#22: Stalk the Aalto family in Munkkiniemi

All year, Alvar Aalto, Architecture, Helsinki, Uncategorized

Aalto’s house located in peaceful Munkkiniemi is definitely worth a visit. For me, Munkkiniemi had until yesterday been a place somewhere a bit further away, close to the hospital district – but it is, in fact, really fancy, not unlike for example the areas of Kulosaari or Lehtisaari. A lot of lavish villas from various periods and built in different architecture styles, full-grown trees, proximity of the sea and a sea promenade, well, when I win the lottery I might like to consider living there!

One of my future neighbour houses would be Alvar Aalto’s home (and office for some time) located at Riihitie 20, facing former cadet school, and is really pretty, even in early Finnish winter.

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I did not have the right lens to take pictures of the garden which constitutes an important part of the house. It was quite humble, but as the plot is located on a slope overlooking a football plan it feels really spacious and airy.

 

There is a little catch, and that would be that the house visit is not for free (except for the exterior, obviously), and Museokortti will not give you any discount this time. This house and the nearby Studio Aalto are managed by Aalto foundation, private management has its perks and downsides. The house is in mint condition, but there is a certain (affordable) price to pay for this;)

The interior is planned in a really rational and functional way, yet thanks to the use of natural materials (fabric, wood, reed mats, etc.) and traditional Nordic (and Japanese) elements it feels really homey and cosy. Maybe even too cosy this cold November afternoon due to the small number of lamps. The round roof openings letting natural light helped a bit, but the overall impression was Wow, it is dark in here, how can one sit comfortably in the sofa and read?

I’m a big fan of Aalto’s furniture and lamps, but I have my comments on the latter: they are beautiful, yet not very functional. I’m sorry. I understand that a part of the design was to conceal the source of light, and in this respect he succeeded, but maybe too much has been concealed..?

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… and some abstract artwork by Aalto:

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About a 10 minute walk from Aalto’s house, at Tiilimäki 20, you will find the Studio Aalto. Alvar Aalto ran the office from 1955 until his death in 1976. After that, the office continued under the leadership of Elissa Aalto until 1994 and today it houses the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Alvar Aalto Academy and the Alvar Aalto Museum Architectural Heritage. And it was closed yesterday, so I only managed to take a few peaks of the exterior:

And about 38 seconds away from Aalto Foundation House you will find those kind of views:miu_4352

That white patch in the top section of the picture is THE SUN. Very welcome that day.

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Come and visit some day. Really. Take a walk around Tiilimäki and the sea promenade, the atmosphere is so noble and peaceful.

I promise I will prepare a longer guide to Munkkiniemi one day, I just wanted to let you know that Aalto’s house is worth the visit, despite its non-central location.

Contact information: Tram 4 to last stop at Munkkiniemi, for more info see the website.

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#20: Try what urban exploring feels like at Villa Mehu in Veklahti, Kirkkonummi.

Architecture, Autumn, Culture, Nature, Outdoors, Spring, Summer, Walk

Villa Mehu is not exactly n Helsinki, yet it is within the third zone of the capital region: you will have to travel to Veklahti in Kirkkonummi, but it should not take more than hour from Kamppi. And I think it is not so bad – you will be experiencing a very unique atmosphere, somewhere between the statue park in Parikkala, some kind of a trending urbex location and a hoarder’s den. Oh and it is all placed in a typical Finnish forest with blueberries, mushrooms, elk flies and all that, so I would recommend reserving the whole afternoon for this trip.

Villa Mehu was home of dancer Elis Sinistö (1921-2004)(check the link, it is really well made and written!) for almost 50 years before his death in 2004. The Villa area consist of the main house, several saunas, a number of huts, a bee tower, bee hives, dug and decorated holes, a pond (where Sinistö’s ashes are) covered with water lilies and numerous constructions of unknown purpose. Or maybe there was no purpose at all, who knows.

 

MIU_3253MIU_3291MIU_3261MIU_3343He built it mostly of waste material he found lying around, you will find a lot of plastic, toys, machine parts, recycled wood planks, metal and wooden parts of furniture as well as Sinistö’s clothes, books, artwork and magazines. Since Sinistö passed away 12 years ago the place has been uninhabited and has been slowly deteriorating.

Despite the place being deserted, most constructions are still in surprisingly good condition. In fact, the most interesting and fascinating is the way the nature is taking over the man-made structures and materials. Oh and there are no signs of deliberate vandalism, which I think is wonderful.

