Renovating buildings from the 1950s to original glory

In the Käpylä district, the six buildings of Pohjolankatu 47 have regained their original colours. The indoor renovations also paid tribute to the spirit of the 50s.

Written by Tuomas Lehtonen Photos by Timo Porthan, Susa Junnola

Pohjolankatu 47 is an excellent example of Finnish housing construction in the 1950s. Six sturdy stone houses are located on a triangle-shaped plot between Pohjolankatu and Käpyläntie. The plastered 3–4-storey buildings are placed spaciously across the plot.

“In the 1950s, the trend was to build short apartment buildings, leave space between buildings and allocate resources to plantings. Construction emphasised handiwork and the feeling of genuine materials. The construction trends of those days continue to be attractive to families with children to this day,” says architect Mona Schalin about the charm of buildings typical of the era.

Porraskäytävä ja pariovet tuuletusparvekkeelle.
Surfaces were also painted and restored in shared facilities, such as the stairwells.

The Pohjolankatu block is protected

Schalin and the architect firm she represents, Kati Salonen ja Mona Schalin Arkkitehdit Oy, specialise in planning renovations on culturally and historically valuable buildings. 

“When renovating something old, you need to understand the whole in terms of construction and building technology. If the building is valuable in terms of cultural history, it is important to thoroughly survey its construction history,” Schalin explains.

The City Museum provided help with the background survey work. Due to the pending reform of the detailed plan for Käpylä, the museum carried out a more extensive survey of the historical values of the local buildings and environment. 

“Our starting point was sustainable renovation, in which as much of the old is retained as possible. The site is now protected in connection with the detailed plan amendment,” Schalin says.

A two-phase renovation

The renovation of Pohjolankatu 47 is being carried out in two phases. The buildings located along Käpyläntie were renovated in 2019–2021. The renovation work on the Pohjolankatu buildings began last spring and is now about to be completed. 

The previous renovation took place in 1987, and many facilities, such as the bathrooms, were mainly from that time. Between 2000 and 2010, lifts were installed into some of the buildings, balconies were renovated and drainage ditches were renewed.

The current renovation work involved renewing the three-layer plastering of the facades and painting the buildings with lime wash paint. The original vivid colours – okra yellow, pink and green – are now back in the facade. The tin roof was replaced with red brick roofing, which the building had originally. 

The wooden window frames and oak-veneered front doors were restored where possible. 

“All the surfaces have been either renovated or renewed. We wanted to respect the original spirit of the building in every aspect of the work. The residents have been very appreciative of that,” says Site Manager Harri Oinonen from YIT Suomi Oy, the main contractor of the project.


Kermanvalkoisia keittiökalusteita tyhjässä keittiössä.
The old kitchen cabinets were preserved, but more household technology was introduced. The bottom cabinets were also raised to conform to the modern standard.

Bringing household appliances up to date

The renovation work also involved making improvements in living comfort and safety. For example, today’s stricter fire safety regulations were taken into account in the electrical system overhaul and the basement storage facilities.

The apartments also received some upgrades.

“We had to make room for washers in bathrooms and extractor hoods, modern tall fridge-freezers and dishwashers in kitchens. We also raised the bottom cabinets of kitchens to make their height conform to the modern standard,” Schalin explains.