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New Standards brings the story of Timber Houses to Oulu

Photo of a street of wooden houses.

Juuso Westerlund

The exhibition seen in the Finnish Pavilion at the Biennale Architettura in Venice in 2021 will open in Oulu's Proto Design Centre in December. In addition to the exhibition seen in Venice, the display includes new photographs by photographer Juuso Westerlund of Puutalo Oy houses in Oulu and the Lampinsaari mining village in Raahe.

The New Standards exhibition tells the story of Puutalo Oy [Timber Houses Ltd], founded in 1940 to help house Karelian refugees when nearly 420 000 people were forced to leave their homes as a result of the Winter War. In a national emergency, the industry, decision-makers and architects joined forces to develop a new type of wooden house that could also be mass-produced using industrial methods. Initially established for domestic needs, Puutalo Oy grew in less than a decade to become one of the world's largest wood-frame building export organisations.

Curated by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa, the New Standards exhibition documents the golden age of Puutalo Oy from the 1940s to the mid-1950s. The buildings were designed by a group of leading architects of the day, and the modest-looking houses incorporated a wealth of structural, spatial and usability innovations.

The exhibition features a wide range of never-before-seen archive material, and a series of works by award-winning photographer Juuso Westerlund that reveals what life in these wooden houses around the world looks like today. Westerlund's new photos of Puutalo Oy's houses in Oulu and in the Lampinsaari mining village of Raahe have been added to the exhibition at Proto.

The drawings, photographs and brochures collected by the curators reflect the perceptions and ambitions of the time, as plans were adapted to suit varying climates and lifestyles. Although Puutalo Oy's detached houses, schools and dormitories have not featured much in architectural publications, they may still be the most widely exported Finnish architectural product today.

The exhibition was originally commissioned and produced by Archinfo for the Finnish Pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. Original idea and curation by Laura Berger, Philip Tidwell and Kristo Vesikansa. Proto's exhibition has been produced in collaboration with SAFA Northern Finland, the City of Oulu, the City of Raahe and the Council of Oulu Region.

The exhibition is on display in Pikisaari, at Design Centre Proto from 15 December to 3 February.