The question we asked ourselves was what will happen with the place, what should happen with the place, what would Sinistö himself wished to happen with his home. Shall we keep it open to everyone and just watch the man-made constructions lose the fight with the elements? One day the houses and towers will collapse, but is that a part of the project? Experience the temporality of our deeds?

 

 

 

Contact information: Humaljärventie 54, 02400 Kirkkonummi. Nearest bus stop is Veklahti, for connections from Helsinki check Reittiopas. The journey from Kammpi Espoo terminal should take about an hour (not that bad at all!), but be prepared that you have to change buses. The journey by car from central Helsinki takes only about 30 minutes.

After you have arrived at the number 46 at Humaljärventie, continue for another 40m down the hill and turn left – shabby signposts will lead you to the path. Follow the path for about 50m and you will come to the main gate. Cannot be missed.

#16: Take a dip at Kumpula outdoor swimming pool.

Active, All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Housing, Olympics, Outdoors, Walk

With the first signs of spring I believe it is apt to write about the unique outdoor swimming pool in Kumpula. Yay!

The swimming pool was actually built for the Olympics (together with the Swimming stadium), and it has recently been renovated maintaining the original 1950s outfit and feel. It is much cosier than the Swimming stadium (just off the main Olympics stadium), further away from the city centre, less known to tourists (as well as locals) and located in somehow more picturesque neighbourhood.

Kumpula, in fact, is yet another Helsinki’s wooden district pearl, and a home to a number of wealthy/educated individuals as well as artists (ha!). If I had to choose between Kaivopuisto and living in a wooden house with soul, oh I would not hesitate a second.

It is lovely. It lies relatively close to the centre, not too far from the busy E75 highway. It is quite smartly insulated from all the hustle and bustle by woods, and when you get there it feels as if you entered another world, or at least went back 100 years. Cosy shops, colourful wood, children playing everywhere. It feels so social – open common yards, people knowing each other, well, an idyllic neighbourhood really.

As I read on a blog on visithelsinki.fi, some of the houses were built for people displaced under the World War 2 – I think I should find out more about these people and their fates! In the 1990s, however, these houses had stood empty for some time. A group of social activists saved the day – they took over the houses and established a social housing organisation.

In the vicinity of the swimming pool lies the Kumpula botanical garden – about which I will write when there is actually something blooming 😉 or come and see it for yourself before me!

Contact details: Allastie 1. Bus stop Kumpula (buses 52, 55, 56, 506). The outdoor swimming pool opens around May every year. For opening times check out the website.

#13: Visit the mystical Island of Worms (Matosaari)

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, History, Sea, Spooky

This island just off Jollas (just after Lauttasaari) – or a peninsula, as it has been connected to the mainland sometime in late 19th century – has one heavily loaded karma. Atmosphere. Genius loci. Tiny in size and not attracting crowds of tourists, green, quiet and unwelcoming (compare to for example Kivinokka or relatively nearby Korkeasaari).

On the way to the island… 

When Finland was still a part of Russian empire, the island served as a part of the coastal fortification, during the Crimean War (1853-1856) a fort was raised there to protect the Grand Duchy from attackers. After the island has become a peninsula it was sold for civilian use. First land owner, K.H. Lindh built a lovely villa on the island – the house is still standing nowadays and is owned and used by by Helsingin meripelastus (Helsinki Lifeboat Association). In the 1920s, a certain Uno Björklund built another fancy villa on the island. Garden architect Paul Olsson was appointed to re-design the house’s surroundings in 1928; in his plans he included the remains of the fort as well as natural stone walls. The plan, however, was never carried out since in 1963 the villa was destroyed in fire, all what is left nowadays includes piles of stones and beams in the middle of island overgrown with grass and lichen. It gives shivers.

Walking around the island among the ruins.

Some views from the island. Note Hamina island in the third picture serving as military training facility.

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Location: 00850 Helsinki. If you are travelling by car I recommend parking next to Jollas Institute (Jollasvägen 89) and continue on foot. Alternatively, take bus number 85 from Herttoniemi (direction Jollas) to Kellaripellonpolku and walk from there.

More information (in Finnish): http://www.kysy.fi/kysymys/mista-voisin-saada-tietoa-laajasalon-matosaaren-historiastaneuvosta 

 

#12: Explore Helsinki Synagogue

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Walk

Visible to thousands of Helsinki inhabitants and commuters to the capital city passing Kamppi every day, yet very few locals know the answer when you ask them where the Synagogue is.

