In 1919 Oy Helsingin Kansanasunnot (People’s housing of Helsinki Ltd) received the commission to build a residential area of high architectural and social quality in the capital in order to alleviate the housing shortage caused by the First World War. In 1920 the young architect Martti Välikangas was invited, as his first independent work, to design a garden suburb in the Käpylä area. The street plan, comprising fifteen large city blocks, was drawn up by Birger Brunila and Otto-I. Meurman. In building, the aim for simplicity and economy led to standardisation and rational solutions. Timber was chosen as the building material, and Puu-Käpylä, or Wood-Käpylä, was named accordingly. The area was built in three phases. The type buildings of the first phase (1920-21) were enlivened by stylised and referential classical decorative motifs. In the second phase (1921), the architecture became more diverse in detail, and in the third (1922) quite unconventional. False perspective squares, a symmetrical street landscape and monumental street-ends combine naturally with the varying building masses. In the last block, Välikangas abandoned classical balance. The symmetrical elements of the buildings made up asymmetrical wholes: naive façades or buildings in which the gable is wider than the side of the building.
Behind the rich complexity of Puu-Käpylä there does indeed lie a diverse network of influences. Välikangas himself emphasised the influence of anonymous Italian architecture on his design. On the other hand, Käpylä also combines German minimum dwelling models and Swedish small-house production models with the English ideal of the garden suburb and the Finnish tradition of urban wooden building. On account of its unusual architectural harmony, Puu-Käpylä is perhaps the most important monument of the classicism of the 1920s in Finland.
Text: Juhana Lahti / 20th Century Architecture, MFA