“Take them for granted”: Exhibition showcases Finland’s mass-produced 20th-century housing

Image courtesy of Juuso Westerlund
New Standards, an exhibition dedicated to Finland’s approach to prefab housing in the 20th century, will be exhibited at the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s from 21 January to 10 April.

Originally exhibited as part of the Finnish pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale, the project will showcase the history of Puutalo Oy (Timber Houses Ltd), a company formed in 1940 to create housing for 420,000 people displaced by the Winter War with the Soviet Union.

New Standards will show how architects and industrialists created a company that became one of the world’s largest makers of prefabricated wooden buildings and Finland’s most widespread architectural export.

Image courtesy of Juuso Westerlund

The project will cover Puutalo’s work until the mid-1950s, during which period millions of square metres of buildings were shipped abroad to support the post-war economy.

The exhibition will contain archival drawings, photographs and advertisements for houses, schools, barracks and hospitals manufactured by Puutalo, much of which are not included in most standard histories of architecture, according to the museum.

Image courtesy of ELKA Archive

Laura Berger, one of the exhibition’s curators, said: “The story of Puutalo has remained largely unresearched, despite the fact that the same architects, which are known for national monuments such as the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, spent years designing these modest wooden buildings.

“One reason might be that war-time has been often regarded as some kind of interim period, during which nothing much happened in the field of architecture. The history of this company has brought to surface that during the 1940s numerous innovations and important practices were created, the effect of which has lasted for decades. Today, many of these innovations appear so mundane that we take them for granted.”

Image courtesy of ELKA Archive

Kristo Vesikansa, another curator, added: “Having travelled to different countries to visit neighbourhoods where these houses still exist, we have been impressed with how proud the current owners are of their homes. The concept ´Finnish house´ is still known in many countries.”

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