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MOMONECO SEMINAR 12.-13.9.2003

Momoneco Seminar, Ivrea 12.09.03

Re-Positioning Sunila by Unfolding Values

MARKKU HANNONEN, m.arch, Kotka, Finland
DANIEL NAGY, m.arch, Helsinki, Finland

for the interpreter:

The presentation will follow the guidelines of this abstract - partly closely, partly loosely.
Some topics will be omitted and others will be inserted in the final version.


The background of Sunila pulp mill was in the industrialization process in Finland. During Russian governance Finland had an autonomous position (1809-1917) which gave increasing economical freedom and encouraged all kinds of entrepreneurship. This was parallel to European economical liberalism and industrialization.

With Finland's independence 1917 the young nation was striving for a full membership in the international comunity. Industrial development was one of the key areas where private and national profits were connected. Forest industry formed an export cartel to achieve the advantages of large scale enterprises.

In the south-eastern Finland a long history of forest industry and a wealth of natural assets provided a good background for Sunila pulp mill. It started as a joint venture of the largest companies which wanted to benefit from the high demand of pulp. The initial meetings in 1936 started an unbelievable effort and strain of two years which resulted in a working mill and a residential area that were the most modern and examplary of their times.

Sunila was planned and designed as a whole by architect Alvar Aalto. The chairman of Sunila founders' group, Harry Gullichsen greatly influenced in the choice of the designer. These gentlemen shared progressive social ideas that were further supported by the director of the mill, Lauri Kanto.

The mill was situated at the crossing of baltic sea and the largest river of southern Finland, Kymijoki. A road, a railroad connection and a harbour were built. The mill itself was built on a small island which was connected to mainland by a bridge. The designing and planning of the buildings and pulpification process made use of a previous factory which was erected in eastern Finland a couple of years earlier. In Sunila the process took advantage of the natural topography, the bulk proceeded with the gravital pull. When giving form to the industrial buildings, Aalto was under guidance of the technical director of Sunila, Aulis Kairamo. The process and the machines dictated a lot, but Aalto didn't care too much. He was convinced that the factory will be outstanding as such.

Yet, Aalto's main interest was turned towards the residential area. The workers houses are situated on a gently sloping hill. They form an amfitheatre-like group which grants every flat an abundance of light and air. The setting is Aalto's localized version of the modernist ideal semi-urban residential area, Siedlung, a garden town, where the buildings were set freely and closed courtyards were avoided. Aalto called Sunila a forest town where garden had been replaced by local nature. Also the residential buildings were built during a longer period, so they are not as uniform as in some European examples. The flats for director and manageres were built to the proximity of the sea, between workers' flats and the mill.


Images of Sunila:

- 1930s-1960s: An élite industrial community where everything was made a little better than before/elsewhere: better wages, high standard living, showy architecture manifesting modernity, more to do in your free time, social services, summer retreat maintained by company, sports, hobbies…

- 1960s-: Companies did not provide social services any more, those obligations were inherited by the community at large. What was left? The cliché of industry: monotonous drudgery, squalor, pollution. You could smell a Sunilan on the bus.

- 1980s-: Financial crisis: massive cuts in workforce, no official unemployment but people were channelled into different kinds of pension arrangements etc. Identity crises, depression, alcoholism. Selling of real estate accelerated. Last bonds between factory and living community severed. No modernisation of dwellings. Low status area. Social problems of newcomers in addition to those of old inhabitants. Problems overshadowed values.

- 1990s: Neighbourhood cottage founded in 1997 to provide social services, opportunities for activities, gathering place etc. Some attempts to approach city about doing something. In 1997 exhibition: "Alvar Aalto in Kotka" in Neighbourhood cottage. Some writing in newspapers, school essays etc., increasing awareness of architectural values and history.

- 2000s: Pro Sunila founded. Lobbying city. Encouraging response: application for state funded Suburban Renewal project. Accepted. Efforts to excavate environmental, architectural and historical qualities of Sunila. Showing Sunila to Housing fair guests in 2002. Momoneco project aims to put Sunila in its international context with other modernist communities and further interest by comparison. History group formed with old inhabitants and workers writing down their reminiscences to be published this year. Beside the obvious need to get as much of this history documented as long as the old inhabitants are still alive, we strive to root the possible new identity as firmly as possible in its past reality to make it as individual, deep and particular as possible. One example is the idea of a possible virtual reconnection: the grandson of Harry Gullichsen is the very successful artist Alvar(!) Gullichsen, who has created an imaginary industrial enterprise called Bonk, which in a very shrewd, professional and humorous manner paraphrases and parodizes the marketing hype and image-making of real industry. To somehow juxtapose the real history of Sunila perhaps using the fine pictures made of technical equipment you can see on the screen and Alvar's equally visually tantalizing Bonk images would be one very particular step on the way to turn Sunila's history into a new identity.

Virtualization / culturalization of values

- In the industrial age, natural assets (Kotka: river, sea, harbour, existing built infrastructure) were physically important, now as recreational, cultural and historical values.

- Ideas and symbolic values are increasingly important for the attractiveness of locations. This concerns both potential inhabitants and enterprise.

- A change is happening: An industrial image is not more something to be ashamed of and do away with as fast as possible. Industrial areas attract interest as monuments of a past culture which is not dangerous any more: it is not a social context to avoid being associated with.

- Historical depth even only as a vague idea, strong visual identity and individual environmental features are all properties that make old areas attractive. Modernism has reached an age where interest in the past usually emerges (the slightly old is usually the least interesting)

- Still functioning industries (such as Sunila) have all but eliminated pollution of immediate environment.

- Industry is actually part of a glorious and dynamic period in history when the foundations of present wealth and well-being were created. Heroic efforts (i.e. the incredibly swift initial building period in Sunila), belief in progress perhaps naïve, but still demanding respect.

- Colorful history of industrial communities. Particularly those of the modernist era display much of the same image-making efforts so important today. Sunila interesting combination of tradition (personified by the sawmill community with its buildings, some people and some ways of life being integrated in the new pulp community) and progress (personified by the building committee and particularly Harry Gullichsen (chairman) with his socially progressive ideas, Alvar Aalto with his modern ideas of design, Aulis Kairamo with his knowledge of new technology, the combination being personified by Lauri Kanto with his old-fashioned patronlike manners but very keen concern with the social well-being of the inhabitants. The golden age of Sunila is frequently identified with his person and the years of his managership (1936-62). Thus Sunila and other corresponding sites (nb. Batovany and Ivrea) have clear identities and boundaries in place and time.

- Sunila is part of Finland's once perhaps most industrialized and dynamic region with a wealth of industrial sites from different periods providing opportunity for comparison and historical learning, i. e. the nearby Ahlström factory community stemming mainly from an older period of industrial expansion.

- Industrial buildings and structures look impressive and raise questions as to their history and function and the life lived in them. Vacant industrial space is often multifunctional and numerous examples show it can be an attractive place for emerging cultural, craft and other activities. In Sunila the factory is (fortunately) still functioning, but we have other interesting spaces to offer albeit on a small scale.

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