Housing on former power plant site
HELSINKI (FI) - ALA's remarkable 'new strange birds' will provide a challenge for Finnish construction professionals.
Last year, the Helsinki city planning department organized an invited ideas competition for the Hanasaari site, a former power station. South of the site lies Kruununhaka, one of the older parts of Helsinki, and west is the notorious Merihaka complex – criticized ever since it was built for its pre-cast concrete brutalism and size, although people living there today mostly say they like it.
Five Finnish studios were invited to take part in the competition to find an architecturally, economically and technically suitable solution that would also give the area a new identity. The programme called for at least 75,000 m2 of housing, divided into different types of flats, maisonettes and town houses. The organizers were also looking for a design that would make a statement within this particular context.
In April 2007 ALA Architects were declared the winners and the planning department has now begun to work with them to develop the definitive plan. Their entry differed from all the other proposals which tended to rely on the usual contextual approaches, some of them with a fashionable, even clichéd, touch. ALA designed three irregularly shaped terraced urban blocks, which rise to 20 levels, a height not often used on the Helsinki waterfront.
The buildings have already been called 'new strange birds'. Whatever other associations may come to mind, on closer inspection it is clear that the site has been well studied and analysed.
Unfortunately, in Helsinki we have had some experience with the way brave and innovative competition designs turn into banal structures during execution by local construction companies. And indeed, the kind of image building proposed here calls for a high level of technical expertise as the site can be very windy and family living 20 storeys high with a roof terrace is still to be tested in our northern latitudes. There is no doubting the competence of these young architects to work on the urban plan with the Helsinki city planners. But apart from skilful design, housing projects in Helsinki also require solid professional competence and an ability to deal with a tough customer, which is to say the current market-oriented culture in the field of construction and marketing.
As such, the project will be a bigger challenge than the professionals involved seem to realize. This kind of a solution requires one or more big building companies and so there will probably be few possibilities for future inhabitants to have any say in the outcome. Whether or not the future owners of the highly priced flats will have any space to create communal areas and a domestic atmosphere in an environment of this scale is yet to be seen.
July | 2007 | Finland | Tarja Nurmi