Housing was an urgent social issue in Helsinki at the turn of the 20th century. To find a solution for the worsening worker housing problem, the city appointed a committee in 1907 to enquire into measures ‘to increase the supply of affordable dwellings’. Dense worker housing areas were built near the centre, but housing also spread outside the city proper. The result of the committee’s work was Puu-Vallila Wooden House District, the first systematically planned worker housing area on the city’s outskirts, designed in adherence to garden city ideology. The land was divided into plots in 1908, and the first construction phase was completed between 1910 and 1913.
With a view to producing inexpensive dwellings, the city leased the plots cheaply and in the town plan established areas suitable for timber housing. Commissioned by the committee, city architect Karl Hård af Segerstad drew a model plan for wooden residential housing in Vallila, with the idea that builders would follow it. The model was inspired by the vernacular architecture of examples found in Sweden and Germany and was streamlined by simplifying both massing and façade ornamentation and by standardising the fixed parts of the building.
In spite of the model, the houses in Vallila were individually designed. The overall appearance nevertheless remained uniform, of which Vallilantie street is a prime example. The residential floors sit under high gambrel roofs, which the building code allowed to be furnished for residential use on the street side. The façades are marked by cross-gables and window bays. With their frames made of jointed, sawn logs and clad with boards, the façades are articulated by windows and trimming that divide them into horizontal and vertical panelled fields. Due to the rationalist trend of the day, the architecture is simple, yet the houses retain a sense of villa architecture sought after in the garden city ideology.
Old Vallila was a disappointment for the city. Although the area was intended to provide ideal housing for workers, families continued to live in cramped one-room flats. Over time appreciation for the area declined, and from the 1940s to the 1970s the idea was raised repeatedly to redevelop the area. In the 1970s, the residents rose up to defend their district, as the spirit of the day was to retain wooden houses that happened to also be located in a central part of the city.
Old Vallila was protected in the town plan in 1980 and renovations began. The renovation project was rewarded with a Europa Nostra honorary mention in 1990. The lush gardens and subtle retrofitting have made the district an attractive oasis in the middle of the stone town.
Source: Art Nouveau in Helsinki – Architectural guide (Helsinki City Museum)