1 / 2017 - modernism, time, patina

The vast majority of our building stock is modernist architecture built since Finland became an independent nation in 1917. These buildings will in the coming years increasingly be restored, repaired, altered, expanded and even demolished. Arkkitehti begins the centenary anniversary of Finland's independence by discussing the principles and practices of the renovation of modernism. The featured examples include restorations of library building designed by Alvar Aalto and Aarne Ervi in the beginning of the 1970s. In the cases of Aalto University’s Learning Centre and Töölö Library, their architectural values ​​have been coordinated with new practices brought about by digitalisation. Also presented is the conception stage of Paimio Sanatorium, one of the internationally most prestigious modernist works of architecture. Kimmo Sarje examines the production of architect Uno Ullberg, who was involved in creating the modern Vyborg, through the lens of the writings of the author Olavi Paavolainen. The coordination of the new and the old in recent art museum extensions is reviewed in the opening article by Anna-Maija Ylimaula.

The origins of the Finnish building heritage date back much further than Finland’s independence. This issue features the restoration of Hamina St. Mary's Church. The stone church was built during the time of Swedish rule in the 15th century, was renovated and remodelled during the Russian rule in the 1820s and has been repaired several times since independence. As society changes, also the traditional church institution searches for practices suited to the new circumstances. The issue presents the Suvela Chapel, completed last autumn, which, with its youth centre and daycare centre, serves the nowadays multicultural suburb, while simultaneously acting as a new landmark in the area.


Approximately 80% of our buildings have been built since 1950. Finland is thus in practice – and not only as a preconceived notion – a country of modern architecture. The building stock generated by Modernism will in the coming years increasingly be restored, repaired, converted, extended and also demolished. Architects Olli-Paavo Koponen, Tapani Mustonen, Sami Horto and Samuli Woolston reflect on what principles should be followed in the renovation work.

Kitsch and renovation

Olli-Paavo Koponen

The restoration of Modernism in Finland emerged in the 1990s as one of the most interesting phenomena in the field of architecture, with restoration projects such as Lasipalatsi, Viipuri Library, Helsinki City Hall, the Swedish Business School and the Helsinki School of Economics. From these restoration cases that clarified the ideas of the original architecture and toyed with the dialogue between the newer and older Modernist architecture, we have now proceeded to restorations that respect original materials, the aging of surfaces and the passage of time. Good examples of the latest trends are Tapani Mustonen’s restoration plans for Seinäjoki Library (Alvar Aalto 1965) and Töölö Library (Aarne Ervi 1970) in Helsinki. Such challenging works have furthered the skills of the architects and the expertise of the organisations that steer them. Finland stands globally at the cutting edge of the restoration of Modernist monuments.

There are, however, only a few Modernist renovation projects where it is possible to apply the skills and practices learned from high-quality restorations. Buildings from the Modernist period, especially prefabricated buildings from the 1960s and 1970s – the era of the hegemony of the building industry – constitute the majority of the Finnish building stock. This large amount of buildings is maturing at an accelerating rate towards a state where they will require renovation. Sophisticated restoration methods are too expensive and laborious in dealing with this extensive task. Most of the buildings from this era are not perceived as architecturally significant; on the contrary, the run-down concrete residential buildings in the suburbs have in people’s minds become eyesores.

The real problem is in fact the recognition of the significance of the aging everyday architecture. It is clear that the preservation, strengthening and adaptation of their positive characteristics in the face of changing needs requires also from architects a change of attitude, research and innovation. Extensive positive layers in our building stock should be refined – transformed – from the huge volume of buildings in the suburbs. One should not try, at regular intervals, to change everything into something that it is not, into something cute or otherwise trendy.

Worrying trends are becoming established in the renovation of the suburbs. Existing buildings are not approached as architecture with its own intrinsic value. Instead it is felt that a successful renovation requires the highest degree of change to the unappealing Modernist appearance. Buildings are demolished or abused beyond recognition. The ”remodelling” of a building done in the name of renovation has become the denial of its own history – to freely appropriate the author Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch.

I'm worried about our everyday Modernist environment, which doesn’t age with dignity and is lacking in many ways. How can one renovate Modernism sustainably so that the aging generates added value to the buildings? How can we avoid technically questionable and poorly sustainable facade renovations that meet the identifying markers of kitsch? Producing a maximal visual change as cheaply as possible is apparent in many renovated buildings. Then even any minor architectural quality the buildings originally possessed has been lost. It would be more meaningful to carry out measures that are as focused as possible for improving deficiencies in accessibility, safety, functionality and energy consumption. In terms of the future, one should aim to build only houses that will still be aesthetically pleasing even after fifty years.

The Seinäjoki and Töölö libraries are of course extremely interesting, kind of laboratories for the restoration of Modernism, which may lead to some more generally applicable solutions. The sustainable renovation of the mass of everyday Modernism, however, would require its own thinkers, methods and unique technical expertise. ark

All four essays in the issue.

Olli-Paavo Koponen is professor of architecture history at Tampere University of Technology.


Aalto University Harald Herlin Learning Centre
Teemu Tuomi, Tuomo Remes
address Otaniementie 9, Espoo
gross area 8320 m2
completion 2016
original building Alvar Aalto 1970

photos Tuomas Uusheimo
commentary Aimo Nissi

Töölö Library restoration
architects Tapani Mustonen, Maren Nielsen
address Topeliuksenkatu 6, Helsinki
gross area 3120 m2
completion 2016
original building Aarne Ervi 1970

photos Arno de la Chapelle
commentary Sirkkaliisa Jetsonen

Hamina St Mary´s Church restoration
architects Ulla Rahola
address Pikkuympyränkatu 34, Hamina
gross area 1100 m2
completion 2013
original building 15th century

photos Arno de la Chapelle

Näköislehti: Site Logic