• Leitmotiv

Tapiola behind Vihreä leski

In the 1960s, Tapiola was the postcard and the physical representation of Finnish welfare ideals. After many people involved in rural work had to move to cities due to the mechanization of farm work, they found themselves separated from their extended communities and formed nuclear families in cities. These changes catalyzed the transformation of the Finnish landscape. As cars became more common, the infrastructure had to be adapted to them, and the Finnish suburbia began to emerge on the sidelines of cities: housing projects were meant to satisfy the increasing demand for urban living. Well, in a way.

Tapiola, based on the idea of the garden city structure first introduced by Ebenezer Howard, was undoubtedly the shining facade of this social change. It was, however, also an act of ideological placemaking. As Richard Marback describes it, “... a material act of building and maintaining spaces that is at the same time an ideological act of fashioning places where we can feel we belong, and where we organize our relationships to others”. The concept behind it was itself ideological: the name ”Tapiola” was based on the national epoch Kalevala which featuresTapio, the god of the forest.

The idea was bigger than just planning the buildings: the city's developers were hoping to construct a community. Von Herzen, the chief of the planning committee, sincerely hoped that his dream project would become a real “kingdom of Tapio”.

It was the modern design that inspired Tapiola’s verticality, where the harmony of nature and space was disrupted by white high-storey buildings with low-ceiling apartments. They had designed a place for a pool and a decorative fountain, essential services, and a supermarket in the middle of the housing blocks. Tapiola was a promotional object for postcards advertising this new Finninsh living style, although photographs only ever showed the white houses being surrounded by trees and with no people around. It was a grand housing project and a destination for foreign officials and prominent guests that incorporated the government's ideals for a future in an egalitarian society.

However, Pakkarsvirta’s representation of Tapiola in his film Vihrea Leski (1968) reflects on the forgotten human element in the promotional image on the postcard. The film begins with a pan over monumental motorways, impressive mountains, and a playground. The introduction of the complex à la TV-advertisement impresses the viewers with the massivity of the project. However, Pakkasvirta goes one step further and portrays the world of the individual living in a cell-like apartment in the middle of the grand building complex.

The film adapts the format of a documentary and finds its protagonist in a young woman, Helina, a housewife and mother of two small children. She is situated in the concrete structure for hours on end, whereby the audience is brought closer to the darkness that lies within the modern building.

The landscape—and Heilina’s whole world—is under constant surveillance of neighbors and peeping Toms, while the shade of the nearby forests invites sexual fantasies and anxieties that had been silenced by the apathy of the community and forgotten to be shown on the promotional postcard of Tapiola.

Film: Vihreä leski, directed by Jaakko Pakkasvirta, 1968, Finland

Architectural focus: Garden cities, Tapiola