Some time ago we were honored to invite professor emeritus Osmo Lappo, the architect of our home, for a visit. Lappo, born in 1927, is one of the central figures of modern concrete architecture in Finland. Among his most recognised work is the Vekarajärvi barracks in Kouvola, Finland, which was built between 1966-1975 and is a great representative of the concrete brutalism era emphasising construction materials and techniques. The Vekarajärvi barracks has received a recognition of an important architectural and environmental site both by Docomomo and the Finland National Board of Antiquities. More generally, Lappo's work includes a wide variety of residential, commercial and public buildings.
For our pleasant delight, Lappo arrived with several original photos by photographer Simo Rista form 1960's brilliantly illustrating the early days of our apartment building. Browsing through the photos with Lappo's guidance took us right back to the very early days of the project, when Loviisa Agnisbäck, the owner of Ängskulla estate sold the land to Väinö E. Koskinen. Koskinen was the owner of a construction company responsible for building Niittykumpu region for the City of Espoo.
Koskinen had originally met Lappo in 1950's when they were working together in another project in Helsinki. As their earlier collaboration had been very successful, Koskinen invited Lappo to be the lead architect also in the Niittykumpu project.
|View from backyard (photo by Simo Rista)|
At that time, Danish architecture had a significant influence also in Finland - for example, many buildings were made of brick and had an atrium terrace. Lappo, as well, was following the prevailing trends of the 1960's, and was to include these elements in his design.
|Back to the sixties (photo by Simo Rista)|
It was not only our residence Lappo and Koskinen were working on in Niittykumpu, but actually the entire region including several different apartment buildings. To add variability and prevent buildings looking too similar, after the initial drafts Lappo assigned different project architects from his studio to work with each building. This was an approach he adopted while working in Viljo Revell's office during the early years of his career.
|Plan for Niittykumpu region (original photos by Simo Rista)|
A crucial consideration was the quality of the site where the foundations of buildings were to be laid. Basically, the buildings were located to areas where conditions were favourable. Also, for some apartments the chosen design reflects the site conditions - in one of the buildings, namely the "Pillar Building", has no basement and the ground floor is replaced by a string of massive pillars, as the site was too soft to support these structures.
There were already some houses on one side of Niittykumpu which needed to be taken into account when considering the areal set up. Therefore, the goal was to complement the existing infrastructure and surrounding nature as well as possible, which had a big influence on certain decisions.
|South view to Niittykumpu (photo by Simo Rista)|
The construction process of our apartment building was quite fast. The design was completed during summer 1963, construction work started immediately and the apartments were ready in 1964. According to Lappo, very few changes were made during the process, as the plans were comprehensive and thus followed quite faithfully. At that time, Koskinen's company did not have the supporting infrastructure or cranes to build by using prefabricated elements, so all the work was conducted on site manually.
First, as soon as the design fundamentals were locked, the team started by building models to be able to work with the details, including e.g. the atrium terrace. The models were also useful when Koskinen was discussing with potential buyers.
|Original model, back view (photo by Simo Rista)|
|Original model, side view (photo by Simo Rista)|
On top of the hill, the street and rock limited the shape of the building resulting in a serrated form in front. As a result, the back of the building followed the same serrated pattern, also complementing the surrounding nature as well as the existing small buildings further down the hill very well.
|Protected front entrance (photo by Simo Rista)|
|Serrated form from the back (photo by Simo Rista)|
The original windows were made of regular window glass units. Each window was also divided in three parts to enable efficient cleaning from both sides. The outside window glass could be opened to clean the inner surfaces, but the glass inside was fixed to the frame to prevent the escape of warm air. A few of the ten apartments still have the original window set up, but in our apartment the glass has been replaced by contiguous double-glazed insulated glass units, which no longer need to open for cleaning.
|Discussing windows (original photos by Simo Rista)|
|Original windows (photo by Simo Rista)|
In general, the upper level in all units was quite similar. More buyer specific adaptations were made downstairs, resulting in more variability between the units. Back in 1960's, Finnish tax regulations made it beneficial to limit the actual living area of an apartment to 119.5 m2. This meant the downstairs ceiling height and window size were limited, and in official plans the space was named an area for e.g. arts and crafts or storage. Some buyers added a cold room, and consequently the waste heat from cooling the cold room was captured to contribute to downstairs heating. Half of downstairs are was left unbuild, as at that time it would have been very expensive to do the mining and blasting work required.
|Downstairs model (photo by Simo Rista)|
Lappo's team was also responsible for the kitchen design, and the cabinets and other structures were manufactured by Turenki Sugar Factory carpenters (a contact of Koskinen). At that time, there were only a few kitchen manufacturers and thus existing contacts who were not necessarily specialised in kitchen manufacturing were used.
After a few hours of great discussion and revision of piles of pictures and plans it was time to say goodbye. For us, it was really a true honor and an absolute pleasure to meet professor Lappo and discuss his work, our home, which clearly plays a very significant role in our lives right now. We really appreciate he so kindly took the time to meet us. It is not very often you get an opportunity to dig a bit deeper to historical details, and especially with the guidance of the architect himself.
|Architect Osmo Lappo|
- Interview with Osmo Lappo (November 23, 2014)
- Osmo Lappo introduction by the Museum of Finnish Architecture (January 25, 2015)
- Niittykumpu by Osmo Lappo, Sanna Lahti 2003, Master's Thesis, Helsinki University of Technology
- All original pictures by Simo Rista 1963-1964 published with a permission of Osmo Lappo, who owns the rights to the photos. Please do not copy or use without permission.