Published in 4/2021 - Housing


Architects of Kone building conversion into apartments: ”It was nice for a change to design something more spacious”

Photo: Sami Saastamoinen

The conversion of office building into apartments was based on A6 Architects’ winning proposal in a competition.

Kone’s former office building in Munkkiniemi stands in a prominent location, in the middle of Munkinpuisto park. What principles did you apply when complementing the historical environment, architects JUKKA LINKO and JUKKA KÄHKÖNEN?

We wanted to integrate the building, which is in a special location, with the surrounding three-to-four-storey apartment buildings. In our competition proposal, we offered a swap: we will give away a piece of the plot in the north, to be included in the park, and instead stretch the plot in the direction of Munkkiniemen puistotie. Although the new terraced house is low, in this way it could be made sufficiently long and prominent to earn its place as paring with the large building. We designed specifically a terraced house for the site, because this gave the building a tighter and simpler look than a standard low-rise apartment building with one to three stairwells. We also added two storeys to the office building because it offered a very attractive place for roof terraces.

We designed our proposal on the conditions determined by the cityscape, which undoubtedly partly contributed to the success. Our proposal was not seen as too greedy. We nevertheless had a hunch that the additional construction would help us succeed in the competition. With the additional construction we also increased the overall quality: the upper floors of the apartments have their own terraces, and all parking spaces are hidden beneath the terraced house.

What kind of relationship did you seek to create between the original, rebuilt, and completely new parts?

The building consisted of anonymous office space, in other words there was hardly anything original that needed to be preserved. It was of utmost importance to preserve the white concrete grid of the facades. The frame was completely preserved, but the surfaces of the upper floors had to be renewed: they are chamfered precisely in the same way as the original ones. The facades were also radically altered, so that the windows now open all the way to the floor. Originally, the bottom parts of the windows were black exposed aggregate concrete.

We added a flat steel railing in front of all the windows, which is a reminder of the original subdivision of the facades, even though only some of the glazed areas are sliding glass. Introducing cantilevered balconies would have changed the facade too much. We designed conservatories inside the building frame, which the residents can use as a terrace, if they wish. The extra floors comprise a lighter, glass-steel construction, but we designed them so that in terms of their style they could also be from the 1970s.

The original concrete surfaces on the ground and first floors were retained. The re-surfaced upper floors are comprised of white concrete elements with a smoother finish, and therefore we gave a protective coating also to the old concrete elements of the lower floors, to achieve the same degree of smoothness. This way, they form a more natural material pairing with the rendered walls of the terraced house.

Photo: Sami Saastamoinen

What were the objectives in the design of the dwellings in this project?

Very heavy renovation construction like this is more expensive than new construction. Munkkiniemi is also an expensive area, so the developer wanted excellence from the apartments, and it was less important how many rooms would fit into a given amount of square metres. We deliberately designed a wide range of apartments of different sizes.

The structural frame determined the dimensions: a living room or two bedrooms, for example, could be fitted between one column spacing, and one could not become fixated on an optimal room size. As a result, the apartments became quite large. It was nice for a change to be involved in a project where you could design something more spacious.

Your office has designed the conversion for residential use of several office buildings dating from the 1960s and 1970s; work is currently underway in, for instance, the Finnish Broadcasting Company’s former offices Radiotalo, on Kesäkatu in Töölö. What are the biggest problems and opportunities for such projects?

The main difficulty is to place heavy modern infrastructure into old buildings without the basic ambience being ruined. Yet, in the Kone building this was easy; water-circulating underfloor heating and ceiling cooling systems were built, and apartment-specific ventilation units were added. The issue arose of how to make the facades work when replacement air has to flow in and out.

Both of these buildings have a similar distinct frame structure. The modular dimensions are what they are, and so you have to look at what can be sensibly fitted into the frame. One cannot apply the model floor plans used in new buildings, resulting even in rather exciting homes – those that one would never otherwise design. ↙

More photos and drawings of the project →

Haastattelu: Essi Oikarinen