The Summer Homes of Finland

Something about the gray, November weather we’ve been having these days made me think of this book review I wrote for a previous blog of mine. A now out-of-print title from the great Princeton Architectural Press…

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I’ve been enjoying a recently-published book from Princeton Architectural Press titled Finnish Summer Houses.

I was interested to learn that Finnish architects (dating back to before World War I) took on summer home projects to work out some of the same problems that prefab designers have tackled: designing small dwellings that make the most of limited space; building multi-functional rooms; and building small, “cellular spaces” that can be later added on to.

Architects such as Alvar Aalto built his Muuratsalo Experimental House to test innovative materials and surfaces. Aarno Ruusuvuori worked with prefabricated room elements, used concrete in expressive ways, and incorporated features that allowed dynamic interplay with water and forest surrounding his Ruusuvuori cabin and sauna in Kerimaki.

Appropriate for a region with a brief flourish of summer followed by long, cold winters, Finland has a tradition of summer houses, stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century. In the 19th century, Finns would move into their summer homes for the entire season, and farming was often one element of the lifestyle.

At first limited to the wealthy, intentionally modeled after Swiss, Italian or English villas, with day-to-day functioning handled by servants, the 20th century saw a revised and updated version of the vacation homes as they became accessible to a growing, more prosperous, and more mobile middle class.

The new century brought mass transportation, access via family car, and a commuter- weekend approach to enjoying the homes. Rusticity, folk motifs and design references to Finland’s pre-modern past began to be incorporated….even as new building materials, new designs for new ways of living, and modernist design strategies were being used.

The tradition continues into the present, with homes such as the Weekend Atelier in Puolarmaari, designed by Juha Kaakkko, et al., which makes use of a translucent plastic exterior covering, filtering sunlight and reflecting the shadows of foliage, dynamically interacting with nature — a goal of these summer homes since their earliest days.