Tapiola Garden City

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Photo: P. Harala / MFA
  • PlaceEspoo
  • Completion 1953–
  • Decade1950s
  • PeriodPost-war modernism
  • Year of selection1993


The Population and Family Welfare Foundation was founded in 1941 and began to have an influence the social policies of the nation as it was recovering from the effects of the war with the practical objectives to provide good homes as well as a hygienically and morally appropriate environment for raising children. Master of Laws Heikki von Hertzen became the executive director of the organization a couple of years later. During the late 1930s he had become acquainted with new military barracks areas, where modern buildings were placed freely amidst nature. When cooperation work began between von Hertzen and Otto-I. Meurman, the most outstanding urban planner of the era, the broad synthetic vision of the former came together with the latter’s planning principles, which involved suburbs set amidst nature, thus laying the ground for Finnish post-war urban planning.

In the autumn of 1951 the Population and Family Welfare Foundation together with five other civic groups founded the Housing Foundation for the purpose of planning and constructing a garden city west of Helsinki. The Housing Foundation, also led by von Hertzen, intended to create a garden city that would represent Finnish society in miniature. People from different social groups, families with children as well as single people, would live in a mixture of housing types. The residents were expected to work close to home.

During the early years of construction, four young generation architects were selected to work on the planning: Aulis Blomstedt, Aarne Ervi, Viljo Revell and Markus Tavio. Each of them had already during their student years in the 1930s adopted the ideology and design methods of modernism. The practical design procedure involved each architect designing both the local detailed plan and the actual buildings. Meurman withdrew from the planning of Tapiola when the scale of building went beyond his ideals of a garden city.

The developer’s extensive and skilful publicity partly explains why Tapiola rapidly became an internationally renowned project. The name of the garden city itself, Tapiola, was procured through a public naming competition in 1953. A number of innovations first arrived in Finland via Tapiola, such as the so-called American bar kitchen, small and narrow ventilation windows and the use of exposed brick walls indoors. Many novelties initially aroused resistance because they deviated from tradition, but they quickly became the standard in residential building design.

Despite the fact that the various architectural and constructional experiments were carried out under post-war restrictions and that the conditions for receiving state loans set by the State Housing Board legislation directly regulated even the external form of the architecture, a group of the most talented architects of the 1950s nevertheless created major innovations and the best living environments of the time. The first two areas to be built, the eastern and western areas, were planned and implemented as combinations of freely curving street lines and building types set dynamically within the terrain. The invited competition in 1958 for the detailed plan of the northern area was won by architect Pentti Ahola with a completely different solution based on a rectangular grid plan.

Among the most significant individual entities in Tapiola are Pentti Ahola’s Hakalehto atrium houses from 1963, based on models from the 1958 Interbau exhibition in Berlin, whereby each low-rise dwelling encircled its own private courtyard. At the end of the same decade, Raili and Reima Pietilä designed the Suvikumpu apartment blocks, which were placed in a meandering line within the forested terrain, and with the facade surfaces composed of different shades of green interspersed with white.

The various parts of Tapiola were connected by extensive park zones. The Kontiokenttä Park (nowadays Leimuniitty), designed by Jussi Jännes, functioned as an entrance zone to the garden city, through which passed the major traffic routes via a large roundabout. The extensive mass plantings of flowers were intended to be seen from passing cars and not at the speed of a pedestrian. The second large park plan by Jännes, the Keskuskenttä Park (nowadays Silkkiniitty) was intended specifically for pedestrians and the enjoyment of the outdoors without being disturbed by vehicular traffic. The form of the 600-metre-long Keskuskenttä Park is deliberately angled, so that the vistas would not become too long.

In accordance with the competition brief announced in 1953, Tapiola was to have a town centre modelled on the principle of the post-war British civic centre. The competition was won by Aarne Ervi, assisted by Olli Kuusi and Tapani Nironen. The proposal, “Don Hertzen’s village”, was an interpretation of the thinking at that time about the new monumentalism, where the various sized building blocks form a sculptural totality. The major part of Ervi’s centre was not built until the 1960s.

The Central Tower, envisaged as an illuminated beacon in the town centre, and the adjacent Tapiontori Commercial Centre, both by Ervi, were completed in 1961, the Tapiola church and parish centre by Aarno Ruusuvuori in 1965, a completely new kind of commercial building in Finland, the Heikintori shopping mall, by Ervi in 1968, and the Espoo Cultural Centre, by Arto Sipinen, as late as 1989. The basic idea behind the original plan for Tapiola has been well preserved along both sides of the longitudinal pedestrian axis that cuts through the centre. With the metro line due to be completed in 2017, a lot of new construction has been going on in the area, and also the scale of the cityscape in the centre will significantly change.


Timo Tuomi

Hertzen, Heikki von(1946). Koti vaiko kasarmi lapsillemme. Helsinki: WSOY.
Meurman, Otto-I. (1947). Asemakaavaoppi. Helsinki: Otava.
Ruokonen, Ria (1994). “Tapiolan maisemasuunnittelu / Landscape design in Tapiola”. Nikula, Riitta (toim./ed.), Sankaruus ja arki – Suomen 50-luvun miljöö / Heroism and the Everyday – Building Finland in the 1950s. Helsinki: Suomen rakennustaiteen museo.
Tuomi, Timo (1992). Tapiola, puutarhakaupungin vaiheita: arkkitehtuuriopas / Tapiola – A History and Architectural Guide. Espoo: Espoo City Museum.
Tuomi, Timo (toim./ed.) (2003). Tapiola, elämää ja arkkitehtuuria / Tapiola – Life and Architecture. Helsinki: Rakennustieto.


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