Serpentine House

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Photo: Heikki Havas / MFA
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1951
  • Decade1950s
  • PeriodThe post-war reconstruction era
  • Year of selection1993


The Serpentine House was one of the State Housing Board’s first subsidised apartment blocks, and was comprised of 190 municipal rental apartments, ranging from one-room plus a kitchen (30 m2) to three rooms plus a kitchen (66 m2). The Serpentine House consists of two lamella blocks placed on the plot in a serpentine fashion plus a single-storey maintenance and service building along the street Mäkelänkatu.

The serpentine shape of the residential buildings was the invention of Yrjö Lindegren, and is based on a trapezoid-shaped section in the middle of the lamellas containing the stairwells and apartment bathrooms and kitchens. The rich variation in the building volume on the rocky plot was achieved through the interchange and variation of two stairwell types. The solution was both rational and organic and anticipated industrialized building. Maiju Gebhart from the Work Efficiency Institute designed the kitchen units in 1945, which were manufactured by the Enso company in Lahti in 1948 as their “Teho” model. The kitchens were inspired by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s functionalist so-called “Frankfurt kitchen” from 1926. One essential part of the kitchens in the Serpentine House was a modern Finnish invention, the drying cupboard.

The building has a rendered exterior and the load-bearing partition walls are visible as vertical protrusions in the facade. The wall structure is built from brick and lightweight concrete blocks. Despite later changes, the building is very well preserved, including the original kitchen furniture.

The Serpentine House is an important part of the history of Helsinki’s municipal housing production which, despite the housing shortage that prevailed after the war, aimed for high-quality housing. The building programme was progressive and included, for instance, a swimming pool and kindergarten for the use of the residents. The building reflects the social ideals of Functionalism that took on in Finland, especially after the Second World War. The architectural design is unique, avoiding the standard solutions of typical rental housing. The building received international attention on its completion, and was featured in the journal L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui in 1954.

The Serpentine House is of significant historical and architectural value, and is one of the canonical works of Finnish modern housing design and architectural history. The building is also an important landmark in the cityscape.


Riitta Salastie

Arkkitehtitoimisto Koskinen & Schalin (2011). Käärmetalon rakennushistoriaselvitys.
Helander, Vilhelm & Rista, Simo (1987). Suomalainen rakennustaide. Modern Architecture in Finland. Helsinki: Kirjayhtymä.
Lindegren, Yrjö (1950). ”Asuntokortteli N:o 857 – Mäkelänkatu, Helsinki”, Arkkitehti 10–11/1950.


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