SUNILA - A FINNISH FOREST TOWN
forestry in finland
Finland is a country with 5,2 million inhabitants. Its surface area is 338 000 square meters, which means a population density of 17 persons per square kilometre. Three thirds of the surface are covered with forests.
Forestry is said to be the basis of Finnosh economy, the resource of green gold.
Tar was Finland's foremost export product in the 17th and 18th centuries, and was continued until in the beginning of the 20th century, when the demand for tar subsided with the close of the era of wooden ships.
The developing forest industries in the modern sense, the sawmills and pulp and paper mills had the effect of multiplying timber prices and gave rise to unprecedented flows of cash in rural Finland and Finnish society as a whole. These effects enabled the modernisation of agriculture and the building of towns, roads, railways and schools. The forests and their culture played an important role in Finland's gaining of independence in 1917. The products of forest industries earned 80% - 90% of Finland's export revenues at that time, provided the necessary economic foundation for independent state.
forest is the home of the finns
J.W. Snellman, the senator and progenitor of Finnish language and culture (in the end of the 19th century), was of the opinion that the forests of Finland should be felled and the money used to develop agriculture in order to include the Finns among the civilised nations and to rid them of the stigmas of barbarism, lack of civilisation and drunkenness.
He drastically underestimated the might of industrialization. By processing the green gold of her forests, Finland has come to occupy a position among the world's prosperous nations. It is only during the past few decades that the economy has diversified to the extent that the forests have now been joined by the metal industry, and more recently electronics. At present the metal, engineering and electronics industries account for 50 % of export revenues, the forest products industry for 30%.
sunila the location
The location of Sunila at the mouth of an important timber transport route, the Kymijoki River, and next to the harbour of the city of Kotka, was favourable for industry. The Kymijoki River industrial area has a rich history of notable wood-processing plants from the 16th century on.
In 1928 a consortium of five wood-processing companies had bought an old sawmill and surrounding lands situated in the area, and in 1936 they decided to build a sulphate-cellulose factory. Some of the buildings dating from the sawmill village were transformed and used to serve the new community.
sunila the men
The most influential characters responsible for the formation of Sunila were Harry Gullichsen, chairman of the board, Alvar Aalto, an already internationally famous architect, Lauri Kanto, managing director and Aulis Kairamo, technical director. The actions of these four people were motivated by a common goal to create a technically and architectonically high-class industrial community, in which the workers would live in comfort and thrive.
the architect Alvar Aalto and functionalism
The architect Alvar Aalto is said to be firmly rooted in the forests. Alvar Aalto applied the international, urban principles of architecture to the rhythm of the Finnish forest in his works. This perception of organic links between people, nature and buildings matured in the late 1930s when he designed the e.g. the Villa Mairea, one of the most admired private residences of modern architecture.
The Turun Sanomat office, the Paimio sanatorium (kilp.1928; valm.1933) and the Viborg Library (kilp. 1927; 1935) are famous functionalist architecture in Finland. In 1929 Aalto was invited to the international CIAM-group meeting in Frankfurt, to investigate the problematics of small apartments with other avat-garde architects. Aalto also profiled finnish architecture in Paris 1937 and New York 1939 exhibitions.
In 1936 Alvar Aalto designed the plan of the Sunila factory and its residential area. The residential area was clearly separated from the factory area. The factory was built on the rocky island of Pyötinen and the employee residential area on the mainland opposite. The factory-design is a compact "pile of boxes", where the houses are scattered spaceously in a fan-like composition in terrain, on pinetree hills. KUVA ASEMAKAAVASTA, TEHTAASTA JA YLEISKUVA SUNILASTA.
the sunila factory area
As a starting point to the factory-design Aalto received the plans of Kaukopää sulfate-cellulose factory, architect Väinö Vähäkallio, built in 1934-35. The topography of the rocky island was utilised in the production process and the architectonic composition of the factory. Particular buildings, such as the main office, the Glauber's salt store and the harbour store were given special attention by Aalto.
The factory was built on-site with a reinforced concrete and brick construction. The facades were mainly of red brick, only tower-like technical buildings and warehouses were left with whitewashed concrete.
The building of the area proceeded rapidly: the decision to build the factory was made on 15.6.1936 and on 16.5.1938 the factory's first pulp bale was celebrated. The new Sunila plant immediately became a popular show-case of the Finnish wood-processing industry.
the residential area
The first building stage of the residential area proceeded at the same time as the construction of the factory. The houses for the director, engineers, foremen and the first workers were completed in 1937.
Another entity north from this was finished in 1939, with the stepped terraced houses (emblematic of sunila) and more apartment buildings, as well as the single-family housing area of Puistola.
The planned residencial area was completed in 1952, when three more apartment houses were built simoultaneously with the first extension of the factory.
Sunila residential area is a rare and complete example of functionalistic planning in Finland. It consists of a varied group of buildings, placed of in a fan-like formation following the terrrain. The houses are placed spaciously, the main facades directed towards southwest or west to maximise daylight. The facades of residential buildings are red brick or lightweight concrete block walls, in contrast to the production buildings they are painted white with lime wash. Aalto created accents within the overall housing composition with the maintenance buildings. According to him, Sunila wasn't a Siedlung nor was it a garden city but rather it was a "forest town" (a term later used of Tapiola).
Aalto was able to develop his housing ideas on Sunila residences. He also allowed the nature and landscape of the chosen terrain affect the design of the buildings. The terraces and entrance-niches create a play between the public and private space, be it the house of the manager or the workers houses.
The former residents of the housing area have underlined the high standard of the appartments compared to the average living conditions among working class in the 30s and 50s. Aaltos attention to social issues in Sunila (and Eura) later benefited the social housing programs of post-war Finland.
the social development
Until the sixties Sunila lived its own life to a great extent independent of the surrounding society. The company looked after the social needs of its employees in many ways. It offered, for instance, health care, children's day-care, home economics advice, laundry facilities, saunas, meeting places and a variety of organized leisure-time activities.
Sports, as either leisure or competitive pursuits, were supported in many ways. Successful sports were gymnastics and rowing, a team of Sunila rowers even won a bronze medal representing Finland in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. After the war the company bought a nearby shoreline plot for staff recreation and holiday use, and it is still used today.
The factory's own drawing office were already at an early stage noticeably independent designing changes and extensions.
sunila today - a factory and an independent housing area nearby
Today the Sunila company still produces pulp (5% of the finnish pulp production), mainly for its two holding companies. The rapid changes in the production process and the company operations have, naturally, strongly influenced the external appearance of the factory as well as the character of the community. There are now approximately 300 employees in Sunila, some fifty of whom actually live in the neighbourhood.
The Sunila factory and residential area are selected as an important work of architecture by the Docomomo Finland working party. Kaavassa vuodelta 1988 tehdas on suojeltu alueena, asunnot rakennuskohtaisella merkinnällä.
Today the residential area tries to find a new identity as a town district independent of the factory. Its 600 inhabitants are hopeful. The Pro-Sunila movement, founded in 2000, aims to raise and strengthen the cultural and environmental values of the area, which have been overshadowed by the social problems of recent years. The so-called "Korttelikoti" [neighbourhood home] founded in 1997 promotes the well-being of the inhabitants by offering employment opportunities and social services, as well as a place to meet. Cooperation with the city of Kotka has brought about, for instance, the "Elävä Sunila" [Living Sunila] project supported by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, within which the present project arose.