Ämmä Hydropower Plant
Cultural Heritage of Hydropower Architecture (VekuVaku) project co-financed by EU Interreg Nord programme
Jylhämä hydropower plant (link) was built in River Oulujoki in the municipality of Vaala. The construction site in Jylhämä also functioned as a hub, from where a total of three power plants, Jylhämä, Nuojua and Utanen, were built. Thus, Jylhämä had a large colony that, when busiest, had over 2000 workers.
After the power plants were built, most of the temporary housing was demolished from the riverside and majority of the workers moved north to the construction sites at River Emäjoki. What remained was what is now known as the residential area of Jylhämä – or the Jylhämä village. The whole area was designed by architect Aarne Ervi and his office in the 1940s.
Today the residential area consists of approximately 30 buildings. In the site plan the buildings are placed freely along two roads that circle the area so that the surrounding nature gets utilized best. The scenery is lush and green, but its thoughtful landscaping separates it from the surrounding forest.
In Jylhämä one can notice several of Ervi’s trademarks like his insightful use of materials, intriguing details and understanding of the connection between the building and nature. Here, Ervi presents a softened approach to Modernism with the use of vernacular, almost romantic, architectural features and materials like wood, slate and plaster. The dwellings in Jylhämä are type houses and feature single-family detached houses and two-family semi-detached houses. The area also has several service buildings and warehouses. In the early 1960s, three terraced houses were built in the southern part of the area, also designed by Ervi.
In its prime, Jylhämä had two grocery stores, a bookstore, a post office, a school, a fire station/a police station and even a movie theater – a rare feature in the rural Finland of the 1950s. The area also has a guest house that was built next to the Uutela farm that dates back to the previous century. Places like Jylhämä gave Oulujoki Power Company the change to showcase its success and progress and important guests, like President Kekkonen, would be sometimes flown in with a helicopter.
During the 1970s, the power plants became more and more automatic and could not provide work anymore. Therefore, the communities, like Jylhämä, slowly started to wither. Today all the services are discontinued and some of the houses are also uninhabited.
In the early 2000s a large section of Jylhämä was sold to a private investor. Unfortunately, this has not contributed to the preservation of the buildings, and many are in a state of deterioration.
Text: Samuli Paitsola