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(Photo: Peter Marten – I would love to go out and take own pictures of the area, but the weather is so unbelievably rubbish that I had to borrow this picture)

Yes It is located right off Kamppi, and it is the building with the golden dome roof, reflecting morning light. As I was told by Andre, my guide at the Jewish Community Centre (JCC), when the nearby Radisson Hotel was being designed, the architects made sure that the Synagogue’s roof remains visible from Kamppi. I’m not sure where this condition comes from, but it surely werved the JCC and the whole Kamppi area well.

I, too, stumbled upon the Synagogue quite randomly – there were not too many clues at the outside of the Synagogue, with exception to stars of David on the outside fence. And a pretty tall wall. And an automated gate. And a security guide.

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Security measures are still quite high – prepare to be ID:ed and assigned a guide and leave any larger bags at home, but visitors are always welcome: it is possible to visit the Synagogue and the adjacent Jewish centre every week (Monday to Thursday at 10am and 2pm), the best way to secure the tour is to get in touch with the Jewish Community Centre in advance.

And what is behind the walls?

Well, first of all, a group of kids playing in the inside yard (there is a Jewish Kindergarten and School at the centre which I did not know). Social areas and offices of the JCC. And the Synagogue, which due to the security measures and alike looks quite modest from the street.

The interior, however, is pretty stunning. The Synagogue, designer by Viipuri-born Johan Jacob Ahrenberg, was finished in 1906 and is very likeable and very art-nouveau and definitely worth a visit.

The opinions and suggestions in this blog are mine and mine only (unless of course stated otherwise) and I’m not planning to serve as marketing agency, but I have to mention that Andre Zweig, my (own) guide, was really friendly and knowledgable, showing me around the JCC and telling me about the history of Jewish community in Finland. If you would like to know more about this topic, or would fancy a tour of your own, do drop him a line.

#10: Visit Malmi Airport

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Olympics, Outdoors

It’s interesting that somehow one always ends up in Malmi, although I’m afraid it is no one’s destination of choice. But we all have some errands in Malmi. Visiting people. Institutions. Shopping. Doing sports. Feeling multicultural. Passing by on the way to Ikea in Vantaa.

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Yet there is a hidden gem in Malmi – well it is not THAT hidden after all, everyone is aware of it, but it is currently widely underrated: Helsinki Malmi airport. It opened in 1938 and back then it was, well, a big deal. The airport was among the first in the world designed as and international airport – oh and it is the airport which was meant to serve the Helsinki Olympics in 1940. However, by the time the Olympics actually took place in Helsinki in 1952 the airport has been moved to Vantaa as we all know (now when I think about it, Malmi and Vantaa have a lot in common: located a bit further away to the north from the city, providing affordable accommodation to middle class and lower class families alike, boasting with ghettos, shopping malls and random depots… and a fancy airport each).

Nowadays the airport serves for general civilian purposes, and that is why most mortals are not aware of the actual airport buildings. One never simply has a reason for a visit – and that is a big shame, because the main building is gorgeous. The airport complex consists of a round functionalist main building with two belts of rectangular windows encircling the barrel-like building. There is a check-in hall downstairs and a number of offices (or ex-travel agents’ I can imagine), a roofed viewing terrace and a café upstairs, an adjacent control tower and a few non-public inconspicuous sheds.

The main building is generally open to public (the control tower is obviously not) during Finnish working hours (9am-4pm). Well, the truth is that there is rarely anybody around, so you get enough time to enjoy the atmosphere undisturbed. I’m not sure about café’s opening times, but knowing Finland, something between 11am and 3pm would be “safe” time to visit (meaning you would not be sent away in ) and enjoy yet another disappointing cup of Finnish coffee. This time it is all forgiven.

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The round hall is silent, lit through roof windows… it is lovely during the golden hour, so if you would like to experience what travelling must have felt like AND get some glorious pictures of modern atmosphere 60 years ago (and entertain your girlfriend with a bit different plane-spotting), HEM is the place to visit on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

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In today’s scale everything seems so small and cosy, so naïve. This was the future of air travel nearly hundred years ago. Actually there are many places around Helsinki w
here one can experience what the nature and scope of public events in the 1940/50s Finland was. The accessibility of events to general public and the sheer number of visitors. The security and health&safety measures. The queue management barriers. The materials. The proximity of the centre of action. The trust. The nostalgia.

 

… and the rumours that the main building will be torn down and the whole airport area converted into a housing estate, so please do hurry and pay the Finnish aviation monument a visit!

EDIT: Other rumours mention the weekend brunch served at the cafeteria (aka GATE 1)! More information here – it is in Finnish but pretty straightforward.

