Standard Terrace Housing

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Photo: Maija Holma / AAM
  • PlaceKauttua
  • Completion 1938
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


The improvement in housing conditions had in the 1920s become an issue of international interest in architecture and urban planning. Alvar Aalto participated in this debate, both in meetings with European colleagues and through actual design projects. In the late 1920s he developed technical and functional solutions in the field of housing design. During the next decade values associated with humaneness and a closeness to nature stood out in his housing designs and town planning.

Aalto drew up a town plan for a new kind of workers’ housing in Kauttua, the centuries-old industrial milieu owned by the Ahlström company. The complex consisted of eleven “stairless apartment blocks” and seven row houses. The housing type intended specifically for a steep slope was innovative. Each apartment – depending on the location, there could be up to seven in a block – was accessed from ground level along carefully stepped paths, thus creating a spacious terrace on the roof of the lower apartment. The bold form of the Functionalist-style building settled naturally into the slope; the connection to its immediate surroundings was further emphasized when spruce poles stripped of their bark were used in the railings and pergolas of the otherwise white-rendered building.

Aalto described his design as a system suitable for many different places, which he justified in terms of both affordability and housing conditions: “The small apartments, free on three sides and with the roof of the storey below used as a terrace, offer a slightly more affordable and freer form of dwelling. […] Due to its terraced structure, the building is slightly more expensive than a conventional multi-storey building, but because the dwelling volume is larger due to the omission of stairs, the actual as well as the theoretical rental cost per square metre will remain roughly the same as in conventional apartment blocks. This means that, without raising the price, housing has been produced that offers a substantially higher standard of living than in conventional rental housing.” (Aalto 1939, 163)

Aalto worked on the design of the building with particular exactness and care. The building was intended to become a model for a potential new way of living beyond just the Kauttua industrial community. The project was curtailed, however, by the war. Only one of the apartment blocks was realized in accordance with the plans from the end of 1930s. This was because Ahlström then began with their own industrially-produced wooden houses, and the war time and the years of scarcity that followed restricted the choice of materials. The extensive housing projects set out in the Kauttua industrial milieu were carried out following, for instance, standardized houses designed by Aalto and the town-planning principles that he had outlined.

The only realized example of the standard terrace housing has been well preserved in its original condition and has been carefully maintained. Also individual details in the interiors have been preserved, such as the fixed kitchen furniture. Recently, there has been an exhibition in one of the apartments with its interior furnished with Aalto and Artek furniture.


Jonas Malmberg

Aalto, Alvar (1939). ”Portaaton kerrostalo”, Arkkitehti 11–12/1939.
Korvenmaa, Pekka (1989). Kauttua. Tuotanto ja ympäristö 1689–1989. Kauttua: A. Ahlström osakeyhtiö.
Nikula, Riitta (2014). Suomalainen rivitalo. Työväenasunnosta keskiluokan unelmaksi. Helsinki: SKS.