New Standards is an exhibition that will explore the history of the often overlooked, but internationally significant Puutalo consortium, which designed and manufactured timber buildings in Finland from the 1940s to the 1980s.
The buildings manufactured by Puutalo are among Finland’s most widespread architectural exports: From 1940 to 1956, Puutalo shipped 15 million square meters of buildings, around 300,000 houses, to more than 50 countries around the world, helping to define a new standard of living in the post-war era. The New Standards exhibition will document the history and development of Puutalo housing, demonstrating the contribution it made to Finland’s international reputation for design and manufacturing. It will also present Puutalo as a model of mass housing that left space for individual expression at the same time as raising living standards through quality design.
New Standards is curated by a Helsinki-based Finnish–American trio Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa, who are connected by their work and research in Aalto University’s Department of Architecture.
The Biennale Architettura 2020 is the second occasion that Archinfo Finland has been in charge of Finland’s presentation at the International Architecture Exhibition, following the successful 2018 exhibition of Finnish library architecture, Mind-Building.
Hanna Harris, Director of Archinfo Finland, and the Commissioner of the Pavilion of Finland said:
“Factory-built timber housing is an area of huge interest for architects looking to solve the question of how we can build quickly and economically, without sacrificing quality or causing further damage to the environment. While timber construction is a well-known feature of Finnish architecture, few people know the story of Puutalo, the pioneering consortium that produced over 300,000 factory-built homes and set new standards for design and quality of life in Finland, then around the world in the middle decades of the twentieth century.
“Hashim Sarkis has asked the participants in the Biennale Architettura 2020 to consider how we will live together. Finland’s experience of Puutalo housing is of a low-impact, long-lasting, sustainable and well-loved solution that emerged in response to a wartime crisis, but which went on to define the following era in Finnish domestic architecture. It offers the world an example of mass-produced family housing that is an alternative to grand projects, demonstrating how individual identity can be celebrated in the context of standardisation, as well as a validation that design can improve people’s lives.”
On behalf of the Curators, Laura Berger said:
“A crisis can be a catalyst for innovation and bring different actors together to create something good. During the second world war, when Finland needed to resettle 420,000 internal refugees, the Finnish timber industry came together with prominent architects to create a system of standardised prefabricated wooden houses. New Standards will reveal the previously untold story of Puutalo company and how its prefabricated timber houses became the largest ever export of Finnish architecture.
“These homes with ingenious spatial distribution, practical domestic innovations and simple structural principles were designed to raise living standards and built to last. Many of them are still lived in today. Our case studies will show how these modest houses were adapted to a variety of locations and traditions as well as the changing needs of many generations of residents.”
Puutalo was a consortium of 21 Finnish timber manufacturing companies that was assembled in 1940 in response to a refugee crisis when more than 420,000 people, 11% of the total population of the country, were forced to flee their homes during the second world war. Rather than placing the refugees in temporary camps, the Finnish authorities sought to find a permanent re-housing solution in well-made, economical, modern homes.
Puutalo houses were developed by some of Finland’s leading mid-century architects and their archetypal exterior appearance belies the innovation that went into their structural design, spatial arrangement and domestic utility. The era of Puutalo housing coincided with the post-war rise in living standards and became synonymous with Nordic social-democratic progress in the decades following the war. A large number of Puutalo houses remain in use in the 21st Century. New Standards’ main aim is to research and document the design, development and cultural and social impact of Puutalo housing.
Puutalo houses were erected in more than 50 countries around the world. The flexibility of the system design allowed for significant modification during manufacture to tailor the product to different climates and cultural traditions. Puutalo houses have proven robust enough to withstand years of use, updates and extensive modifications. A series of case studies will demonstrate the adaptability of the standardised product through documentation of how residents around the world have modified and occupied their homes.
Puutalo means “wooden house” in Finnish, and timber construction makes good use of Finland’s most abundant natural resource – forest still covers more than 78% of the land and the country is a global leader in developing new methods making use of this sustainable material. New Standards will explore the way factory-built timber housing was an elemental factor in the modernisation of the building industry in Finland.
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