At home in a Heka building for decades

When everything in their home building works, people will gladly stay in apartments on the same stairwell from decade to decade. Although their situations in life have changed, neighbours Mauno Savolainen and Johannes Porttilahti have happily lived in a Heka location for years.

Written by Pi Mäkilä Photos by Markus Pentikäinen

Snowflakes are falling onto the ground on Teuvo Pakkalan tie, at the border of Pohjois-Haaga and Pirkkola, and there is so much snow on the ground that maintenance employees are kept busy trying to clear the paths. However, the crisp winter weather and coronavirus pandemic do not prevent Mauno Savolainen and Johannes Porttilahti from greeting each other in front of their building’s club room. 

The club room is closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the building’s own events and freeform clubs organised by the tenants are on hold. Porttilahti still has plans for the room later in spring.

“If the pandemic eases, I could celebrate my 80th birthday there at the end of spring,” he muses.

Savolainen held his own 80th birthday in the same room a little over a year ago. 

“And we’ve normally also held Christmas parties there. During cleaning bees, the club room has been a good place to serve coffee,” Savolainen says. 

Heka has been home for many decades

Savolainen knows the buildings on Teuvo Pakkalan tie like the back of his hand, and for a good reason: he and his wife have been living in apartments on the same stairwell of the same Heka location since the start of the 1970s. 

“Before that, we were renting an apartment in Ruskeasuo, but the owner needed the apartment for personal use and we had to look for a new home. We applied for a rental apartment from the City and managed to get a home pretty quickly at the time, probably because we had two children. These buildings were brand new back then, among the first in the area,” Savolainen recalls. 

The Heka location on Teuvo Pakkalan tie later expanded to include a total of eight buildings, with hundreds of apartments in total. In addition to the Savolainen family, the tenants living in the buildings also include others who have lived there since the early years.

“Of course, most of the tenants have changed over the years. There used to be more families with children, and the yard used to be busy with people. Today, there are many older people living here and you see relatively few children,” Savolainen says.

Finding a fishing buddy right next door

When the Savolainen family’s three-room apartment started getting too cramped and the children needed their own rooms, the family moved to a four-room apartment on the same stairwell. 

They have also gotten to know some of their neighbours over the years. Savolainen met Johannes Porttilahti in the yard of their home buildings. Now they catch up whenever they run into each other.

“And we’ve also gone fishing together,” Porttilahti points out.

Fishing is an important hobby to Porttilahti. In the winter, the nearest fishing spots are in Kauklahti; in the summer, there are places to fish nearer to home. Haaganpuro, a nearby brook, is particularly close to Porttilahti’s heart. The brook has long had one of the most viable brown trout stocks in Helsinki, and the brown trout are exceptionally large. 

“We’ve liked living here, and the proximity of nature has appealed to us from the start. Central Park is right next door and you can also go pick berries almost in the backyard. In the best years, I’ve gathered hundreds of litres of bilberries and lingonberries. From Haaga, you can easily go in many directions,” Porttilahti says.

Good connections are a reason to stay in Haaga

Porttilahti moved to Teuvo Pakkalan tie with his wife at the start of the 2000s. Like Savolainen, he has no desire to leave Heka.

“I have nothing to complain about. We’ve always had neat people living in this stair, and everything is working so well that we can keep living here for the rest of our lives if we want. It’s very peaceful here on the 8th floor, and we have a great view,” he says.

Mauno Savolainen agrees. He has hardly ever thought about moving, even though his situation in life has changed since the early years.

“There was a time when my wife and I were planning on buying an Arava apartment. Perhaps we could even have gotten one. However, we decided to stay because of the good transport connections we have here. We needed those connections, particularly when we were still working and our children were travelling to school and their hobbies.” 

Mauno Savolainen ja Johannes Pirttilahti standing outside their home building.
Mauno Savolainen and Johannes Porttilahti have witnessed the modern transformation of the Teuvo Pakkalan tie area.

Renovations improve comfort

Comfort has also been increased by renovations carried out on the buildings. According to Savolainen and Porttilahti, Heka has spared no expense in the renovations.
“In 2006, for example, the facades were renewed and the buildings were clad with brick slips. The balconies were also renovated and new balconies were built for apartments that didn’t yet have them. The entire area gained a more impressive look all at once,” Savolainen enthuses. 

Looking from the outside, it is difficult to believe that the apartments on Teuvo Pakkalan tie are almost 50 years old. The brick slip cladding gives the buildings a modern look, and even the grill shelter in the middle of the yard area looks brand new. 

“Though it’s pretty rare to see anyone grilling here, aside from for a couple of days in the summer,” Porttilahti says.

In Haaga, the landscape is changing and the transport connections are improving

With hundreds of homes in the same location, there have also been various incidents over the years. 

“Our stairwell has always been really peaceful, but there was this one time when the doorbell rang in the middle of the night. I went to open the door in my pyjamas, and my neighbour was standing behind the door, extremely angry. He had been out with his friend for the evening, got the apartments mixed up and thought that I’d gone to sleep in his home. We later laughed about it together,” Savolainen says.

The landscape around the buildings has changed and is still changing. Before the highway was built, the road to Hämeenlinna used to be located nearer to the buildings. Now, the muffled sounds of a construction site can be heard from the other side of the highway because of the construction of Jokeri Light Rail, which will run through the city.

“Other residential buildings have also been built nearby. The traffic has become busier over the years, but in other respects this is still the same familiar city that it has always been. And it’s only a good thing that the transport connections will again be improved. It means that you’ll also be able to travel anywhere in the city quickly from here in the future,” Savolainen says. 

Finally, Savolainen and Porttilahti take a moment to catch up with each other. 

“I haven’t been able to see other people much during this coronavirus pandemic, but I still always greet my neighbours when I bump into them in the yard. I hope that we’ll get to organise the usual voluntary work events later this year,” Savolainen muses.