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The Serpentine House refurbishment wins the 2019 Finlandia Prize for Architecture

  • Architecture
  • Finlandia Prize for Architecture
  • Hannu Väisänen
  • Mona Schalin
  • SAFA

The Finlandia Prize for Architecture has been given to the refurbishment project of the iconic Serpentine House in Helsinki’s Käpylä district. Awarded by The Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA), the prize is given to a design or renovation design of an outstanding new building or building complex. This year’s winner was selected by artist and author Hannu Väisänen.


Designed by Finnish architect Yrjö Lindgren and completed in 1951, the Serpentine House was renovated by Kati Salonen and Mona Schalin Arkkitehdit Oy. Hannu Väisänen praises the winning team’s expertise and indefatigable commitment that enabled the successful restoration of one of the highlights of Finnish architecture. 

The team have had to consider how to revive the near-utopian idea of high-quality public housing that underpins Serpentine House. They also needed to demonstrate how the modernist housing ideals could work in the present day and show the way for new residential developments. 

In choosing the winner, Väisänen looked for a building that embodied a sense of confidence and strength: “If architecture can leave the bling aside and still instil and inspire such confidence and self-esteem, it will have achieved something very important indeed.” 

Despite the buildings’ angular shape, the design has succeeded in avoiding a rigid and austere feel by setting the units that make up the buildings in a fan-like arrangement that creates a series of private and sheltered garden spaces for the residents. Photo: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio Oy.

The Serpentine House complex comprises two separate buildings that stretch to a total length of 287 metres and includes a total of 189 rented properties owned by the City of Helsinki.

The extensive renovation of the listed building included all bathrooms, kitchens and interior surfaces, as well as the building’s roof, external rendering, balconies, doors, windows, communal areas and HVAC systems. The majority of the windows were repaired, the kitchen fittings were refurbished and, significantly, the original natural ventilation system was retained. This energy efficient system will continue to reduce maintenance costs and prevent indoor air quality problems in the years ahead.

I’m delighted to say that we were able to carry out the refurbishment project under an ideal set of circumstances, with the client, developers, designers and builders all working incredibly well together. We were not faced with any difficult compromises, and the client was keen to invest in a high-specification result. Although the building is protected, we were able to work flexibly in line with the listed status.  To have the opportunity to retain the original natural ventilation system, the internal and external finishes and fittings, as we did here, is extremely rare,” says Lead Designer Mona Schalin.

The Shortlist

The Serpentine House refurbishment project was selected from a shortlist of projects chosen by the pre-selection jury. This year’s pre-selection jury comprised Dr Anne Stenros (Chair), architect (SAFA), Professor Mikko Heikkinen, architect (SAFA), and Juulia Mikkola, architect (SAFA). Serving as Secretary of the Jury was Paula Huotelin, Secretary General of the Finnish Association of Architects (SAFA). The recipient of the Finlandia Prize for Architecture is chosen by a public figure who is a recognised expert in an area other than architecture. 

Oodi Helsinki Central Library
Designed by ALA Architects, Helsinki’s new central library Oodi has changed our understanding of what a library can be. Oodi is the city’s new living room, offering everything from gaming rooms to a “book heaven”. 

Oodi is split across three levels, each with its own distinct architecture, atmosphere and purpose. The open plan lobby on the ground floor gives way to workshop spaces and studios on the first floor and to the more conventional library services on offer on the top floor, in a space that is permanently bathed in light. Photo: Tuomas Uusheimo

Read more about Oodi from our interview with ALA Architects’ Samuli Woolston.

Jyväskylä University Main Building refurbishment
Jyväskylä University’s main building is one of the most significant examples of Alvar Aalto’s red brick period. Built in 1955, it was originally used as a teacher training college. Arkkitehtitoimisto A-Konsultit carried out a comprehensive restoration in 2013-2017 in close collaboration with the Alvar Aalto Foundation and Finland’s National Board of Antiquities.

The design team behind the restoration of Jyväskylä University’s main building were committed to retaining as many original structures, materials and items of furniture as possible. All items of furniture by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maija Heikinheimo and Ilmari Tapiovaara were restored. Photo: Jyrki Iso-Aho, Jari Jetsonen

Kruunuvuorenranta Waste Transfer Terminal
Built in 2017, the waste transfer terminal in Helsinki’s Kruunuvuorenranta district uses an underground network of pipes to collect household waste from the newly-built residential area nearby. Designed by Arkkitehtuuritoimisto B & M Oy, the Kruunuvuorenranta waste transfer terminal demonstrates that technical structures and buildings also have the potential to make an important aesthetic contribution to their environment.

The cladding that envelops the Kruunuvuorenranta Waste Transfer Terminal takes it cue from the multicoloured lichen that covers the towering rocks behind it. The three-dimensional, geometric finish is reminiscent of origami and has been skilfully executed using concrete elements stained with a warm, rust-toned patina. Photo: Timo Kiukkola.

 Vaaralanpuisto Day Care Centre
Completed in 2017, Vaaralanpuisto is a “big small” building that creates a quiet and sheltered setting for children attending day care there. AFKS Architects (Jari Frondelius, Jaakko Keppo, Juha Salmenperä, Jalo Sippola and Maija Viljanen) have created a design that, both in terms of its mass and materials, complements the size and scope of the site, which comprises two distinct outdoor areas. 

One of the aims for the design of Vaaralanpuisto Day Care Centre was to create an energy-efficient facility that was as close to the zero-energy standard as possible. Photo: Mika Huisman


The Finlandia Prize for Architecture has been running since 2011. Last year the prize was given to the New Children’s Hospital in Helsinki designed by Antti-Matti Siikala, Sarlotta Narjus and Sakari Forsman of SARC Architects and Susanna Kalkkinen of Architect Group Reino Koivula.

Photo: Kuvatoimisto Kuvio Oy.

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