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Presentation at Momoneco seminar in Slovakia

Markku Hannonen

Recent Developments in Sunila

The Sunila pulp mill was started in 1938 after two years of rigorous work. The founders' personal engagement, vigour and will were shared by the workers.

A well known architect, Alvar Aalto, had been commissioned to plan and design the industrial area and its surroundings with special regard to the social issues. The pulp mill was well designed but the physical and social surroundings that were needed to support the work force had the architect's main attention. Already during 1938 the builders finished a number of workers' flats. The spaciousness and modern facilities exceeded substantially the level people had got used to.

Among the workers there was a sense of togetherness which did not vanish even during the Second World War.

Sunila was living its time of splendour in the 1950's and 1960's.
Since the 1970s the inhabitants have witnessed a gradual decay on every level of life.

The Sunila mill has relinquished its central position in people's lives. Originally, the mill gave work for 1.200 people of whom the majority lived in the vicinity of the plant. Little by little less and less people got their living directly from the industry.

The production has increased hand in hand with technological improvements. At the same time the employment rate has acted in a reverse manner.

The changing ways of leading a modern life have spread people's interests from a narrow selection of pastime to a multitude of hobbies and recreation.

Also the once so common social concern has turned into individual goals of life.
The vivid and rich social life has changed from togetherness to isolation and social problems.

The bold modernistic buildings have shown in many ways the shortcomings of new industrial construction technology and materials.

Today many of the problems still exist; some have even become more aching and acute.
Yet, there are new hopes in the horizon and that is what I am concentrating on in this presentation.

Pro Sunila

During the 1990's and late 1980's a few single initiatives were taken to maintain or revive the buildings and environment or fix social problems in Sunila. Only the times were not yet suited for such thoughts. The local authorities did see the importance of industrial continuity but no resources were granted to alleviate the modernistic symptoms of the residential area.

The esteem of modern heritage has risen noticeably from the 1980's on towards the end of the second millennium. In Finland 80% of our buildings have been built after WWII. We have a saying in which "You can't see the forest because of the trees around you." This may also be true of our built surroundings. The modern heritage is so close to us that it is difficult to see the value of "yet another setting with modernistic buildings".

When enough time had passed also Sunila did get back a hint of the heroic glory of modern movement. Even though people living there have been deprived of many original positive aspects of life, they may still have been able to enjoy the enduring benefits of a well planned and designed environment which has not been altered much.

Not first in the row but obviusly with right timing and touch came Pro Sunila. Pro Sunila began as a free citizens' movement. Three years ago two inhabitants of Sunila who understood the potential of the area, invited people to take part in the constitutive meeting and received a crowd of 80. Pro Sunila was set up the 1st of June 2000 and a year later it was officially registered as an association in order to get a legally accepted position for receiving money from the local authorities. Architect Rurik Wasastjerna was chosen the chairman of the association.

The aim of Pro Sunila is to increase the appreciation of the area both in and outside of Finland.
Pro Sunila wants to contribute to maintaining the environmental values and repairing damages as well as modernizing the buildings in an understanding and protective way.
The association works to improve local services and further develop the interaction of the inhabitants.
Pro Sunila tries to advance the renovation and utilization of empty or partly used buildings.
Research and historical documentation are also included in the scope of interest.

The goals of Pro Sunila sound really impressive, but in the beginning it all started by taking small steps.

One of the first happenings was a feast of light in a late summer night 2000. People gathered to a central location where the surroundings were lit with torches. Old photographs of Sunila were projected on the end wall of one of the houses. After that people could visit one apartment (in the mid storey of a terraced house) that had been modernized and refurbished with good taste and appreciation for its architectural character.

Later in the same year a symbolic occupation of the old laundry building was arranged. It happened before Chirstmas, so first people were served a traditional Finnish "Glühwein" outside and then they were let in to see the present condition of the building. I was told that the the feeling was memorable when they entered and felt the broken window glass crackle under their shoes.

The critical point has been from the very beginning to include all the inhabitants as active parttakers instead of conducting alien-flavoured actions on professional level only. Still the professionals are needed, but instead of talking with each other they face real people.

The association began to organize architectural excursions to see Alvar Aalto's work in Finland. Gradually the excursions have expanded to include other good architecture. Around last Easter even an excursion to Slovakia was arranged. The MOMONECO partner site in Partizánske was visited along with other places, both modern and ancient.

