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Laivapoika Housing
Helsinki, Finland, 1995

Laivapoika Housing

Client: City of Helsinki - Housing Production Department
Location: Ruoholahti, Helsinki Finland
Year of completion: 1995
Gross area: 12 995 m²
Volume: 38 000 m³

This wedge-shaped housing block is situated along the shore of Hietalahti. It defines the eastern edge of the southern sector of the Ruoholahti housing area. Its northern side forms an ending to Eerikinkatu Street. To the south the scheme opens out to the sea with views over the harbour. On the west side there are views towards the near-by park. The built form is therefore surrounded on all sides by public urban space. The new canal, designed by Juhani Pallasmaa, incorporates man-made banks, terraces and bridges and is a particularly important element for this housing scheme and also for Ruoholahti as a whole.

The design of the exterior concentrated on the organization of the city block and the choice of its materials. Achieving a balance between an approved and exact master plan and a finely tuned brief was a challenging task. The internal design included unconventional, yet well functioning flats. Cost targets at the time of construction led to the use of conventional precast concrete element technology.

In accordance with the established practice within the City of Helsinki, the design was carried out in close and continuous co-operating with the client and the Ruoholahti Project at the City Planning Office and other relevant authorities. The government-subsidized housing design process requires this co-operation, and it turned out to be encouraging, motivating and non-bureaucratic.

The urban block is divided into three buildings which have a total of six stairwells. The buildings each have six storeys, except for the tower section, which has eight storeys. The buildings are linked by balcony towers which have been constructed of steel and filled with glass bricks. These towers, together with the glazed balconies, form a light filigree motif which provides a contrast to the massive quality of the concrete structure. As the sun moves towards the west, the glass brick tower at the eastern end collects light like a prism; in the morning the prism effect directs the sun towards the yard. The elevations consist of vertical and horizontal planes that create a balanced tension throughout the facades. The divisions within the planes, together with the surface texture, conceal the tectonically problematic joints between the concrete elements.

The choice of the elevation material was based upon authenticity with the addition of colourful metal details. The precast panels are made of coloured concrete, the surface of which is either blue-grey and grooved or white and completely smooth. The dominant use of blue associates the building with the sea, while the grooving, together with the shadows it casts, renders the heavy elements almost weightless. In accordance with the alternatives given within the master plan, the surface material of the street elevations at ground floor level is matt-polished gabro. Other major compositional elements include stairwells with uniform glass surfaces, unbroken white walls and dark blue areas of metal sheeting. The window castings are positioned either flush with the exterior surface of recessed in order to achieve relief. The blue-grey colour of the window casings is the same as that of the grooved panels, while some of the frames and balcony handrails are coloured deep red. The steel parts of the balconies and the glass canopies are dark blue and grey. The doors to the stairwells are also finished with strong, dark colours.

The sheltered courtyard within the housing scheme opens to the west and is separated from the public park by the use of a fence, a pergola and a row of aspen. The paved surfaces of the playground, the leisure areas and the walkways consist of slate and granite cobbles combined with simple concrete slabs; the driveways are asphalt. The soft surfaces include sand, shrubs (juniper, dwarf pine, yew) and bushes (crab apple, thuja, shadbush, burnet rose). In addition, trees, such as maple and ash, have been planted on the site.

Industrial construction requires the additional touch of the human hand: the paving of the yard, the fences and the hand-laid walls of sawn slate are important components in the overall composition of the Shipboy Housing Scheme.

As is typical in Ruoholahti the scheme includes free-market owner-occupied flats and government-subsidized owner-occupied and rented flats, ranging from one-bedroom to four-bedroom apartments. Each flat has a balcony or a roof terrace that is more spacious than usual. The internal organization of the flats, particular attention has been paid to spaciousness, spatiality, light, efficiency of space and flexibility of use. The large flats can usually be divided into two smaller units in order to better accommodate the alterations required by changing families. Some flats have their own saunas, and for others there is a communal sauna attached to a large roof terrace on the top floor.

The scheme also contains a number of special apartments: a group dwelling for disabled, a “family home”, two artisan flats and flats individually designed for the elderly and the ambient disabled. These flats allow for a more heterogeneous occupancy and are expected to assist the social interaction within the community. There are two common rooms on the ground floor, which are reserved for various uses by all occupants.

The stairwells, which “used to be the most beautiful of spaces, but are now the most horrid one”, have been re-elevated to their former status via the use of architectural means.