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Flooranaukio Housing

Heikkinen-Komonen Architects

Helsinki, Finland

Local Identity

By Pentti Kareoja

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The evolution of Finnish architecture is most clearly manifested in the nation's residential projects, especially social housing, the most regulated form of building construction. The design of these structures is influenced not only by local traditions, urban planning, codes, and financing, but also by the culture of the Finnish people. For instance, Finns expect saunas to be built into all housing units, even small apartments.

Designed by Helsinki-based Heikkinen-Komonen Architects, the new Flooranaukio Housing project in the Arabianranta area of the Finnish capital is mixed-income social housing. Seventy-four of the units are government-subsidized rental apartments, and the other 48 are city-price-controlled owner-occupied housing under Helsinki's HITAS development scheme, which seeks to provide reasonably priced, high-quality housing in the capital. The average sale price runs from about $435 to $500 per square foot, with a starting price equivalent to about $259,000. While the residents of Flooranaukio–Finnish citizens with an average monthly income of $4,000 and a rent of about $1,350–are representative of typical inhabitants of the city, they get the extra benefit of living in a home with a strong connection to its history.

Known primarily for its public buildings, including the Finnish Embassy in Washington, D.C. (1993), Heikkinen-Komonen does not typically focus on the residential-building market, which may be a factor in the firm's refreshing approach to the building's contours and facade. Rather than relying on normal Finnish residential design, the architects were inspired by Antoni GaudÍ and his integration of craft into his work.

The project is located in a historic area next to the place where Helsinki was founded in 1550. The community's most important local industry has been the Arabia porcelain factory, which is still in operation. The neighborhood is named after the factory, which played an important role in the emergence of Finnish design.

The identity of Flooranaukio relies heavily on this Finnish design tradition, both figuratively and in a more literal fashion. The organically shaped facade of the building's inner courtyard, produced with a cost-efficient prefabrication technique, is dominated by a large, recurrent floral pattern, based on that of a 1932 Arabia ceramic bowl. Composed of crushed porcelain waste from that manufacturer's nearby factory, the facade was created by lining the steel molds with the china shards before the concrete was poured. The resulting slabs are faced with a lively mosaic.

The seven-story building is clearly divided into contrasting front and back sides. On the street level, a sensible red-brick elevation maximizes the architectural tension in terms of both mass and openings. An arcade lends the structure the appearance of a public building, while protecting the entrances leading to stairwells and communal rooms. The inner courtyard is elevated from the street level to avoid flooding but also to improve views and privacy. Dictated by a strict master plan, the uppermost floors are contained within a separate metal-clad volume, made up of two-story apartments with magnificent sea views.

The spatial concept of the building is based on a prevalent principle in Finnish housing, in which a cluster of four to five apartments is grouped around one stairwell on each floor. Most of the units span the building's depth front to back and enjoy multidirectional views and changing light conditions. At an average of 800 square feet, the dwellings are the size of a typical two-bedroom home for a small Finnish family, and include access to a private or communal sauna–a necessity, not a luxury, in this Nordic city.

Completion date: 01.2012

Gross square footage: 13 530m²

Heikkinen-Komonen Architects
Pursimiehenkatu 26 C
00150 Helsinki
tel. +358 10 3210400
fax. +358 10 2961773

Pentti Kareoja is a professor at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design, and Architecture and a partner at ARK-house Architects in Helsinki.

March 2013
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