In the 19th century, a much smaller Helsinki than today was mainly made up of the cute, wooden houses that the Nordic countries are famous for. Today, most of Helsinki’s architure consists of modern apartment blocks, but there are still some traces of this old Helsinki left. The closest quarter of wooden houses to the city centre is wooden Vallila (puu-Vallila), north of the centre and just east of Pasila. It’s easy to reach on tram and bus, and well worth a visit. On approach I noticed that the streets surrounding the quarter were particularly busy and lined with very modern looking buildings. Entering the “old” streets was like entering a tiny world of its own.
The wooden houses date from around 1910 and were built to house worker families in a “healthy environment”. Already in the 1940s though the building style had fallen out of favour, and the area was under threat of demolition. General lack of housing meant that the houses were allowed to stay for a little longer, but again in the 1970s plans were made to demolish the area. By then, the houses had deteriorated severely, and with their communal outhouses were too antiquated, so they were to be replaced by more cost effective housing. Under public pressure however the plans were changed, and instead the quarter was renovated.
The area started off as a working-class neighbourhood, but has in recent decades undergone gentrification and been re-discovered as a trendy place to live. Many of the buildings have been renovated recently, or are undergoing renovation just now. Something that struck me as rather odd were the polished silvery metal roofs gleaming in the sun, that seemed a bit out of place. (EDIT: I have now been told that they are left like this for one winter before painting it with a bitumen based “tar” paint. This way, the metal has time to oxidize, which creates a surface the paint will actually stick to. This is mainly done in conservation areas, where newer roofing materials are not allowed to be used). The buildings are simple, there are no frills to the woodwork, but they are painted in happy, bright colours that make them feel so much more welcoming than the surrounding modern areas. The quarter also has a lot of greenery, which even more gives it the feeling of being out of the city: The houses have green courtyards and gardens, and right in the middle of wooden Vallila, a rocky park rises up, with nice views of the quarter. As we came on a sunny public holiday, the park was buzzing with people taking in the sun and barbecueing (not visible on my pictures, as I didn’t want to obviously photograph into the crowds).