Published in 5/2023 - Tune Up


Revisit: Vuoranta Training Centre

Ella Kaira

Vuoranta Training Centre in the beginning of the 1970s. Photo: Simo Rista

Many types of intergenerational encounters define the faith of the former training centre in Vuoranta.

Vuoranta Training Centre (Oy Alko Ab:n koulutuskeskus Vuoranta)
Helmer Stenros

Arkkitehti 4/1973

When architect Helmer Stenros saw the former Vuoranta Training Centre on the seashore in Meri-Rastila standing empty and decrepit, his initial reaction was morose.

“Why not just tear the whole thing down and have done with it”, he thought.

The training centre, which he had designed, had been opened in 1970, but by the late 2010s it had been abandoned for nearly a decade. The garden was overgrown, and in the absence of maintenance the buildings had fallen into serious disrepair.

Today, Stenros, now aged 93, has returned to the familiar site. “I couldn’t have imagined a better use for this building”, he says with satisfaction. Vuoranta has been given a new lease on life with the opening of Villa Vuoranta, a service housing facility for senior citizens, in early 2023.

Lobby of Villa Vuoranta. Photo: Riikka Kantinkoski
Dining area of Villa Vuoranta. Photo: Riikka Kantinkoski


Why Vuoranta was abandoned in the first place was the result of changes in Finland’s alcohol policy on the one hand and the complicated ownership history of the property on the other.

The training centre was established at a time when shifts in attitudes and values led to a relaxation of the then stringent legislation on alcohol. In 1969, mild beer was released for sale outside the shops run by Alko, the state-owned company managing the government monopoly on alcoholic beverages, and the available range of beverages with a low alcohol content was greatly increased. This led to an increase in the overall consumption of alcohol.

Research, health education and providing information on the impacts of alcohol use were seen as important functions of Alko. Its employees were provided with training sessions on these topics, and the new facility at Vuoranta was built to accommodate the increasing need for training.

A significant turn in alcohol policy came when Finland joined the EU in 1995. The Alcohol Act was amended to bring it into line with European standards, and the sale of alcoholic beverages was opened to competition. Although Finland was allowed to retain the government monopoly on retail sales of alcohol on grounds of social welfare and health care policy, the Alko monopoly in other respects was history, and with this shift the resources available for running the Vuoranta facility, among other things, faded away.

The property was signed over to Kapiteeli, the central government real estate investment company, which was subsequently sold to Sponda. At the turn of the millennium, the facility was rented out to be run as a hotel, until in 2009 Vuoranta was acquired by a private individual. The site was abandoned for many years. In 2015, Vuoranta was briefly opened up as a reception centre for asylum seekers, but this too soon came to an end.

Pressure to upgrade the now declining buildings was brought to bear by the town plan amendment sketched out in 2018, proposing substantial housing construction on the surrounding plots.

However, Vuoranta had a major advantage: in the 2005 town plan, the entire property had been declared a protected site of architectural and horticultural significance. Protected status meant that the future of the property had to be secured and that development of the shoreline as a whole could not progress before that had been done.

The breakthrough came in 2021 when the property development company Guud Invest purchased the Vuoranta main building and repairs began at a swift pace. In the course of the repair project, the property was taken over by the sheltered housing fund of Evli Bank, Evli Healthcare I.

Huge Effort

Repairing the building was not an easy task. The original reinforced concrete frame had been cast in situ, and the load-bearing structure consists of long spans of walls and beams. The building was designed to a 3-metre module, and the new design was obliged to conform to this. The architect of the repair project, Marko Salo from Avarc Architects, recounts that they had to increase the depth of the building towards the courtyard to attain the floor area required by the client. Many windowless rooms in the basement were dismantled. The building was also found to have extensive moisture damage.

“We had to strip everything down to the concrete frame, which was quite a sorry sight once everything, including the contaminated insulation, had been removed,” Salo recalls.

Salo notes that the greatest challenges were in fitting building services into the design. “We had to hide all the technical stuff while preserving a reasonable ceiling height”, he says. He feels that a building as spacious as Vuoranta would not even be built today, especially for service housing. “The foyers are very large, and there are elements in the elevation that have no structural function.”

