Tilketori in Ylä-Malmi used to be one of the busiest industrial areas in Helsinki. What remains now is the office building built in the functionalist era which now houses elegant Lumo homes.
Surrounded by low blocks of flats, Tilketori is a quiet square only a couple of minutes’ walk away from the Malmi station and all the services in the area.
Today, you can spot children on the square returning home from school on a December afternoon, but only a few decades ago the area was filled with quite different types of people.
For over 70 years, the Tilketori area was one of the busiest factory areas in the capital city. It was especially known for the manufacture of different agricultural machines.
Now a reminder of industrial history, the impressive functionalist building standing at the edge of the square used to serve as the office and warehouse building of Maanviljelyskonetehdas Oy (MKT). The building was designed by architect Erkki Huttunen and completed in 1938.
The two-part property has three floors in one part and four in the other. The factory’s management and administration operated on the third floor. It says something about the versatility of their production that the top floor was where they assembled Kaiser televisions – whose wooden frames were manufactured at the factory.
Today, these premises are home to Lumo residents. At the turn of the millennium, the property was refurbished and converted into a residential building. A total of 21 cosy flats were made in the office building. Downstairs, there is a laundry room and a club room for all the residents to use.
Area of hundreds of workers
The industrial history of Tilketori – formerly known as Kurala – began in 1918 after Finland had gained independence. This was thanks to the agricultural equipment store Hankkija that had its roots deep in the Finnish cooperative movement.
Production expanded quickly in the following years, and MKT’s factory grew into the largest manufacturer of agricultural machines of its time.
Spanning over 100 metres, the factory hall was directly attached to the office building. Other production facilities were then built around it, and soon there were turners, sheet-iron workers and assemblers working in them. They made threshing machines, mill machinery, dairy machinery and other devices that Finland needed in the agrarian era.
The seven-hectare factory area even had its own trade school. With vocational education in Finland still in its infancy, the company had no choice but to train their own metal industry professionals.
Kurala was a typical factory community where the rhythm of life was determined by the factory whistle. The employees had a canteen and a health centre in the area. Company flats were also built nearby.
In addition to the MKT factory, there were plenty of other businesses in Ylä-Malmi. Among others, Hankkija’s warehouse, the Kuusakoski metal smelting plant and the Riihimäki lumberyard were located there.
There was even a railway connection to the area from Malmi that made transporting goods easier.
Even a circus school among suggestions for the Lumo building
At first, the MKT factory mainly manufactured tools for agriculture. Over time, however, the focus of production shifted to equipment needed for the production of cheese. In the 1960s, the market expanded as the export of machinery to other European countries began. It was then that the name of the factory was changed to MKT-tehtaat Oy.
In the late 1970s, there were approximately 500 employees working at the MKT factory. However, the old factory area had become hopelessly outdated, and production was moved to Järvenpää in 1989. As a result of reorganisation of the business, the Malmi factory area changed hands and was eventually purchased by the city.
In the 1990s, a vivid discussion arose around the fate of the area. People living in the neighbourhood started numerous motions to transfer the abandoned office building into a gathering space for everyone.
It was also suggested that the building become a circus school or a daycare centre. However, the ideas did not get funding.
The future of the area was a subject of debate even at the city council level. Some of the local politicians thought that the run-down building ought to be bulldozed to the ground like all the other factory buildings.
Luckily, the scales eventually tipped in favour of preservation – the functionalist building is, after all, a valuable example of industrial architecture in the 1930s. At the same time, the decision was made to preserve the factory manager’s flat, which was built in the 1930s, as well as the old shed that still contains some small-scale industrial products.
Refurbishment in respect of the spirit of the house
At the turn of the millennium, a new leaf was turned over in the history of the factory area when the work to convert it into a residential area began. The development work was led by the company now known as Kojamo, which had rental housing units built in the new buildings surrounding Tilketori in the early 2000s.
Kojamo also committed to refurbishing the old office building, which had been standing cold and covered with graffiti.
Converting the property into a residential building was no easy feat. The first order of business was renewing the foundations because the building had been built on wooden poles. The renovation was made carefully in respect of the spirit of the old building.
Residents of the Lumo homes at Tilketori can now get to know the colourful history of their place of residence in the club room, where you can find information on the topic gathered by the MKT-Perinneyhdistys tradition association that fosters the history of the factory.
Illustrating the scope of the factory area in its glory days, the aerial photograph located in the lobby also comes from the association’s archives.
The tradition association, which was formed by former employees, has been recording pictures and memories of contemporaries about the factory’s operations for a long time now. Last spring, the association published a new account of the history of the factory made by volunteers. The work is a sequel to the first overview that recounted the first 50 years of the MKT factory.
We interviewed Harry Suntioinen, the chairperson of MKT-Perinneyhdistys, for this story. Other sources include the tradition association’s historical overview Suomalaisia maidonjalostuskoneita maailmalla, the Helsingin Sanomat archives and articles about the history of Malmi gathered in the Kansalaismuisti project.
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