Pro Sunila publishes a newspaper twice a year. The articles cover freely all aspects of life, yet the stress is on Sunila's happenings and the building heritage.

In the year 2001 active members of Pro Sunila gathered to voluntarily refurbish the old laundry they had "occupied" previous winter. In the summer of 2001 they opened there Summer Café Aino, named after Alvar Aaltos first wife Aino Aalto. The café also served as a tourist info center and housed monthly art exhibitions on its walls. Last spring the building got a new owner who has restarted the "Aallon Maja" (Aalto's Hut) hostel on the upper floor. The previous hostel went out of business after a few years and the building was left empty.

Voluntary physical work is one of the basic ways of acting. A common tidying day for the environment is arranged every year.

The Sunila area is a suburban part of the City of Kotka. In summer 2002 a national Housing Fair was arranged in Kotka which brought almost 200.000 people for a visit. Also Pro Sunila decided to use the opportunity and they hired an architect and an art student to work as professional guides during one summer month. Sunila is situated almost in the opposite direction to the housing fair area. Still about a thousand people paid a visit there.

Also a group of artists contacted Pro Sunila and told that they would be coming for a visit. Disused furniture was collected from local households and placed on the sports field of Sunila. When the artists came they played a football match against Pro Sunila. The intention was to hold an auction in a few days time after the football match. However, it happened that before the auction day some of the chairs were seen traveling away on Russian cars. Then there was to be a bonfire but the summer was so dry that they had to give up the idea because of the danger of a forest fire. Maybe the social heterogeneity of Sunila got its manifestation one night when somebody took a private act and burned the fire all by himself.

The association has formed connections to people and institutions who are concerned with the urban development and conservation of the modern heritage. And a very important role has been as a collaborator of the City of Kotka. Pro Sunila has both given an opposing partner to discuss with and a channel for ideas flowing between Sunila and local authorities. Pro Sunila has also been trusted the guidance of local improvements money granted by the City.

Suburb Renewal Program

The favourable developments got more air under their wings when Pro Sunila and the City of Kotka applied for partnership in a national suburb renewal program. Sunila was originally outside the time frame of 1960's-70's residential areas but the Ministry of Environment saw the importance of the area and Sunila was accepted. The 2˝-year project was named "Living Sunila" and it started in the autumn of 2001. Architect Rurik Wasastjerna was hired to cooordinate the project in Sunila.

The aims of this program were set to obtain concrete results. There was an idea of founding a spare parts bank for recycling original building parts instead of wasting them. Secondly, it was decided to develop renovation guidelines for the use of housing companies and inhabitants of the area in order to encourage people to modernize their apartments and buildings in a sensitive way.

On the way the opportunities that were opened made the project change directions. The Housing fair 2002 made it possible to have a promotion campaign and make Sunila known nationally. This MoMoNeCo cooperation has given the chance to make Sunila known internationally. So the original ideas have had to wait for future projects. Still the project provides the possibility to get 20% of financial support for the renovation of culturally valuable buildings.

One way of getting the most out of the Living Sunila project has been engaging the greatest possible amount of people with different interests to take part in an enlargened guidance giving group. The meetings have been held primarily as informative situations hoping for new interaction or connecting of ideas to take place. That has happened but at the same time Sunila has also had a lot of attention from important local partners, such as the regional vocational university of Kymenlaakso.

Next Project to Come - Welfare and Health

The next project to aims to combine research and efforts on behalf of the social wellbeing of the inhabitants with investigation of cultural assets and potential uses of buildings, landscape and other physical resources. Sunila will serve as a case study for a larger project concerning the whole region of Kymenlaakso. Particular attention is paid to non-obvious cultural connections.

Partners are the Kymenlaakso vocational University with its departments of social studies, building, business and communication. Students are currently working on mapping the social structures and problematic buildings of Sunila. The results will form a base for the project plan.


MoMo Neighbourhood Cooperation is a one-year project that got its initial spark a bit more than a year ago. Rurik Wasastjerna was bicycling home from the center of Kotka when Deputy Mayor Pertti Lintunen (who was pedaling faster) overtook him. They both stopped and Mr Lintunen told that he would be attending a seminar on the Culture 2000 programme. He then asked Rurik to consider possible ways to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the programme in connection with the Sunila efforts. After visiting the home pages of the programme Rurik took the idea to the supervisory body of Living Sunila and they decided to apply for a project. The partners, like Bat'ovany-Partizánske were then found through the international DOCOMOMO organisation.

