Juhana Lahti ma, doctoral student

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Juhana Lahti

MA, doctoral student

University of Helsinki

Institute for Art Research

Department of Art History

Unioninkatu 34, PL3

00014 University of Helsinki


Tel: +358 (9) 191 24159

Mob: +358 (0)40-742 4831

Fax: +358 (9) 191 22961

Email: juhana.lahti@helsinki.fi

Formation of Planning and Design Principles in Tapiola Commercial Center by Architect Aarne Ervi

Tapiola “Garden City”

Tapiola is a suburban town in the City of Espoo situated next to Otaniemi Campus near City of Helsinki. Built by the private developer Asuntosäätiö (The Housing Foundation) it is a unique example of new large scale suburban development in Finland realized by an independent foundation whose activities are not based strictly on federal funding. Asuntosäätiö was founded in 1951 for the purpose of overseeing the Tapiola project. In the following year, five architects were assigned for the housing design. Architect Aarne Ervi (1910-77) was one of them.1

The key player behind the realization of the project was lawyer Heikki von Hertzen.2 He had supervised the pre-planning of Tapiola in the mid 1940´s together with Otto-Iivari Meurman, the Professor of City Planning, who had drawn the first plan for the area.3 The area was divided to a central area and three residential neighbourhoods (Eastern, Western and Northern) with retail services.4

Competition for the Tapiola Center

A planning competition for the Tapiola Center was announced in November 1953. It called proposals for the building of an administrative, commercial and cultural center in Tapiola.5 The competition program emphasized innovative solutions for traffic arrangements as well as high quality architectural design. There was also an outline for a commercial space comprising 60-70 shops in a floor area of 4 500 square meters and office spaces located on the second floor or above totalling 4 000-5 000 square meters. When the competition was first launched the Eastern neighbourhood was already under construction. Aarne Ervi´s design for the neighbourhood center consisted of a strip-model shopping center, a cinema building and Mäntytorni, a ten-storey residential block, all along a pedestrian walkway. Thanks to this, he was well prepared for the competition and had already formed a close relationship with von Hertzen.

Seventeen proposals were received by the competition deadline. The results were published in June 1954. Ervi and his assistants Tapani Nironen and Olli Kuusi won with their modernistic proposal “Don Hertzenin kylä” (The Village of Don Hertzen).6 In their critique the jury drew particular attention to the placement of the commerial buildings. The composing idea of the winning plan was a pedestrian street/mall that would serve as the axis for the whole center.7 The focus of the plan was a U-shaped shopping center and an office block in the core of this center. Situated at the edge of a small hill they formed a major visual theme and stood as a landmark for the community. After the competition Ervi continued to work on the plan with Olli Kuusi and Swiss architect Edi Bürgin.8 Tapani Nironen had left the office after the competition and was employed shortly afterwards by Asuntosäätiö becoming the architect responsible for the coordination of the building process. In January 1955 Ervi´s office was assigned to design the shopping center and the office block.

The Helsinki Chamber of Commerce had established a Regional Planning Committee in 1954. In 1955-56 chamber surveyed the need for commercial space in Tapiola. In the survey the plan was heavily criticised for over-estimating the number of customers that could be attracted to the area in order to guarantee the profitability of such a commercial center.9

International phenomenon – Finnish adaptation

The Anglo-American concept of a city, consisting of: a residential unit, a neighbourhood unit and a community, was first introduced in Finland by Otto-Iivari Meurman (asumasolu, asumalähiö and asumakunta) in his Asemakaavaoppi (“Principles of town planning”) textbook for students of architecture.10 Leading themes in the book were the concept of decentralisation and the principle of central composition. Meurman saw the center as a visual theme dominating the whole townscape and forming the transportational and commercial core for the surrounding area.

The international concept and terminology of a shopping center, closely related to the principles of community building influenced the planning and design of the Tapiola commercial center during the almost twenty-year-long process. In the early 1950´s models were found in international professional journals and through studies from Scandinavia while towards the 1960´s foreign books and manuals became more and more popular as sources for design.

In the American post-war classification, shopping centers were divided into three main categories on the basis of town planning principles: neighbourhood shopping centers, community shopping centers and regional shopping centers.11 Towards the late 1950´s these classifications were modified in the United States and in Scandinavia when market research became a designing factor in the planning of shopping centers.12

In 1958 the Helsinki Chamber of Commerce administrated a survey of the need for shopping facilities in new residential neighbourhoods respective to their population. The survey was commissioned by the Helsinki City Planning Agency, a subdivision of City Housing Department. In the survey shopping centers were devided into three categories derived largely on Swedish research: neighbourhood shopping centers for areas of 5 000 and 12 000-13 000 inhabitants and large centers (Swedish “stor center”) for 20 000 customers and more.13 In 1958 Ervi participated by invitation in the competition for the Northern neighbourhood.

