Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Jyväskylä: Wivi Lönn Walk

Wivi Lönn (1872-1966) was the first independently practicing female architect in Finland. During her career, Ms Lönn lived and worked Jyväskylä, Finland in 1911-18. I enter the garden of the house (1910) Wivi Lönn designed for herself and her mother. The private house at Wivi Lönnin katu 3 is owned by Kauko Sorjonen, a local businessman and patron of the arts who has over the years helped rescue many old buildings in the area through his foundation.

The walking tour will take us past some of the houses designed by Wivi Lönn in the small area of Seminaarinrinne (there are also other buildings by her elsewhere in town), right next to the campus of University of Jyväskylä. For starters, our guide Sanni Kankainen shows us into a side building which is nicknamed 'kanala', a henhouse.
Behind the pretty pediment there actually was a henhouse as well as room for taking care of some household tasks. The former henhouse part is now decorated as a guest room; we are welcomed to watch a short video of Wivi Lönn's life, career and the history of her house in the other room. It is a good orientation for our walk.
Ms Lönn designed quite a few buildings in Jyväskylä and many of them have luckily survived until today. When Wivi Lönn lived here, her large garden included a kitchen garden as well. Today, the garden is more or less for pure enjoyment. Right now, the Flowering Onions are in full bloom but the apple trees have alredy shed their blossoms on the neat lawn.
The latest artistic addition to the garden seems to be the slim maiden by the apple tree. The statue by Liisa Äärynen is called Puutarhassa (In the Garden). She is well placed to have a good view over the garden below, although the view is not as quite as fantastic as it was in Lönn's day when lake Jyväsjärvi was much closer than now and visible also from here.
Another statue depicts the architect herself. Wivi Lönn (Sonja Vectomov 2010) is facing the architect's former home the outlines of which can be seen also on the pedestal, just like those of the doghouse which she also designed to her house.
The doghouse itself is located just above the stone foundation of the building. That may at least partly explain why the doghouse wasn't apparently used that much. I wonder if there might have been wooden steps leading to it originally? If the pictures tell a real story, Wivi had two dogs, and the one on the right is a Finnish Spitz.
This shady area, the entry corridor leading to the wooden gate, must be wonderful on a hot day (yes, they do exist although you may not believe it now!). At the other end of the tile-covered corridor you can discern a conservatory which is entered from the house, not from the outside. I hear even bananas and grapes grow there! We step out of the garden through the "apple gate"on the side wall. By the gate there is a relief of Wivi Lönn and a large map which shows her work in the area, as well as photographs of some of the buildings.
On the other side of Hämeenkatu street there is a house Wivi designed for her brother Ville. However, we return to Wivi Lönn street which features more of her work. We first meet the Heinonen house (above, 1913) - if I got it right, slightly altered in 1997 - and later, the Pesonius house. At the end of the street there was also a beautiful wooden house designed by Lönn but that was torn down to give way to the rather basic apartment building which was planned to be the first of many in this area. I feel a shiver go through me. The whole Seminaarinrinne would have been destroyed by the plan. Thanks for those who stood against it and saved these beauties!
Originally, the back wall of Wivi's henhouse was plain yellow, but now there is artwork: Portti tulevaisuuteen (Gate to the Future) by Onni Kosonen (1991).
Next, our guide surprises us and leads us to the wonderful, flowering private garden of the pink Nousiainen house (1911) so we get to see it from close quarters. The garden offers also a lovely view to Wivi's house next door. One of the house's former residents was Martti Haavio (1899-1973) who became known as poet P. Mustapää but had also an academic career as a folklorist in the University of Helsinki.
Lönn loved arched windows and you can often find one in buildings designed by her, just like in this pink house. There must have been a great view to lake Jyväsjärvi originally! The scent of lilacs fills the air. In the garden, there is also a tall fir tree, planted in celebration of Finland's independence (1917). Such fir trees still exist in many of the gardens in this area.
We walk through the back yard of the apartment building and arrive at Vapaudenkatu street but soon turn to Seminaarinkatu street on the right. In the first house on our right, called Karpio house (1914) which Wivi Lönn designed, there is also local architectural history. Alvar Aalto and his newlywed wife Aino lived here in the 1920's when Aalto established his first architect's office in Jyväskylä.
We pass by the Pesonius house as well as Emil Lönn house before arriving to a more modern looking house which today is known as Kirjailijatalo (Writers' House) as it acts as the headquarters of the local writers' club and offers rooms for writers and translators for both working and overnight stays.
Writers' House, originally Stoore house (1906) is deceptive. To my surprise, this house was originally designed by Wivi Lönn but its new owner Mr Airaksinen decided to make 'some' alterations which turned it probably quite different from what it was. No arched windows found here!
Finally, we arrive at the end of the Wivi Lönn walk at Seminaarinkatu 32. The red brick building was not designed by Lönn - it was originally built in 1851 as a granary - but she designed the necessary alterations (1915) for the building to become a library instead. Behind the large arched windows, the building has served the town as the university library, the town library as well as the craft museum. Currently, the building is called Rehtoraatti, housing the University of Jyväskylä's administration and the Rector's office.
Beside the Rehtoraatti, the wooden building, originally Librarian's house (1916), does not seem to have an occupant right now but probably serves as a storage room. What a shame if that is true... Although the guided tour is now over, our group stays for a while talking about her work in Jyväskylä. Wivi Lönn's buildings are a true treasure. Thanks for our excellent guide!
After the tour I retrace my steps back to Hämeenkatu, to see the photography exhibition attached to the garden wall of Wivi's house. At the corner of Vapaudenkatu and Hämeenkatu streets, there is a cry for help taped to the wall: Suojele minua! Protect me!
Is this what the decision-makers want next door? The largest image shows what kind of neighbours are planned on the other side of the street - something rather modern in contrast with the early 20th century buildings. Seminaarinrinne will soon face major construction work if the plans go through. The winner of the planning competition, Sisääntulo Jyväskylään (Entry to Jyväskylä) is making a statement of a modern city. However, there is history behind it, and some people in the town have started to protest against the new plans. Let's see what will happen. Jyväskylä isn't exactly known for conservation of its older buildings; this area seems to have escaped bulldozers by both luck and thanks to some spirited individuals.

Wivi Lönn Walk is sponsored by Kauko Sorjonen foundation and it is organized each Wednesday at 6 pm during the summer 2012. The tour is Finnish-speaking.


  1. I hope conservation of the older buildings wins out. Once those buildings are gone, they are gone forever.

  2. The above mentioned buildings will remain, but there are quite a few new buildings (including some tall ones) planned right next door, in a pretty small area. A public debate has already started in the local newspaper.

    I hope the area will still keep its unique character.