In 2007 Olavi Koponen was commissioned to design a home for Kari Niemi, a fifty-year-old man who has been confined to a wheelchair since he had a car accident at the age of ten. Impressed by his wooden houses, such as the L?ngbo house in L?ngholmen and the spiral-shaped house in Espoo, Helsinki, the client commissioned the Finnish architect, famous in his homeland for his dissident attitude to academic architecture, to design his new home in Vartiokyla, in the countryside east of the capital. Koponen’s home stands on a lot (which the client purchased from the municipality of Helsinki) in a residential area characterised by anonymous single-family dwellings with private gardens. The client had two obligatory requirements: the home had to be completely accessible to the owner in a wheelchair, and nature had to be an integral part of life in the home. Combining these two essential requirements, Koponen came up with a round barrier-free floorplan, interpreting the home as a circular route without a preferential direction, completely open to nature in the central garden. The impact of shapes based on the circle is particularly surprising in this context. The home is on a single floor including all functions, including the sauna essential in Finland, with a floorplan which appears closed on the outside but is completely open onto the inner garden, which is of course round like the house. The obvious complications in the layout and use of a round floorplan for a person with the use of his legs became benefits for a person in a wheelchair: the rooms all face onto a circular hallway, in a relationship of continuous reciprocity, in which the owner can move around easily without having to keep stopping and turning around. The structure of pilasters and circular wooden beams is completed by an inner wall made of twenty-four flat panes of glass forming the circle of the garden so that it can be clearly seen and accessed via four doors. The house is closed-in on itself and every part of it enjoys full sunlight from the inner garden, maintaining a relationship with it at all times of year. A manifesto of ecological architecture according to Olavi Koponen, who focuses on use of wood, a renewable material, the Kari home declares that the greatest sustainability can be obtained by prolonging the life of the building materials: he covers all of the outside of the home with thermowood, wood treated at high temperatures (200?) to irreversibly modify its structure and increase its hardness and resistance to atmospheric agents, according to a procedure developed by Finnish research laboratories in the early 'nineties. The Finnish architect makes his aesthetic statement by minimising use of industrial components and using untreated wood, worked in the sawmill and defined by manual techniques and hand finishes that make the home unique. Olavi Koponen’s buildings are without a doubt unique, standing out for the way they fit into the Finnish landscape.
by Mara Corradi
Structural design: Oskari Laukkanen
Landscape design: Elina Tirkkonen
Client: Private client
Location: Vartiokyla, Helsinki (Finland)
Built surface: 271 m2
Completion of work: 2009
External cladding of "thermowood"
Interior flooring of polished cement
Internal structures and coverings of fir
Photographs: Jussi Tiainen