Race to the Finnish Line

Finland's Venice pavilion will highlight former prefab timber housing industry

Curators Philip Tidwell, Laura Berger, and Kristo Vesikansa of the Finnish Pavilion will showcase one of the country's most successful architectural innovations. (Courtesy Juuso Westerlund/Archinfo Finland)

The little-known history of Finnish prefabricated timber housing will be on display in the Finnish Pavilion at next year’s Venice Biennale. Archinfo Finland, the organization charged with populating the country’s exhibition, announced last month that New Standards, curated by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell, and Kristo Vesikansa, will explore the Puutalo housing model as part of the 2020 event’s theme: How will we live together?

Based on a design conceived during the 1940 internal refugee crisis in Finland when 11 percent of people were displaced from their homes, the showcase will highlight the Puutalo consortium, made up of the country’s timber manufacturers, which rejected temporary refugee camps in favor of thoughtful, livable housing designed by major mid-century Finnish architects. The Finnish design proved popular enough to be brought to over 50 countries through 1956, totaling 300,000 homes internationally, many of which are still in use today. 

The Puulato homes are emblematic of the Nordic focus on design and strong social welfare in architecture. (Courtesy ELKA/Via Archinfo Finland)

The American-Finnish curators, a trio of post-doctoral researchers, lecturers, and architects from Aalto University (located near Helsinki), have linked the pavilion’s theme with the biennale’s overall focus on confronting the issues of economic and social inequity presented in an unprecedentedly multicultural and interconnected world. With New Standards, they aim to show that the Puutalo housing model is more relevant than ever as many parts of the world look to the Nordic tradition of strong social welfare as global refugee populations continue to increase.

“Factory-built timber housing is an area of huge interest for architects looking to solve the question of how we can build quickly and economically, without sacrificing quality or causing further damage to the environment,” said Hanna Harris, director of Archinfo Finland and commissioner of the Finnish Pavilion in a statement.

Hashim Sarkis has asked the participants in the Biennale Architettura 2020 to consider how we will live together,” she said. “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 standardization, as well as a validation that design can improve people’s lives.”

Related Stories