4 / 2016 - flexible home

Increasing the flexibility of living spaces is one of the current development objectives in housing. A flexible home adapts to various uses. In a blended family, the number of people using the home may vary on a daily basis and the need for space also changes during a family’s life cycle. Architect Jyrki Tarpio, D.Sc. (Arch.), writes about different ways of producing flexibility. The flexibility of current loft homes is based on the modernist idea of an empty space that can be divided in different ways. However, there are also many other methods of flexibility, some of which are very old. In his article Tarpio describes these various methods with the help of illustrative floor plans.

Architect Milja Lindberg presents in her article flexible homes as a solution to temporary housing which is currently in demand due to the influx of refugees in Europe. Residents’ experiences regarding the cosiness and comfort of their homes is discussed in architect Sanna Meriläinen’s article about ordinary homes. In her column, Deputy Mayor Anni Sinnemäki continues the housing policy debate on the capital region’s housing production. She writes that one of the important objectives is to build diverse and lively neighbourhoods. “One of the cornerstones of Helsinki’s urban strategy is an egalitarian city.” The Venice Architecture Biennale is also among the topics. The “Reporting from the Front” Biennale has already been internationally assessed as a turning point in architecture trends. The Biennale’s successful aspects and critical perspectives are reported on by three visitors. 

The buildings featured in the issue are apartment buildings. Four of them are located in new residential areas and one is an infill to an old and valuable urban space. The basic solutions are different from each other and there is also variation in the facade materials. The buildings contain rental, right-of-occupancy and owner-occupied apartments. Three of the buildings are in Helsinki and two abroad, one being in the industrial landscape of downtown Norrköping and the other in Vienna, a city known for its rental housing policy. “The City of Vienna is the largest housing owner in Europe with 500,000 tenants, which is one quarter of the city’s population,” write architects Alfred Berger and Tiina Parkkinen who have designed a rental complex with flexible apartments for the new district of Seestadt Aspern. The building presentations allow one to examine whether a Viennese apartment building is different from one in Helsinki.


A flexible dwelling adapts to changing needs and uses. In his doctoral dissertation, architect and researcher Jyrki Tarpio studied the spatial principles of flexibility. In this article he explains different ways of producing flexibility. Here below an extract of the article.

The needs for flexibility in housing are very diverse. In everyday life there are situations that create demands for both alternation and change. For example, the number of occupants in the home of a blended family can vary even on a daily basis, and almost everyone of working age will use the home in a different way on week days or during leisure time. These are some examples of factors that require abilities for alternation. There are also various biological and cultural factors that call for permanent changes in the dwelling arrangements. Typical examples of such factors are the different stages of a family, which are caused by its growth and shrinkage during its life-cycle.

The issue of dwelling is thus connected with frequent and repeated variations in use, but also with slow change of a permanent nature. Both require flexibility in the spatial layouts, albeit in a different manner.

Spatial principles

The ability of a dwelling to adapt to different needs can rely on four different spatial principles, which I refer toas “preform”, “room series”, “volume” and “initial mass and places for growth”.

A “preform” is a semi-complete space which will be subdivided and equipped in accordance with the users’ needs. When the users or needs change, the dwelling can be adapted to a new situation by transforming the subdivision within the preform. Also a suitably organised “room series” may possess the potential to adapt to different uses. The subdivision of space into rooms is permanent and fixed, but by using different spatial logics the rooms can be made multi-functional and some of them even switchable from one dwelling to another. Flexibility can also be based on the idea of retaining the dwelling as a single “volume”, as open plan, in which places suitable for different purposes can be marked out using furniture. Furthermore, the flexible dwelling may consist of an “initial mass and places for growth” such that it can gradually be extended. Of these principles, the preform is an idea strongly associated with the modern age, but the other three are substantially older. All the principles are nevertheless still useful in the design of flexible dwellings.

The entire article is published in Arkkitehti 4/2016.

illustration Sebastiano Serlio's townhouse plan from the 1540s. Puhlished in Jyrki Tarpio's dissertation.

Toukoranta apartment building block
architects Juha Mäki Jyllilä, Johanna Raukko
address Berliininkatu 9 / Lontoonkatu 10, Arabianranta, Helsinki
gross area 7 800 m2
completion 2015
owner occupied and rental housing

commentary Julius Jääskeläinen
photos Mika Huisman

apartment building
architects J-P Lehtinen, Jussi Murole
address Arabiankatu 8, Arabianranta, Helsinki
gross area 6 500 m2
completion 2016
rental housing

commentary Panu Lehtovuori
photos Anders Portman / Kuvio

The influx of asylum-seekers arriving in Europe has made the need to find solutions for temporary housing very topical. Architect Milja Lindberg's entry to the "From Border to Home" competition seeking housing solutions for asylum seekers received shared 1st prize.