You will see the outcome of MOMONECO with your own eyes and maybe after the seminar and exhibition feel ready to pose new ideas and challenges to the local group. They will then be able to convey the ideas to other partners and start discussion how to use the initial effort to step further, maybe in a next project. What we have already learned from the beginning of MOMONECO is that important opportunities may find you only if you are not pedalling too quickly.

History of life in Sunila

One idea that was in the air was to collect as much original inhabitant's memories as possible. That gives the places new meaning and, at least in the case of Sunila, sometimes even a dramatic change of view. At first a Pro Sunila member made interviews, recorded them and then litterated the talks from tape. Later on a writers' circle was started. The writers are old inhabitants of Sunila and they are guided by a a historian from the Kotka branch of the University of Helsinki. This way more in-depth understanding of Sunila has been acquired.

A common Living Room

An important function in Sunila has been the so called neighbourhood home. Marja Paldan, the founder of the Kotka neighbourhood home association pioneered this sort of activity, which has now spread all over Finland. In Sunila the neighbourhood home is situated in a former laundry. It was established in 1997 in connection with an exhibition about Alvar Aalto in Kotka. It gives elderly people (who are abundant in Sunila) valuable social services that help them to live at home and functions as a social centre where the inhabitants can meet and get to know each other. It also serves as a setting for numerous meetings, hobbies, celebrations and other events. Today there are five such neighbourhood homes working in different town districts.

Single (f)acts

The previously listed projects are not the whole picture of Sunila today. Every now and then individual initiatives are taken and they contribute to the same goals as projects with official status. These acts often tell about the social needs but they are also the real seed for change. We could even question whether the official projects would be able to achieve any permanent results without individuals who bring real problems to the fore and devote their time to working for other people's benefit.

An example of these individual acts is the judo courses for children led by Ms. Outi Aatsinki. Self defence is not the main concern. The emphasis is on self-control, concentration and social skills. Results can be seen in success at school and increasing self-confidence. She is now working also with problematic youth and children with a wide range of disabilities. Ms. Aatsinki has been working voluntarily all the time and now the judo courses have been granted a little support to train new leaders. Pro Sunila wants to detect favourable initiatives and support them. This has been possible on a small scale with the help of local development grants from the City of Kotka.

Renovations, Restorations

The buildings of Sunila have lived surprisingly unchanged with their technical shortcomings. Even though they were among the technical and architectural avant-garde in 1940's we can say that they haven't been ahead - or even along with the time during last 30 years.

Some of the houses have gone through technical renovations which have brought about the need for architectural evaluation and protection as well. Good results have been achieved in collaboration with the Alvar Aalto Foundation and the National Board of Antiquities. You will hear extensively about the renovations from Tapani Mustonen, who has himself designed some renovations.

The next voluntary project of Pro Sunila will be the renovation of the old Tennis court.

Living with the factory

There are approximately 600 inhabitants in Sunila today. Of the inhabitants roughly 40 work at the pulp mill. Thus it has lost its central role in the lives of the inhabitants. Among the inhabitants there are also some retired people who used to work at the mill. Most of the houses owned by the mill have been sold to private owners. Actually, the last two blocks of flats are just being sold.

Still, the Company has taken part to some extent in the development projects of Sunila, not forsaking its social roots totally. It has also proven to be an invaluable historical archive that gives insight to the questions of evaluation.

To Close

In Finland we have a long tradition of neighbourhood movements. Still, among them Pro Sunila has been a pioneer movement with its fresh thinking, unprejudiced goals and wide scope of activity. Central to its success have been the engagement of non-professional individuals and a tight group of activists that are aware of every movement in the area. Only by knowing they can become links that combine single efforts into a whole.

Despite its relatively short existance Pro Sunila has been awarded three times. It has received the "Cultural Act of the Year" award in 2001 from the City Office of Culture, the Casa Humana award 2002 from the Finnish Housing Fair Association and the 2002 industrial heritage prize from the the Society for the Industrial Heritage


The awards have given good publicity and increased the inhabitants' pride in their surroundings. Still the best reward for the work and strain of the Sunila activists is for sure the improvement of the quality of life in Sunila which they can read on people's faces.

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