Tapiontori Shopping Center and Central Tower

Construction of the commercial center started in the middle of recession in Finland in the summer of 1958 from the shopping center Tapiontori. The policy of the Asuntosäätiö was to develop and build the town in stages based on the need, on the ideology of Meurman and on the financial situation. Even the relatively small Tapiontori shopping center was built in several different phases. Olli Kuusi left the office in the same year. Olavi Kantele and Tuomo Kuukka continued working on the shopping center and Antero Markelin and Mauri Liedenpohja started working on the Central Tower.

At the beginning of the year 1960, when the center was already under construction, the building program was revised on the basis of comparisons between new shopping centers in Helsinki metropolitan area.14 The complex was completed during the year 1961.15 The architecture of the Tapiontori shopping center was typical of the time: a low U-shaped building with display windows surrounding a covered pedestrian area with trees and lawn in the middle; service road was located behind the building mass. A thirteen storey office block and sight seeing tower, Keskustorni, was a true suburban landmark with a lit roof construction Tapiolan kruunu (“The Crown of Tapiola”).

Together these two buildings formed a unified core for the new community under construction. When completed in 1961 this complex was a community shopping center serving exclusively the 16 000 inhabitants of Tapiola due to the fact that the traffic connections to the surrounding areas were still rather limited. After the completion of the shopping center and the central tower, construction focused on the Western and Northern residential neighbourhoods.

The Heikintori Department store

The idea of a larger commercial center was already included in Ervi´s winning entry for the 1954 competition. During the early 1960´s Ervi proposed different options for future construction and development, but the actual planning process did not begin until 1965. At that time Ervi served as the Head of the newly organized Helsinki City Planning Department (1965-69). Pertti Solla and Lasse Ollinkari were the architects responsible for the construction of the Heikintori department store that began in 1967.

The department store was viewed as crucial in the attempt to promote Tapiola as a New Town instead of a regular community. During the late 1960´s von Hertzen was in correspondence with American shopping center developers.16 As a result of that the builders started to talk about “Regional enclosed mall”. The American based inside-out approach and overall design principle increasingly determined the building during the process.17 New services were concentrated in a three storey commercial multi-purpose building located on the Tapionraitti axis as the older shopping center.

When opened in the end of October 1968 the Heikintori Cooperative Group of Independent Traders was the first indoor shopping mall in Finland. At this stage of the development of the community, the unified commercial core of Tapiola started to serve as a district shopping center or “stor center” for the fast growing population in the western Helsinki metropolitan area.18 Today the extended and continuously developing Tapiola is a major regional center in Espoo city.

In Finland the Tapiola commercial center was a unique combination of CIAM based ideology of the modern city center architecture and the new community center planning based on commercial facilities. During the Tapiola Commercial Center building process the planning principles of Meurman that formed the base for the design had changed towards a more modernistic and traffic regulated town and site planning. In the building design, a pragmatic shopping center concept took the lead over the CIAM based modern architecture.

How to analyse the Post-War Modernism?

Writers of the history of modern architecture have tried to find an alternative for the Canonized (terms of the) Modern Movement and International Style.19 The recent critique against this selective and formalistic adaptation of the modern movement can be seen as ambivalent. The “Other tradition of Modern Architecture” is an alternative path within the movement itself, which means that it still takes the movement as the base for the historical interpretation.20 The more pluralistic approach questions the concept of modern movement in its search for reinterpretation.21

Sarah Williams Goldhagen proposes a sketched framework to be used as a tool for interpreting the diversity of (post-war) modern architecture.22 She divides modernism into three dimensions: cultural, political and social. I will now analyse briefly the Ervi´s work on the Tapiola Commercial Center by using the categories of proposed by Goldhagen.

The cultural dimension is most of all used to classify who is a modern architect and who is an anti-modern or non-modern architect i.e. what is modern architecture and what is not. It is obvious that Ervi can be classified as a modern architect.

The political dimension serves primarily for locating the architect´s approach towards conventions. In this Goldhagen divides the positions of architects to three strains: consensualists, negative critics and reformists on the basis of their position toward existing political and economic systems as well as the role of architecture in social progress.

