Published in 4/2022 - Home


Editorial 4/2022: Built Dreams

Kristo Vesikansa

Workers’ housing of the early 20th century often had several compact apartments behind facades inspired by bourgeois villas. Architect Thure Hellström participated with his proposal in a competition organised by the City of Helsinki in 1914. Source: Pienten asuintalojen piirustuksia, 1915

The position of a detached house as a symbol of a happy home does not appear to be wavering. This idea is encouraged by interior design magazines, as well as by building and renovation programmes on TV, and the Housing Fair every summer. The Finnish Architectural Review has also cherished the ideal by publishing, year after year, issues focussing on low-rise dwellings and holiday homes. The present issue is the latest of them.

Detached housing that is close to nature has, for a long time, determined the notion of Finnish architecture, especially when viewed from abroad. For instance, the Argentinian Casas internacional magazine recently published a special issue on Finnish detached houses and holiday homes. The sophisticated buildings chosen by Fernando Nieto, professor at Tampere University, to this issue aptly portray the recent dreams and ideals of architects and their clients.

The roots of the current detached house ideal can be traced to the early 20th century, when a beautiful and practical home was regarded as a means of improving public health and societal morals. Back then, a detached house, surrounded by a verdant garden, was considered to be an ideal housing type for both the working population and middle-class families. While burgher homes emphasised the personality and societal status of their residents, the working class moved to uniform type houses. The opposite of individuality and standardisation have determined the building of detached houses up to the present time.

Currently, approximately 60% of Finns live in low-rise dwellings, but their construction has been low since the financial crisis of 2008. At the same, the production of blocks of flats has increased vigorously. Today, three out of four new homes are flats.

A beautiful and practical home was regarded as a means of improving public health and societal morals.

Hence, has the detached house been superseded? At least, many current mega trends appear to advocate other housing types. Urbanisation leads to intensified land use, and large single-family houses poorly serve the needs of an ageing population that is increasingly living alone. A lifestyle that is dependent on the use of private cars does not support the objectives for the cutting down of climate emissions, either. Consequently, in Central Europe, there is already an ongoing discussion on banning the building of detached houses in urban areas. 

On the other hand, the many advantages of living in low-rise dwellings became clear during the COVID-19 pandemic: spacious dwellings were transformed into remote work spaces more flexibly than confined urban homes, and the importance of one’s own yard was highlighted during the time of crisis. In addition, online shopping that has increased in popularity has balanced the differences between different areas as to the accessibility of services.

Hence, the shift to zero-emission energy production and traffic may, before long, change the situation in favour of low-rise dwellings. Even though the increases in energy prices are tightening the purse strings of those living in detached houses, in particular, the achieving of energy self-sufficiency is easier for them than for those living in blocks of flats. Spacious low-rise residential areas, with their gardens that are rich in species, are also very important to the biodiversity of urban greenery.

Consequently, it appears that the greatest threat to the future of detached houses is the neglect of the development work. For instance, for the part of dense and low housing construction, it died down about ten years ago, along with a new wave of urbanism. We would now need new building types that would make living in low-rise dwellings possible for increasingly diverse households. Fortunately, there is no shortage of useful models: it would be possible to develop new variations from, for instance, workers’ housing from the early 20th century, patio houses from the 1960s, and townhouses from the early 2000s. 

The present issue of the magazine surveys options amongst low-rise dwellings and holiday homes by presenting ten small-scale projects. They include detached houses, semi-detached houses, attached houses, a low-rise housing block, as well as holiday homes. The buildings are located in historical centres, suburbs and amidst nature. Geographically, they are spread from the Kainuu region in northern Finland to Catalonia in the south. In some of these cases, architects have acted as developers, which has enabled the creation of solutions that differ from the conventional housing production. Many of the houses also continue the long tradition of self-built dwellings.

The articles study the meaning of a home from wider perspectives. Lee Marable focusses on Housing as a Service concepts, which have also become common in Finland in recent years. Advocates for these concepts claim that they are a solution to the housing shortage in metropolises. The Asutut research group at Tampere University has, in turn, defined quality factors for sustainable housing design. When studying the criteria, one cannot help wondering why such a large part of current housing production fails to fulfil these self-evident principles. An article, written by Eero Okkonen, regarding Gustaf Estlander, who acted as a developer and architect in the early 20th century, provides historical background information for current housing discussion, and in his essay, Kaj Nyman reflects on people’s natural need for a beautiful and pleasant environment.

Furthermore, we asked four experienced housing designers to provide their views on an ideal home. Their answers reveal how large a role one’s own home also plays in the thinking of housing professionals. ↙