Two years ago when preparing my Master’s thesis in Architecture I travelled in areas that had encountered natural disasters and observed several examples of temporary housing. Displaced people were living in containers or tents. In the emergency phase after a disaster there is limited time and limited options for housing solutions. Often when temporary housing is needed, solutions have to be quick and cheap. There is no time for good architecture. Although the need for temporary housing may come as a surprise, it does not mean that it wouldn’t be possible to prepare for it.

The influx of asylum-seekers arriving in Finland and Europe we witnessed last year is not likely to be the last of its kind. Flexible and inventive ideas for housing asylum-seekers are not only needed this one time but also in the future. New ideas are also needed in everyday Finnish housing production. Although housing can be temporary or permanent, buildings should not be designed to be permanently temporary.

The basic concept of my competition entry “We House Refugees” is not about new difficult architectural solutions; it is about utilising simple and existing building elements. The main idea is to embed the possibility of temporary housing into regular housing, not to build separate temporary structures. This could be done by planning one room of an apartment in a way that it would have its own bathroom, a small kitchenette and a front door. This way the room could be easily detached from the main apartment and used for temporary housing. The government could support this kind of building by offering rental support, alleviating parking regulations or offering added building rights to projects that would incorporate embedded flexibility into the design. In return, the government could borrow these units to house people in need of a temporary place to stay. The transition from a room to a temporary housing unit would take a few hours and the main tenant would not have to move away, only compress their living temporarily. The transition back to a regular room would be just as easy. For an asylum-seeker, this kind of temporary housing solution would offer all the necessities of living as well as privacy, safety and social connections. The main tenant could become a kind of mentor-neighbour and offer help with everyday challenges such as learning the language and finding work. The temporary housing units would be embedded amongst regular housing; therefore, the asylum seekers would not be isolated from the rest of society.

A flexible apartment would also adjust to other changes and needs of living. The room could be used as a bedroom, a home office or a nursery. Grandparents could stay for an extended time period or the family’s teenager could practice living alone. The room could also be rented out temporarily for students or other people in need of a small temporary place to stay and offer the main tenant a little extra income during a sticky financial situation.

By increasing the flexibility of our built environment we could enhance the resiliency of our cities and society. By making buildings more flexible we would not need to waste resources and burden the environment by building temporary structures for changing needs. To solve the need for temporary housing in a long term and sustainable way takes time, social and political will and renewal of building norms. ark

From Border to Home competition, 2015
“We House Refugees”, shared 1st prize
author Milja Lindberg, architect SAFA
assistant Christopher Erdman, architect
in collaboration with A-Konsultit Architects

photo Milja Lindberg


Construction is booming in Helsinki like never before. Currently, a total of 7,500 housing units are under construction, more than for decades. The recent public debate on housing policy has focused on the inevitable link between Finland’s economic policy and housing production in the Helsinki region. More homes are needed to enable people to move in to the area to find work and pay for their housing costs with their earnings. In June, Helsinki City, the Helsinki Region and the State signed an agreement, under which the municipalities in the region made a commitment to increase their annual housing production by one fifth compared to the previous agreement.

Housing policy involves a number of issues aside from the construction volume that cannot be overlooked even when the aim is at building a sufficient amount of dwellings.

One important goal affecting the future of the city is the creation of diverse and active urban districts. One of the cornerstones of Helsinki’s urban strategy is an egalitarian city. The goal is to prevent areal segregation and ensure that all the city districts are safe and viable places to live. While schools, culture and healthcare policies play an important part in the efforts to build an egalitarian city, housing policy is of great importance as well.

At present, three new city districts are being built in Helsinki: Jätkäsaari, Kalasatama and Kruunuvuorenranta. All these districts will have a wide range of dwellings: city rental flats, right-of-occupancy dwellings, student flats, communal houses for senior citizens, privately funded rental flats and owner-occupied dwellings, the prices of which tend to be staggeringly high, at least in some cases. Construction in all these areas is based on the housing programmes adopted by the Helsinki City Council, specifying that 25 per cent of new construction is to consist of rent-regulated rental housing, slightly over 40 per cent privately funded construction and 35 per cent various intermediate types of housing, such as price-controlled and right-of-occupancy dwellings.

Helsinki can take pride in the fact that all these attractive districts on the seafront will have residents from all walks of life, representing different age groups, income brackets and backgrounds.

Helsinki is also making determined efforts to diversify the housing stock in the districts built earlier – especially in the early 1990s – and dominated by rental housing. It is not always simple. Hence, it is all the more important that the City is determined to stick to the policy of mixed neighbourhoods in the new districts.

Naturally, a diversified and pleasant district creating an attractive urban space calls for things other than just a sound housing policy – it calls for talented architects to design varied buildings, a wide range of services, efficient public transport, storefronts and places where people can congregate and meet. Luckily, all these things are happening in Kalasatama, Kruunuvuorenranta and Jätkäsaari. ark

Anni Sinnemäki (Greens) is the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki in charge of City Planning and Real Estate. Previously, she has served as a Member of Parliament and Minister of Employment.

photo Pertti Nisonen

Näköislehti: Site Logic