A new block of flats, Käpylän Posteljooni Apartments by Anttinen Oiva Architects, complements a central spot in Käpylä, a traditional Helsinki district. An intimate courtyard reveals its urban character to the passers-by.
This article has been originally published in Arkkitehti – Finnish Architectural Review issue 3/2019. The magazine is published by SAFA six times a year both in Finnish and English, and it is the only cultural magazine in Finland focusing on architecture. More information on magazine’s website.
Käpylän Posteljooni Apartments / Asunto Oy Käpylän Posteljooni
Anttinen Oiva Architects (Selina Anttinen, Vesa Oiva, Kaisa Lintula, Sanna Meriläinen)
Käpylänkuja 5, Helsinki
7 737 m2
Commentary Kristo Vesikansa
Pohjolanaukio Square in the city district of Käpylä is one of Helsinki’s many open urban spaces whose potential has largely been under-utilised. In a draft plan for Käpylä in 1917, Birger Brunila and Otto-Iivari Meurman proposed to terminate Pohjolankatu street with a monumental building, in front of which was a public square demarcated by enclosed urban blocks. In practice, however, the square ended up forming a nebulous traffic intersection lined with free-standing apartment blocks.
With the completion of a residential building a couple of years ago, the place has become much more urban and the vision of Brunila and Meurman has taken shape more clearly. Unlike in many other infill projects, also the local residents have welcomed the newcomer.
Unlike in many other infill projects, also the local residents have welcomed the newcomer.
The name of the new building, Posteljooni (“postman”), has been taken from the Käpylä Post Office (Woldemar Baeckman, 1972), which was demolished to make way for it. The old building certainly had its merits, but the change in terms of the cityscape has been wholly positive.
The new building has been skilfully placed on the cramped plot. The U-shaped volume wraps around the courtyard that opens towards the south-west, protecting it from traffic noise and exhaust fumes.
By utilising the differences in the ground levels of the plot, the residents’ garage has very discreetly been placed beneath the yard deck. On the ground floor, along the Pohjolanaukio side, there are also retail spaces, the largest of them currently being rented out to a pizza chain.
It is easy to find references in the building’s architecture to the rich building heritage of Käpylä. For example, the narrow southern gable feels like a gesture towards the wooden houses by Martti Välikangas (1921) on the opposite side of Käpylänkuja street, with their amplified proportions.
The building’s principal designer Selina Anttinen does not believe, however, that direct loans from traditional motifs would produce high-quality architecture – the possibilities and constraints of today differ too much from the era where construction relied on traditional craftsmanship. Architects should, in other words, develop new means of expression from contemporary premises. An excellent example of this are the concrete walls on the ground floor, finished with a triangular relief pattern created with matrix moulds and a surface treatment combining umber pigment and a glaze – a charming acknowledgement of the Käpylä atmosphere.
It is easy to find references in the building’s architecture to the rich building heritage of Käpylä.
The most recognisable feature of the building is its silhouette, consisting of asymmetrical pitched roofs. The motif has been cultivated frequently in recent years, especially in infill building projects, but here it does not seem contrived or too trendy.
The lower edges of the roof eaves are aligned with the adjacent buildings, so that the new building, which is somewhat taller than its neighbours, does not dominate its surroundings. Anttinen tells that the shape of the roof was studied at length before a solution satisfactory to all parties was found.
Due to the busy traffic, the facades along Kullervonkatu street and Pohjolanaukio Square are rather solid. The rhythm and proportions of the chessboard-style fenestration composition express something of the same spirit as the architecture of Hilding Ekelund, who greatly influenced the overall appearance of Käpylä, although no single building can be named as the inspiration.
Next to the neighbouring house designed by Ekelund (1952), with its distinctly rhythmic facades, the wallpaper-like fenestration of the new building seems, however, just a bit insubstantial, and the impression is further enhanced by the industrial coarseness of the plaster surface of the walls and the sturdy wood-aluminium window frames.
The building’s 57 owner-occupied apartments are grouped around three stairwells. Fortunately, the distribution of apartments is not as focused on small-sized units as in many other new apartment buildings. The spacious family homes were sold first, which indicates that there would have been even greater demand for big apartments in Käpylä. Joining small apartments into bigger units was unfortunately not possible at that point, even though this would have led to the elimination of the dark internal corridors.
The most personalised apartments are those located on the top floor, where a series of apartments of varying room height has been built under the roof. Anttinen mentions the studio apartments in the nearby Olympic Village (Pauli Salomaa, 1952) as the inspiration.
To counterbalance the more enclosed street facades, the courtyard positively radiates energy on a sunny spring day. The balcony glazing infills, thin metal balusters, vertical ceramic stave facade elements, wood-clad rear walls and entrance recesses together form a multi-layered kinetic composition, the appearance of which changes according to the weather and time of day.
The yard, designed by Masu Planning, is an extraordinarily successful complement to the architecture, and the yellow-brick ground level can be regarded as the courtyard’s fourth facade. An outsider may nevertheless feel as if they have stepped onto a stage where their every movement is watched from the surrounding theatre-box-like balconies.
The writer Kristo Vesikansa works at Aalto University as a university teacher in history of architecture. He is specialised in modern architecture, its protection and renovation.