Ervi was certainly not a negative critic and can be seen mainly as a reformist. His innovative ambitions were not in the formal language of architecture but in the technological part of building. He was a major advancer of standardization and pre-fabricated building technology in Finland. Ervi was among the first in Finland to adopt the five-day workweek and he established one of the largest offices in the country.

As a modern architect Ervi was a consensualist in the sense that he took the role of a genius-architect and worked hard in order to achieve that. He actively photographed his own buildings in order to get them published in international journals. Ervi´s position in the office hierarchy was inevitable, though not necessarily especially pragmatic. He negotiated with clients without the architect in charge and signed the major works alone.

In the third, social dimension Goldhagen classifies architects either of a machine oriented strain, who can be seen as a sort of predecessors of International Style, or of a strain of situated modernist´s who can be seen as relatives to the path of the “Other Tradition”.

Ervi´s architecture clearly oscillated between the strains of machine oriented and situated modernism. When analysing Tapiola Commercial Center the sense of place is inevitable: the pine trees on the market yard of the shopping center are original, the pool next to the Central Tower is located on the gravel pit that existed on the spot and the Tapionraitti mall is located on top of an old artillery road. The sense of humanity is also inevitable. Ervi had a strongly user based approach to design. Human figure of a customer was the basic unit in the design of shopping centers. The scale Tapiola center is designed for pedestrians. On the other hand the architecture of the center recalls clearly the CIAM influenced International Style and the principles of shopping center design at the time of flat roofs, steel column arcades, large windows, the massing of freestanding forms, the inside-out approach and finally the overall site planning and design.

Although Goldhagen emphasizes the oscillation between the dimensions and strains23 she takes a position where the situated modernists are automatically seen as reformers.24 Indeed a dynamic interplay among these dimensions created some of the movement´s core problematics as she mentions but it can be asked whether these kinds of frameworks are relevant.25 The factors that Goldhagen´s framework lacks are:

The dimension of time: the difference between the historical situation before and after the WWII. The role of an architect and that of architecture changed along with the society. The architect worked more closely as a member of team of professionals. The rise of popular culture and globalisation offered a variety of examples and sources for architectural innovation. Technological advantages in building and construction networks, standardization as well as the related handbooks formed a different field of action. For the new generation of architects modernism was an already existing architectural culture.

The dimension of communication: the pragmatic position of the architect as a person cooperating with other persons and interest groups. Goldhagen argues that stylism is not the way to approach architecture because motivation and position differs among architects26 and sees modern architecture as a complex network of relationships.27 She hardly makes any reference on the pragmatic positions of the architects in the communication network. Ironically, in her essay on Alison and Peter Smithson in the same book, she gives the majority of attention to questions of the post-war situation and the position of Smithson´s in it.28

Again, the usefulness of this kind of a framework is questionable, if it forms a gap between architecture historical theory (framework) and practice (writing). My argument is that although it is not relevant to approach modern architecture as a narrative of heroic and progressive individuals, the persons (and the communication network they form) behind the production of architecture must not be left without discussion in order to produce critical historical research; and when analysing the post-war period, the historian has to take the post-war situation as a basis for the interpretation in order to produce relevant theory on the modern architecture of the era.

As an active architect Ervi had several roles in the professional field: manager of architectural office, teacher of students of architecture, writer, city officer and member of different interest groups, among others. In his role as a manager of the office, he can be seen to have subroles of: a businessman, a (artistic) leader of a group of architects, a chief of all the employees, a main negotiator with the clients and other professionals related to projects.

In a sense Ervi had a dualistic relationship to the profession: one formed by the tradition of an idea of the modern genius-architect and other formed by the realities of the contemporary society in which he worked. Above all modernism formed the background for his work: as a living history, as a form of education and as a contemporary influence and ideology for design. Joan Ockman points out that modernism, as reinterpreted after the WWII, largely meant a frame with repetitive components.29 By using psychological terminology, modern architecture can be described as a professional short-term memory or a working memory for post-war architects.30 Their approach towards the history of (modern) architecture can be seen as a selection of different possibilities for an architect to use or not to use.