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Information: https://www.finavia.fi/en/helsinkimalmi/info-malmi-airport/

Contact: Helsinki-Malmin lentoasema, 00700 Helsinki (Tattariharjuntie)

#8: Enjoy those stunning views from the Olympic Stadium Tower

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum, Olympics, Outdoors

One of the most important historical events which shaped the architecture and general urban development of Helsinki were the 1952 (!) Summer (!) Olympics.

Why the exclamation marks? Well, most venues – the Stadium, Velodrome, Rowing Stadium and a part of the Olympic Village were built between the years 1938-1940 since Helsinki was chosen as Olympic venue for the 1940 Olympics. Those never happened, as we all know. And as for the summer exclamation mark – I just wanted to point out that summer DOES exist in Finland. It only didn’t happen THIS year.

But back to the topic: most Olympics buildings/venues are elegant, painted white and combined with wooden details (benches, panelling, etc.). The simplicity and functionalist touch in contrast to summer blue sky create one of those stereotypical (but nevertheless beautiful) Finnish sights in the name of the blue-white colour combination. Simplicity purity, freshness, breeze, water and snow… you know.

If you had one place to visit it would have to be the stadium tower. A truly unique landmark – it makes an awesome orientation point and also a great viewing point (and a suicide point for pregnant lovers of German soldiers who would throw themselves from the tower in order to avoid the shame – that’s why they had to close the tower and suicide-proof it back in the days).

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Don’t worry, there is a lift so you don’t have have to climb those 72 meters. And it is safe, you can’t even access the open staircase and the viewing platform is behind high iron bars.

And the views are stunning… Töölö, Meilahti

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Töölönlahti, in the background Kallio
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However, you can still visit the Stadium Tower! It only costs a few Euro (3€/5€) and it is definitely worth it.

Please beware! The stadium and the tower will close in 2016 for renovation work. Hurry hurry!

More information: http://www.stadion.fi/visit-tower

#7: Go for a cup of tea in the City Winter Garden

All year, Architecture, Coffee/Tea, Helsinki, Indoors, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

A stone’s throw from the city centre and just off the Olympic Stadium, this is a paradise for those who are seeking a refuge from cold weather or who just took a walk around Töölönlahti (and/or for those who need to spend a penny;) and would like to, well, sit down and relax.

Helsingin Talvipuutarha(Picture: Yle)

The winter garden (19th century)  is a piece of art itself with its ornamented iron&glass construction, shining bright form a mile away yet in juxtaposition to the 1950s architecture. Around the actual winter garden, or this “social greenhouse”, you will find a little rose garden. What is inside the building is hardly surprising: cacti, succulents, koi carps and a little fountain. But it is the whole experience that counts.

Yes, I know you’ve been to greenhouses or tropical gardens or whatever you dress it like before, but this one is so lovely. Partly because it is so lovely and random – all those (sub)tropic plants, all located in the city centre in Finland, I mean, you surely see all the contrasts (I do recommend visiting the winter garden in winter for the extra intense experience!)? Maybe because it is always so unbelievably peaceful, although you will find local families here as well as Russian tourists. Maybe because I’m just being sentimental and I like the Eiffel-like architecture of the late 19th century. Maybe because this is one of those few public places I can actually read a book at without getting disturbed. Maybe because that omnipresent yet very silent white noise combined with the sweet jingle of the indoor fountain make me happy. Maybe because I don’t feel press to read or to work when I’m there but it comes naturally.

There is usually a little café open in the left wing: I cannot recommend the coffee (same goes for 95% of all cups of coffee in Finland), but the tea should be relatively safe. The right wing is dedicated to cacti and contemporary art/local artist exhibitions – I’ve seen two, I did not like them, I thought they were really weird and really not fitting the location, but hey.

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Address: Hammarskjöldintie 1; number 8 tram stop “Kaupunginpuutarha”

More information incl. opening hours: click here  (the link is too long and too annoying to copy). In general the garden is open to public every afternoon.

If you are a real botanics enthusiast, try to get in touch with one of the guides who will give you a tour and will be able to tell you more about the plant species!

#4: Enjoy a guided tool at KELA headqurters (by Alvar Aalto) – !free Alvar Aalto fans gift!

All year, Alvar Aalto, Architecture, Helsinki, Indoors, Museum

Hey, this one I’m particularly proud of – and ashamed of at the same time since I cannot, for love of V, find any pictures from the epic tour at KELA Headquarters.

