariankatu 24
Backhouse, Mariankatu 24

Green

High Line Park

There is of course Central Park. But there are also other great and surprising parks in NYC. Here is the first completed part of the elevated High Line Park built on a former freight railroad track in West Manhattan.What made it especially enjoyable was the breeze from the river and the view of the city below. (http://www.thehighline.org/)

Marcus Garvey Park is in Harlem (actually close to the blocks that once were Finnish Harlem with finnish stores, restaurants – Selma’s – and halls  – 5th Avenue and Työn Temppeli). At a Summer Stage concert with Gil Scott Heron the neighborhood brought their chairs and bbq with them to enjoy the evening in the park. (Maybe the Finns of Harlem had Viola Turpeinen performing here on hot summer nights in the thirties.)

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Summer Stage in Marcus Garvey Park