1 Aarne Ervi graduated from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1935. After that he worked in Alvar Aalto´s office as a principal assistant involved in the building of Viipuri Library. Ervi founded a practice of his own in 1938. Before and during the WWII Ervi worked actively within the Architect´s Association of Finland: he served as the Editorial Secretary of Arkkitehti Architectural Journal 1937-43, as a member of the association board 1942-45 and as the Head of the Standardization Institute of the Reconstruction Bureau 1942-45; and at the Helsinki University of Technology: first as the Assistant Professor of City Planning 1936-37, then as the Assistant Professor of Housing Design 1943 and later as the Acting Professor of Building Technology 1944-46. After the WWII Ervi´s office became one of the largest private architect offices in Finland. It was fully employed with building tasks related to reconstruction and later with major works for commerce and industry as well as for communal and other public bodies. The office of about twenty more or less permanent employees was organized in sections responsible for projects of different sectors of architect profession: city planning, interior design, building design, industry. In the late 1940´s Ervi´s office was successful in several major urban planning competitions in the Helsinki Metropolitan area. In 1949 Ervi won the shared second price in the Helsinki City Central Area Re-Planning Competition with Pentti Ahola and Tapani Nironen and the Otaniemi University of Technology Campus Planning Competition with Tapani Nironen and Olli Vikstedt. Raportti rakennetusta ympäristöstä. Aarne Ervin arkkitehtuuria. 1970. Toim. Pertti Solla. Helsinki: Suomen arkkitehtiliitto.; The Work of Architects. The Finnish Association of Architects 1892-1992. 1992. Ed. Pekka Korvenmaa. Helsinki: The Finnish Association of Architects; The Finnish Building Centre Ltd.; Modern European Architecture Museum NET: http://www.meamnet.polimi.it/archive/019/019m.html


von Hertzen had called for a more humane urban residential environment in his polemic book “Home or Barracks for our Children?” von Hertzen, Heikki. 1946. Koti vaiko kasarmi lapsillemme: asunnontarvitsijoiden näkökohtia asunto ja asemakaavakysymyksissä. Porvoo: WSOY. He started to serve as a Managing Director of the Housing Foundation in 1954.


Ervi had worked as Meurman´s assistant at the University of Technology in the 1930´s. The first major work of Ervi´s office was the city plan and the master plan for the City of Oulu in collaboration with Meurman.


For more on Tapiola, see: von Hertzen, Heikki – Spreiregen, Paul D. 1971. Building a New Town. Finlands New Garden City Tapiola. Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.; Tuomi, Timo. 1992. Tapiola: a History and Architectural Guide. Espoo: Espoo City Museum.


Competition program (In Finnish). Archives of the Museum of Finnish Artchitecture.


For more on competition, see the article and appendix in: Arkkitehti 1/1956. Ervi was an active member of the Finnish CIAM group PTAH set up in CIAM 9 in Aix-en-Provence in July 1953. PTAH = Progrès Technique Architecture Helsinki and Egyptian tutelary of building and craft. He did not participate in the international, at that time very lively, debate within CIAM. For further reading: Norri, Marja-Riitta. 1994. Heroes and Matter – Notes on the 1950´s. Heroism and the Everyday. Building Finland in the 1950´s. Ed. Riitta Nikula. Helsinki: Museum of Finnish Architecture, 11-15; 201-203.


In the common usage, the term mall is often used interchangeably with shopping center but strictly speaking a mall is a pedestrian walkway. Clausen, Meredith. 1989. Shopping Centers. Encyclopedia of Architecture: Design, engineering and construction. Vol. 4. Ed. Joseph A. Wilkes. New York: Wiley, 406.


Ervi was known internationally and he continuously had foreign students of architecture working in his office.A selection of Tapiola articles in international architectural journals: Das Werk 1954. Baukunst und Werkform 6/1956. Bauen und Wohnen 9/1957. Das Werk 1959. Architectural Design 7/1959. Habitation 2/1960. Forum 12/1962. L´architecture d´aujourd hui 101/1962.

9 At the time Helsinki Chamber of Commerce was clearly concerned of the spread of commerce from Helsinki center to suburban areas oyside the city limit. Probably as a result of this the cinema wing and another wing proposed to be situated at the edge of the hill were dropped off the plan.

10 Meurman, Otto-Iivari. 1947. Asemakaavaoppi. Helsinki: Otava.

Ketchum, Morris. 1957. (1948) Shops and Stores. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp.; Gruen, Victor – Smith, Larry. 1960. Shopping Towns USA: The Planning of Shopping Centres. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp.; Swedish Shopping Center. Experiments and Achievements. 1965. Stockholm: the Chamber of Commerce. Whereas in the early 1950´s small neighbourhood and community shopping centers formed the core of the development in Finland, during the 1960´s larger units, district or regional shopping centers, became more and more prominent. By the late 1960´s the shopping center system was seen as primary compared to the decentralized network of stores located in different neighbourhoods. Hankonen, Johanna. 1994. Lähiöt ja tehokkuuden yhteiskunta. Sunnittelujärjestelmän läpimurto suomalaisten asuntoalueiden rakentumisessa 1960-luvulla. Helsinki: Otatieto Oy; Gaudeamus kirja, 225-278.

