The one-hundred-year-old Lumo building in the neighbourhood of Vallila in Helsinki is part of the largest enclosed block in Finland. Its massive courtyard sets the scene for family occasions and flea markets.
If the apartments are small, a large courtyard is needed.
This, perhaps, was the idea of architect Armas Lindgren when he draw the massive working class housing block in Vallila in the early 1900s.
The humongous enclosed block surrounded by the streets Somerontie, Sammatintie, Anjalantie and Kangasalantie was originally designed for metal workers and their families, the employees of Kone- ja siltarakennus Oy. The apartments are small, but a great green oasis lined with maples was created inside the block.
Today, the block is called Apinalinna (“Monkey Castle”), and it also houses Lumo residents. As a matter of fact, the courtyard is surrounded by two housing companies, and one of them became a Lumo building in May 2019. It has 83 Lumo homes, primarily singles and small two-room apartments.
The residents can enjoy the largest courtyard in Finland.
“The green and leafy park, about the size of a football field, is an extra room for the residents,” says Harri Ahola, a photographer who lives in the Apinalinna block.
Ahola initially moved to the block as a teenager in 1969. After living elsewhere for a long time, he returned to his mother’s old apartment on the side of housing company Sammatti approximately ten years ago.
“If the weather is nice in the summer, there are always people sunbathing and barbecuing on the yard. Residents also organise a lot of family parties here,” says Ahola.
The community spirit can also be seen in the hugely popular flea markets the residents organise in the courtyard every year. In summer, residents fix up the yard together and come Christmastime, they illuminate the large spruce of the yard with candles.
Urban gardening has long traditions here, too. During the Second World War, the block’s courtyard was devoted to edible plants: potatoes, for instance, were farmed under the maple trees. More recently, the residents of this large housing company have had the pleasure of using the courtyard’s planter boxes from where the residents can apply for space every spring.
One-hundred-year-old working class block
Ahola is thoroughly familiar with the block’s history. The division into two housing companies derives from the time of the construction.
The current Lumo building was completed exactly one hundred years ago, in 1919. Kone ja Silta Oy managed to finish only a quarter of the massive construction project when the Russian revolution significantly slowed down sales to the East and forced the company to tighten the belt. Ten years later, the City of Helsinki completed the rest of the block according to architect Lindgren’s original blueprints.
The park between the buildings was created by the famous garden consultant of Helsinki, Elisabeth Koch, whose hand can be seen around the city, from Torkkelinmäki to Puu-Käpylä and the Olympic Village. The maples and much of the greenery are original plantings.
“A street named after Koch is located only a stone’s throw away, by the Vallila allotment garden,” mentions Ahola.
In the early 1900s, the corner of Somerontie and Kangasalantie was a company housing for metal workers and the rest of the block were the city’s rental apartments that were later converted into owner-occupied apartments. Over time, Kone- ja siltarakennus Oy transformed into Wärtsilä, and the employees took the tram running directly from Paavalinkirkko church to the Hietaniemi shipyard.
The courtyard has undergone many changes over the years but nowadays, the buildings lining it are listed. The red round waste disposal point demolished from one corner had to be built back according to old blueprints.
The architectural style of the building anticipated the classicism of the 1920s that included enclosed blocks with park-like courtyards. The buildings of that era were built to last, the walls are thick and made of stone. The wide arches of the gateways have an air of festive grandeur.
The small apartments with one room and a kitchen often housed an entire family. When the number of residents was at its highest in the 1950s, in all 750 residents were crammed into the 180 apartments of housing company Sammatti, knows Ahola.
“I think the nickname Apinalinna must come from that era,” Ahola suspects.
“There were hundreds of kids running around the courtyard and they must have made quite a racket. Then someone wrote the name Apinalinna, Monkey Castle, on one of the columns,” says Ahola.
Nowadays, most of the residents are single, and primarily young people, but the city’s playground open during the day brings voices of children amidst the stone buildings.
As there are two housing companies in the yard, the courtyard is basically cut in half. For instance, the residents of the Lumo building have a separate barbecue spot and a common outdoor clothes-drying rack. However, the aim has been to preserve the uniform look of the yard in the spirit of the original plan.
The Apinalinna block has 83 Lumo homes, primarily singles and two-room apartments.
Green enclosed courtyard the size of a football field.
The buildings of the block are listed and have a long history.
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