Intertwined with Modernism
Aarne Ervi’s modernist villa in Espoo, Finland has been sensitively refurbished in keeping with its original character. Three new wooden buildings were also added as part of the project.
Aarne Ervi’s Villa Koivikko was completed in 1958. At OOPEAA you were responsible for the refurbishment of this historic villa and the adjacent caretaker’s home. What was your design approach with this project?
We started off with a historic building survey that encompassed Ervi’s drawings as well as the history of the site as a whole. The restoration was carried out in close collaboration with the City of Espoo’s Building Control team and Espoo City Museum. The priority for the client was to ensure that the main building, the caretaker’s home and the furniture within them remained as close to the original as possible and that features that had been changed over the years would be restored to their original state. For example, we ended up using materials that had been specified by Ervi himself. The project was also an opportunity to update the utilities and other building systems and to replace the insulation that had become worn out over time.
The flooring in the main building’s living area had to be replaced, but the new material chosen for the room forms a pleasing continuum with the other materials present. The kitchen and bathroom were updated but in keeping with the feel of the house. They now add a new layer to the building’s history. The original light fixtures have been restored and retained almost throughout, and they are complemented by a few carefully selected vintage lamps.
Three new buildings have been added to the Ervi-designed site. How did you ultimately settle on the site layout?
We followed Ervi’s design principles in terms of the relationship between the scenery and the buildings. Ervi’s intention was to allow open views of the lake, and he placed the main building in the middle of the site, halfway down the garden as it slopes gently towards the water. As you approach the house by road, the first thing you see is one of the older buildings, originally intended as a caretaker’s home. Then, as the view of the lake emerges, a stone path draws your eyes towards the main house, the real pièce de résistance here. The new buildings have been positioned to assert a new boundary for the site without overwhelming the views across the lake.
Alongside the caretaker’s house, visitors are now greeted by a new wooden car shed, an elegant dark structure topped with a traditional tarred shingle roof. Another new build, known as the writer’s studio, is built on top of an old stone cellar between the main building and the caretaker’s house to provide privacy from the adjacent park. The studio’s glazed walls provide views of both the lake and the park.
A new sauna was built to replace the original structure which dated back to 1939 and was now beyond repair. The sauna is situated at the foot of a slope, and a retaining wall has been built there to prevent weather-induced soil movement. The wall provides a sheltered spot for an outdoor kitchen and the sauna’s technical facilities. Between them, the dark concrete wall and the sauna’s lighter log wall create a space for a barbecue kitchen and seating area, shaded by vines. Viewed from the garden, the dark sauna building, complete with a sedum roof, effortlessly blends into the surrounding landscape.
Each of these new buildings have their own distinct architectural identity which means that they stand out from both one another and from Ervi’s designs. What sort of character, or atmosphere even, where you aiming to create here?
What we set out to achieve here was a meaningful dialogue between the old and the new. The new buildings contrast with the straight, horizontal lines and white forms created by Ervi. We made a series of highly conscious choices in terms of both the materials and design language, as we wanted to highlight the characteristic features of Ervi’s designs and to give the new buildings a well-defined and sculptural character. However, the new buildings are subordinate to the existing structures and every care has been taken to ensure that they blend into the landscape.
Materials play an important role here. How did you go about choosing them?
We’ve complemented the new builds’ wooden structures with a dark matt steel finish on the window and door frames as well as other details. There are also touches of copper, which we specified for the sauna chimneys. Ervi himself also made use of wood and copper accents. The materials come together to form a continuum of their own, whilst the wood and the traditional building methods contrast with the modernist design language, materials and techniques employed by Ervi. The buildings are now engaged in a dialogue with one another, as Ervi’s 1950s technological optimism meets our present-day, resource-aware approach, paving the way for new generations to come. ↙