11 The Community Builders Handbook. 1947, -48, -54, -60, -68. Washington: Urban Land Institute. Community Builders' Council.; Baker, Geoffrey and Funaro, Bruno. 1951. Shopping Centers: Design and Operation. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp.


Sjöberg, Arne. 1957. Shoppingcentra i USA och Sverige. Stockholm: Grosshandelns utrednigsinstitut.; The same classification is presented in: Kelley, Eugene. 1956. Shopping Centers: Locating Controlled Regional Centers. Saugatuck, Connecticut: Eno Foundation for Highway Traffic Control.


Helsinki Master Plan. Report by the Helsinki Chamber of Commerce Regional Planning Committee to Helsinki City Housing Department City Planning Agency. Feb. 21. 1958. 1958/3. (In Finnish)


Arkkitehti 12/1960 (special issue presenting these shopping centers)


Ervi Aarne. Tapiolan keskusta. Arkkitehti 12/61, 192-199.


von Hertzen were in some sort of correspondence with Victor Gruen, James Rouse, Clarence Stein on the basis of letters in Heikki von Hertzen archives. Espoo City Museum and Archives of Housing Foundation. The Brochure of Rouse company: A New Standard of Retail Merchandising in the Houston Marketplace: Allmeda mall, Northwest mall.


See: Ketchum 1957, Gruen – Smith, 1960 and Ervi, Aarne. Matkavaikutelmia U.S.A:sta ja sen artkkitehtuurista. Arkkitehti 7-8/1958, 87-90;102-104. and for further reading: Longstreth, Richard. 1997. City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture the Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles 1920-1950. Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.


In Arne Sjöberg´s influential book shopping centers are divided into four categories: neighbourhood (3 000-15 000 customers), community or district (15 000-30 000 customers), suburban or outlying central city (30 000-100 000 customers) and regional shopping centers (100 000-1 000 000 customers). Sjöberg, 10-15.


Giedion, Siegfried. 1941. Space, Time and Architecture. The Growth of a New Tradition. Gambridge: Harvard University Press.; Hitchcock, Henry-Russell – Johnson, Philip. 1932. The International Style: Architecture since 1922. New York: W.W. Norton.


St John Wilson, Colin. 1995. The Other Tradition of Modern Architecture. The Uncompleted Project. London: Academy Editions.; Blundell-Jones, Peter. 1995. Hans Scharoun. London: Phaidon Press.; Blundell-Jones, Peter. 1999. Hugo Häring: the organic versus the geometric. Stuttgart : Axel Menges.


Architecture Culture 1943-1968. A Documentary Anthology. Edited by Joan Ockman with the collaboration of Edward Eigen. New York: Columbia Books of Architecture/Rizzoli.; Heynen, Hilde. 1999. Architecture and Modernity. A Critique. Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.; Tournikiotis, Panayotis. 1999. The Historiography of Modern Architecture. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.; Doordan, Dennis P. 2002. Twentieth-century Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc.


Goldhagen (I), Sarah Williams. 2000. Coda: Reconceptualizing the Modern. Anxious Modernisms. Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture., 301-324. Edited by Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Réjean Legault. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.

23 Goldhagen (I), 307

24 Goldhagen (I), 312

25 Chirardo, Diane. Review of: Anxious Modernisms. Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture. Edited by Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Réjean Legault. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.; The Journal of the Society of Architecture Historians. 4/60. Dec./2001, 528-30.


Goldhagen (I), 319


Goldhagen, Sarah Williams and Legault Réjean. 2000. Introduction: Critical Themes of Postwar Modernism. Anxious Modernisms. Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture., 11-24. Edited by Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Réjean Legault. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.

28 Goldhagen, Sarah Williams. 2000. Freedom´s Domiciles: Three Projects by Alison and Peter Smithson. Anxious Modernisms. Experimentation in Postwar Architectural Culture., 75-96. Edited by Sarah Williams Goldhagen and Réjean Legault. Montréal: Canadian Centre for Architecture; Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press.

29 Ockman, 18.


On the role of the memory in the jargon of modern architecture see: Forty, Adrian. 2000. Words and Buildings. A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc, 206-219.

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