The birth of the post-Second World War baby-boomer generation as well as the rapid growth of Helsinki led to the need to build a large number of new schools in the city. An open architectural competition was held for Meilahti primary school in 1949, and was won by architects Viljo Revell and Osmo Sipari with their proposal “Piha” [“Yard”]. Meilahti was in the late 1930s a Functionalist residential suburb, the core of which comprised a church and the school.
Meilahti primary school was built in 1952-53, and on its completion was the first example in Finland of a school design freed of rigid formulas. The smoothly curved, two-storey building creates a sheltered and sunny school yard on the south side. The large strip windows of the classrooms overlook mature pine trees and rocky outcrops. The yard facade is punctuated by the transverse walls of the classrooms, which project out like pilasters, as well as by the vertical window mullions. The strip-like glass, concrete and brick surfaces emphasize the building’s plastic expression and rational architectural approach. Also the interior spaces, in terms of their architectural design, are distinct and emphasise plasticity. The classrooms have a direct and immediate visual connection with the yard, while the side corridors that align along the brick spine wall are spatially more enclosed. The new small-scale architecture adapted to its surroundings was seen as appropriate for the scale of the child.
The low, small-scale buildings of the Meilahti primary school type became the dominant school type for primary schools in Finland until the mid-1960s, when along with the preparation for the reform of primary education, also the school architecture was once again renewed. School buildings play an important part in the works of architect Osmo Sipari; the development of the architectural design of Finnish schools was his field of expertise in the 1950s and 1960s.
Meilahti primary school has continued to operate in its original function. The renovation of the building was carried out by the City of Helsinki Building Department under the direction of architect Jussi Hyvärilä, and in the work, completed in 2014, the structures and surfaces were extensively restored.
Meilahti Primary School is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Mikko Lindqvist / DOCOMOMO Finland