Finland’s exhibition in the Biennale Architettura 2020 honors the Finnish prefabricated wooden houses of the WWII era
Finland’s exhibition at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, opening in May 2020, will be curated by three Aalto University researchers and teachers: Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa. The exhibition New Standards was chosen through an open call process, and it presents collaboration between the timber industry and architects to alleviate the housing shortage during the World War II and reconstruction.
The exhibition will explore the history of the Puutalo consortium, which designed and manufactured timber buildings in Finland from the 1940s to the 1980s. During the second world war, when Finland urgently needed to resettle 420,000 internal refugees, 21 Finnish timber manufacturing companies founded the Puutalo consortium to coordinate the design and manufacturing of wooden type houses.
New standards for living
Puutalo houses were developed by some of Finland’s leading mid-century architects, and they set new standards for design and quality of life. A large number of Puutalo houses still remain in use in the 21st Century both in Finland and abroad: the pioneering company’s prefabricated timber houses became one of the largest exports of Finnish architecture.
In the exhibition, a series of case studies will demonstrate the adaptability of the standardised product through documentation of how residents around the world have modified and occupied their homes.
‘The exhibition demonstrates how a crisis can be a catalyst for innovation and bring different actors together. During the second world war, the Finnish timber industry came together with prominent architects to create a system of standardised prefabricated wooden houses. These homes with ingenious spatial distribution, practical domestic innovations and simple structural principles were designed to raise living standards and built to last. Many of them are still lived in today. Our case studies will show how these modest houses were adapted to a variety of locations and traditions as well as the changing needs of many generations of residents’, explains Laura Berger.
The curator of the biennale, architect and scholar Hashim Sarkis’ choice for the 2020 biennale theme is ‘How will we live together?’.
‘Finland’s experience of Puutalo housing is of a low-impact, long-lasting, sustainable and well-loved solution. It offers the world an example of mass-produced family housing that is an alternative to grand projects, demonstrating how individual identity can be celebrated in the context of standardisation, as well as a validation that design can improve people’s lives’, says Hanna Harris, Director of Archinfo Finland and Commissioner of the Pavilion of Finland. Archinfo Finland is in charge of Finland’s presentation at the Biennale di Venezia.
Laura Berger is a post-doctoral researcher at Aalto University, Department of Architecture, from where she received her doctoral degree in 2018, awarded with distinction. Philip Tidwell is an architect and lecturer based at Aalto University, where he leads design studios and seminars in the internationally recognised Wood Program. Kristo Vesikansa is an architect and lecturer based at Aalto University, where he teaches history and theory of architecture.
Pavilion of Finland in Venice from 23 May – 19 November 2020.