Sahanmäki is an architecturally cohesive sub-area of the city district of Maunula, a residential suburb dating from the first period of the post-war reconstruction era in Helsinki.
The developer behind the Sahanmäki housing area was the City of Helsinki City’s Housing Production Committee, and it was built in three different stages. The first phase consisted of 22 terraced houses, the second and third phase of four 4-5-storey tower blocks and three curving three-storey lamella blocks. The buildings are positioned on a rising slope in such a way that the area stands out in the overall landscape. Below, the slope is marked by three chains of terraced houses, which give the appearance of a plinth, while at the top of the slope are curved lamella blocks and tower blocks which act as accents and landmarks in the landscape.
The floor-plans of the dwellings in Sahanmäki are innovative. The tower blocks are based on a quarter-level solution, such that on each landing there is entry to only one apartment. Consequently, each apartment is unique in terms of its floor plan and location, with varying views into the surrounding landscape. The terraced houses represented a new modern building type invented by Ekelund. The floor-plan solutions are based on the idea of intermediate floors. The entrances to the apartments are either on the lower of upper side of the slope. The curving street in line with the terraced houses is an example of the “ironworks street”, a theme favoured by Ekelund. The roofscape of the terraced houses stands out in the cityscape. In the heart of the area is situated the former public sauna, designed by Viljo Revell. Today it houses the community centre “Saunabaari”.
Hilding Ekelund held the position of Helsinki city architect in the 1940s and professor of housing design at the University of Technology in the 1950s. Among the novel and socially progressive aspects of Sahanmäki was the combination of different forms of housing (terraced house – apartment block – tower block), as well as different forms of ownership (municipal housing and owner-occupied housing).
The inspiration for the planning of the Sahanmäki area came from the building culture and anonymous vernacular architecture of the Mediterranean countries admired by Ekelund. Sahanmäki is the modern realization of this theme. With its local materials, render and red-brick facades, innovative floor plans, and mixed housing types, the area represents a human interpretation of Functionalism adopted in Finland and the Nordic countries during the post-war reconstruction period.
Sahanmäki Residential Area is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.
Text: Riitta Salastie / DOCOMOMO Finland