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(Source: Wikipedia)

Now, those who have spent some time in Finland are loving this post already, so little it takes. The rest of you is wondering what on Earth is KELA. Well, KELA equals social insurance in Finland. It equals your magical personal number without which you mean nothing to the society (seriously though, your bank account details, your health care, your bonus card at K-supermarket, they all are linked to your personal number), confusion, dole, health care, queues, inefficient service, constant cuts … it also equals those adorable Maternity packages everybody has been envying Finnish mums for.

In other worse, everybody in Finland has their own passionate relationship with KELA. Visiting their HQ sounds like a brilliant way to spend your Friday afternoon, doesn’t it!

It is actually rather interesting. The building is orangey bricky and not too exciting at all from the outside, but then you start spotting the details, the door handles, the angles, colours, tiles, the light. There is a classic Aalto library in the building as well as a gym (no bull), a little chilling park area, oh and a really exciting canteen with some kind of innovative heating system which looks like dinner trays stuck to the ceiling. There is some introduction into 1920s communication technology and of course you will get to awe at those cute maternity packages from the past. It did not take more than an hour, and it was a true pleasure (although the guide kept abandoning us randomly and was not too knowledgable, but that did not matter too much in the end).

The building is located in Töölö and is reachable easily by tram or bus (Kansaneläkelaitos stop). I have not worked out the dates of the guided tours, let alone the English ones, but last time I checked it was 2pm every Monday and Friday during the summer season and by appointment 1.10.-31.3.

… oh and I promised you a gift! Well last time I went on the guided tour my camera died. Flat battery, argh, such a rookie mistake. I did indeed take some pictures with my phone, but those seem to be hiding in the gigabytes of data in this flat. Meh. I was feeling very “meh”, but then we were given a link to this beautiful publication with pictures and facts and it is all in English and I was really happy. And I’d love to share it with you, too.

More info: www.kela.fi, tel. 020 63411 (should work), viestinta (at) kela.fi ; the address is Nordenskiöldinkatu 12

#2 Explore the Puu-Käpylä wooden housing district

All year, Architecture, Autumn, Helsinki, Outdoors, Walk

After a short while one soon realises that Finnish urban housing is – with an exception of those lucky few living in the Helsinki city centre – kind of monotonous to say the least. It’s all about kerrostaloja, concrete blocks of flats, with obligatory complemented by a grey box-like supermarket and equally angular minimalistic daycare. Some of these buildings or their respective location are more bearable than others, yet the houses themselves are rarely aesthetically pleasing and almost unequivocally they lack, well, that special something too them, something worth photographing, something you would tell your friends about. They are functional and close to some kind of a park, but that’s pretty much it.

… but there are exceptions! One of them is the district of Käpylä, more specifically the part known as Puu-Käpylä – Wooden Käpylä. Walking (or sitting in the tram) along the Pohjolankatu avenue you will experience what I personally understand under Scandinavian architecture: an array of wooden houses from the 1920s, built along the idea of the garden suburb and creating great living conditions for city workers. The very same idea lay behind the Tapiola quarter in Espoo, but if I had to choose, Puu-Käpylä has so much more character… no wonder it made in to the top of the best residential quarters in Helsinki (= in Finland)!

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I particularly recommend taking the tram 1/1A towards Pohjolanaukio, get off at Metsolantie or Käpylänaukio and walk down Pohjolankatu toward Pohjolanaukio. Look left, look right, sink in between the wooden houses now and again…

Special recommendation: take the walk in autumn. Those autumn colours fit Käpylä so well…DSC_8587

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… at Pohjolanaukio you will find Park Hotel, a hotel with a pretty decent weekday menu restaurant and famous for being the shooting location of the Hyvät herrat show. I have never heard of it but apparently ALL Finns over 20 years of age or something know this. So you’d better remember this as well.

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From Pohjolanaukio continue along the Käpylänkuja – why? Well, because you will get to Helsinki home of Karelian culture, the Karjalantalo. The inauguration of the statue of The evacuated mother took place in June 2015 and not many Helsinki citizens know about it yet, so check it out, and check out the events taking place at the house, too! (wink wink, yeah, I work there.) If you think you like Finnish food, try the week-day lunch at the Karelia restaurant for extra pork, cabbage and other food so typical for Karelia. And if you prefer food with more creativity, uhm, head back to the Park Hotel.

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While in Käpylä you can extend the walk to the Olympic village. Built in 1950s (duh), these serve a “more bearable” example of the kerrostalo architecture: simple, functionalist, with some kind of atmosphere, symmetry and lightness, well, I could live there too.

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Want more of wooden urban architecture? Check out Puu-Vallila in Helsinki, or take a short trip to Porvoo!