Modest modernism, the simple style of the 1950s–1970s, is making a comeback in residential architecture. One of the gems of that era is the Silkkikutomo building, a former silk-weaving mill in Helsinki’s Herttoniemi district. It has played a colourful role in the history of the Finnish textile industry.
South of the Herttoniemi metro station, you can find a piece of Helsinki’s industrial history. Completed in 1952, the Silkkikutomo building was once home to one of the largest companies in the textile industry.
Originally located in the city centre, Suomen Silkkikutomo Oy outgrew its premises in the postwar period when plots of land in Herttoniemi were being allocated for small-scale industrial companies. For example, the hat making company Suomen Hattutehdas was located next door to Silkkikutomo.
The construction of the industrial building with a mineral plaster exterior, designed by architect Matti Finell, began in 1950. Silkkikutomo’s 60 weaving machines ordered from the United States and Czechoslovakia were some of the newest equipment in all of the Nordic region, and it took a while before the Public Works Department issued the required permits for the machines.
Silkkikutomo produced underwear, lining cloth and popular nylon shirts that were worn by the members of the Finnish instrumental rock band The Sounds as well as the national ski team. The company’s brands included Mary Ann and Sir William.
At the peak of its power, Silkkikutomo had some 430 employees. Half of these were dressmakers, most of whom women. The dyeing house, however, was the men’s domain. In addition to the industrial building, there was a four-family house for employees on the property. Employees were also well taken care of in other ways: they had occupational health services, recreational activities such as fishing and bowling clubs and free meals, although a minimum fee was applied due to the requirements of the tax authorities. The company had a strong community spirit and many employees spent most of their careers there.
In 1992, Silkkikutomo went bankrupt as the demand for nylon shirts dwindled. The weaving machines were sold to the Middle East and the surplus stock of shirts to the former Soviet Union. The building remained empty for years, until it was bought by Sponda after a few twists and turns.
Soon after the turn of the millennium, the interior of the building was almost entirely renovated. The silk weaving mill’s dyeing house, sewing shop, loomstate warehouse, quality control department and office premises were replaced by flexible modern office space. The office premises are currently occupied by tenants including a Diacor medical centre, the marketing company MicroMedia and Oticon, a provider of hearing aids. The third floor is home to the Eastern Regional College of the City of Helsinki Finnish Adult Education Centre, which organises language, art and dance courses on the premises.
The second floor houses a Business Studio, which offers its customer companies ready-to-use office space as well as shared facilities including lobby services, meeting rooms and employee facilities. The office spaces range from 25 to 150 square metres and have been well received by many different types of companies. The building is three storeys high in one part and five storeys high in another.
– Our customers have really embraced the Silkkikutomo building. The neighbourhood is currently seeing significant residential development, so we expect continued strong demand for various services, says Tuuli Auvinen, Account Manager at Sponda.