Original plan of main building and accommodation building.
Bright red and green were the main colours of the original interior. Photo: Simo Rista

Inspired by Nature

In the initial design sketches made by Helmer Stenros, the load-bearing structures were meant to be made of brick, but this turned out to be too expensive. While the spacious rooms were retained, many of the features designed in brick were built in concrete instead. “In the 1960s, nobody thought about how long the building was supposed to last”, Stenros recalls.

What was important for the client was preserving the ancient pine trees on the property. These in turn inspired Pirkko Stenros, the designer of the original interiors. Interior design was an important part of the building project. According to an article on Vuoranta in the Finnish Architectural Review (4/1973), interior design had to make up for that which had to be discarded from the construction project. In Pirkko Stenros’s design, the colour scheme of the interiors was attuned to the surrounding natural environment, avoiding clean white surfaces. The materials selected were soft and warm.

Vuoranta was a highly valued architectural site in its time, and it was presented among the finest construction projects of the decade in the Suomi rakentaa (“Finland builds”) exhibition in 1976. The original design by Helmer Stenros sought to preserve as much as possible of the surrounding natural environment, allowing it to continue growing alongside the building and even between its wings, as explained in the building history survey by Marianna Heikinheimo. The facilities were designed to be flexible, and the building had to allow for potential future expansion of activities. Stenros himself describes the design as an “open form system”.

Hoitokoti Päiväkumpu, the service housing company which has now leased the property, was also attracted by the lovely setting and the spacious interiors of the building. While the main building was safe because of its protected status, the desire of Päiväkumpu to bring the old place to life was at least as important.

Anne Kangas, the managing director of Päiväkumpu, notes that she had been familiar with the key figures in Guud Invest for a decade. They had previously collaborated in converting the 1960s Paloheinä Church into a nursing home, and it was only natural for them to collaborate again on Vuoranta.

Vuoranta is an excellent example of just how subtle the architecture of repairs can be, even though the actions actually taken were massive. The designers had the ability to respect the original design and to take carefully considered measures to convert spaces to other uses when required.

Emma Johansson from Studio Puisto Architects, who was part of the interior design team in the revitalisation project, explains that she felt that the aesthetics of the original designers were quite close to her own, and creating new spaces with natural materials and cosy surfaces seemed only right.

Villa Vuoranta includes 31 care home rooms and 13 senior apartments. Photo: Riikka Kantinkoski

Carefully Crafted Spaces

As repair projects go, Vuoranta is quite special in that the new designers could consult the original architect. Helmer Stenros was not involved in the actual designing of the repairs to Vuoranta, which Marko Salo explains was due to the tight schedule required for the project. It was known that Stenros had already advocated for significantly more extensive changes to the building in the previous design phases. 

Stenros first visited the revitalised Vuoranta after the repairs had been completed. He reports that he is pleased with this first layer of repairs to the building. “I appreciate that the designers of the Vuoranta project have preserved the external appearance of the building and tailored the interiors to the module of the original frame”, he says of the new service housing facility.

“If they could also renovate the annexe, my original vision for the property would be complete”, he adds.

Stenros is referring to the dilapidated sauna building towards the shore. It remained in the possession of the previous owner, this being one of the reasons why not all of the buildings at Vuoranta were included in the revitalisation project. The fate of the sauna and of the adjacent accommodation building is still uncertain and will be discussed in town planning in the near future.

Helmer Stenros (right), the original architect of the Vuoranta Training Centre, and Marko Salo, responsible designer of the renovation, in Vuoranta in the autumn of 2023. Photo: Ella Kaira

Marko Salo and Emma Johansson feel they can stand by how Villa Vuoranta turned out. They believe that having the contributions of several architects evident in the end product is a strength. “The layers created by the various designers are interesting”, says Salo. Johansson points out that one can learn new things by working on old buildings. “Vuoranta has very skilfully crafted spaces. It’s something you can learn from.”

Increasingly, designers find themselves resolving repair construction issues and conflicts as economic cycles are reflected in the construction industry and slow down new construction, as modern buildings begin to require major renovations, and as the environmental impacts of construction are being better understood.

Helmer Stenros has a tip to give to younger generations: every young architect has to consider what has been done before and adopt the best bits from the past. Of the new incarnation of Vuoranta, he says:

“There’s just something special about combining the old and the new.” ↙

An architect who explores the factors forming urban space in contemporary cities. A founding partner of Vokal, which focuses on community-based planning, and a part of the You Tell Me Collective.

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