Sunila Industrial and Residential Area

1936–1938 & later additions
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Photo: Piero Berengo Gardin / AAM
  • PlaceKotka
  • Completion 1936–1938 & later additions
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


The Sunila area is regarded as a pure Functionalist totality from the 1930s. The industrial community was a reflection of the modernist belief in the future, and the most modern techniques and materials of the time were used in its construction. Already at the time of its construction Sunila was presented as Alvar Aalto’s most significant industrial and housing development and a model area for the Finnish forest industry, even though the Kaukopää cellulose factory and housing area by Väinö Vähäkallio from 1934-36 had similar social, technical and architectural objectives.

Aalto reshaped the sometimes severely systematic Siedlung ideas for workers’ Functionalist housing areas into something humane and homely; the residential area in Sunila has been called the first Finnish “forest town”. In the town plan Aalto followed a principle of flexible placement guided by the form of the terrain. The buildings in the open block structure were loosely dispersed in a fan shape in the heathland terrain marked by a predominance of pine trees. Healthy living and outdoor areas planned in accordance with both Garden City ideals and Functionalist principles were part of the overall planning, which ranged in scope from town planning to the fixed furniture of individual buildings.

By the standards of the 1930s, the minimum dwelling apartment blocks were well equipped; all of them were included in the district central heating system, each apartment had an electric stove, hot and cold running water and a WC. The workers and their families had the use of a public sauna and laundry. The homes for senior staff were even better equipped, including their own refrigerators.

The buildings were constructed in stages, and first to be built, in 1936-37, were: Kantola, the mill manager’s residence; Rantala, the engineers’ terraced house; Mäkelä, the supervisors’ row house; the Valliniemi heating plant; and Mäntylä and Honkala, the two-storey workers’ apartment blocks. The number of services available increased with the construction of the sauna, laundry and post office in 1937. Within a further two years was completed the Etelä Kymi Housing Company (EKA) comprising three three-storey apartment buildings and two apartment blocks stepped into the hillside. Additionally, in the northern part of the area, were built twelve timber-framed single-family houses manufactured by the A. Ahlström company in their house-building factory in Varkaus. The housing was supplemented by a further three apartment blocks in 1947 and 1954. A former fire station was converted for use as a recreation building and the clubhouse for the Toukola Settlement Association was completed in 1951.

The pulp mill was placed on the adjacent island of Pyötinen. The location was determined by the favourable harbour and transport conditions. The mill’s raw material, logs, were floated downstream or brought by rail from inland to the south coast. The architecture of the mill area was largely determined by the production process, and the definitive point of reference for the area was the office building. Indeed Alvar Aalto paid more attention to the design of the office building than the production facilities, and Aino Aalto was to a large extent responsible for the interior design.

Despite many changes, the Sunila area is still a well-functioning totality that that has preserved its original appearance. The overall appearance of the residential area is spacious, and the buildings have retained their original external character. Ownership of the residences is divided between a number of housing management companies and private owners. The houses have been renovated and their technical infrastructure modernized. The expansion in the mill’s production capacity and changes in the processes have entailed the construction of new facilities, so that some of the original Aalto buildings and transportation structures have been demolished and the intermediate spaces filled with new buildings.


Mia Hipeli

Aalto, Alvar (1938). ”Sunilan sulfaattiselluloosatehdas”. Arkkitehti 10/1938.
Alava, Paavo (1988). Sunila, metsäjättien yhtiö. Kotka: Sunila Oy.
Korvenmaa, Pekka (ed.) (2004). Alvar Aalto Architect, Volume 7. Sunila 1936–54. Helsinki: Alvar Aalto Academy.
Niinisalo, Kauko (1963). Sunila. Karhula: Sunila Oy.
Mustonen, Tapani & Wasastjerna, Rurik (2010). Alvar Aallon vuosina 1936–54 suunnitteleman sellutehtaan asuinalueen korjausohjeisto. Painamaton/unpublished manuscript.