Discover the Diverse and Controversial 1970s at Museum of Finnish Architecture in Helsinki

A decade more diverse than imagined, the 1970s remains relevant in many ways: The Museum of Finnish Architecture’s Concrete Dreams exhibition offers a glimpse into the architecture and phenomena of the controversial era in Helsinki

Opening at the Museum of Finnish Architecture on the 17th of May, the exhibition Concrete Dreams – And Other Perspectives on the 1970s Architecture invites you to learn about a decade that is in fact more diverse than it is given credit for, surprising in some ways, and still topical in many other ways.

The 1970s in architecture are seen as an era of prefabricated concrete elements, uniformity and efficiency. The architecture of that time has now reached an age when it requires renovation, yet it is being demolished at a record pace. In suffering from a bad reputation, the significance of the architecture of the 1970s is in dire need of reevaluation. What are the strengths of design from that decade, and could we learn from them in present-day construction? Nevertheless, during the 1970s, buildings that today would be considered valuable were demolished on frivolous grounds. Do we have a better understanding today and can we avoid similar mistakes?

Concrete Dreams opens up the controversial decade of architecture and phenomena of the era, inviting us to join on an experiential journey to 1970s Finland. This was a decade when the nation dreamed of economic growth, prosperity and equality. The new social reality was also reflected in the built environment, which required a redefinition of architecture as professionalism founded upon democracy, scientific research, the common good and universal competence.

The exhibition is divided into four sections, each of which tells its own version of events. The story begins at home. Sitting on the black-leather sofa in the living room, it’s easy to imagine how the shiny-new modern home felt like to its first residents. Like many other new homes, this newly built home was located in the suburbs. The second section explores the ideals of the time about neighbourhoods and their services, where people were brought together socially and where it was safe for children to be. The third section invites us to examine society in general. In the cities, a lot of old buildings had to give way to larger buildings and more efficient traffic routes. Was something unique lost in the demolition frenzy? However, with the increase in leisure time and a higher standard of living, new high-quality hotels and other service buildings sprang up all over the country. The fourth section invites the visitor into the architect’s office, where a balance had to be found between the conflicting pressures of efficiency requirements, the pursuit of a common good, new technological advances and changing theoretical trends.

Concrete Dreams continues the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s series of exhibitions exploring the architecture of past decades, this time reaching the 1970s. The exhibition has been curated by Petteri Kummala, the Museum of Finnish Architecture’s deputy head of information services and research, Jutta Tynkkynen, the museum’s curator of exhibitions, and Anni Vartola, senior lecturer in Architecture at Aalto University.

“The prevailing image of the architecture of the 1970s is unfortunately disparaging and one-sided. The decade nevertheless proved to be a bafflingly dynamic and pluralistic phase in development. Our architecture of the 1970s was both a test laboratory for many ideas that would only be realized later, and it was the last decade of the common good,” says Anni Vartola.

“The bad reputation of the built environment of the 1970s already came about from criticism at that time, when architects were disappointed with the suburbs that had been built rapidly due to the glaring housing shortage. A critical interpretation has, until today, persistently characterized design of the entire decade. When the built environment of the 1970s is examined more closely and within the perspective of the entire decade, diversity, high-quality design and issues such as ecological construction come to light, which are highly relevant today. From a distance of 50 years, one can also say that the suburbs of that era deserve to have their honour restored,” says Petteri Kummala.

“In the Concrete Dreams exhibition, the Museum of Finnish Architecture has strived for a more accessible museum experience than previously. The aim is that every visitor, regardless of their age and background, can find interesting viewpoints in the exhibition. The presented emerging themes, such as socially equitable housing and the design of accessible public spaces, touch people’s daily routines and life today, just as much as they did fifty years ago,” says Jutta Tynkkynen.

Book (available in Finnish only): Murrosten vuosikymmen – Suomen arkkitehtuuri 1970-luvulla

(A Decade of Upheaval – Finnish Architecture in the 1970s)

The book Murrosten vuosikymmen makes us realise how little of Finnish architecture from the 1970s has been researched and recorded. The various articles in the book highlight the meanings and key phenomena related to the built environment of this “forgotten decade”. They also offer a nuanced overall picture of construction during the 1970s, the environmental and regional planning ideals, and the intellectual legacy of the period. The book, which continues the series of Museum of Finnish Architecture monographs on Finnish architecture through the decades, is intended to launch a discussion about the values and special features of the architecture of the 1970s. The book’s scholarly articles are written by: Minna Sarantola-Weiss, Kirsi Saarikangas, Ranja Hautamäki, Julia Donner, Juhana Lahti, Jorma Mukala, Harri Hautajärvi, Essi Lamberg, Maire Mattinen and Anni Vartola. The book has been realized with funding from the Foundation for Quality of Construction Products.

Press images:

Ilona Hildén, Communications Planner, Museum of Finnish Architecture / +358 45 7731 0468

Additional information:

Petteri Kummala, Head of Research, Museum of Finnish Architecture  / +358 45 7731 0477

Ilona Hildén, Communications Planner, Museum of Finnish Architecture / +358 45 7731 0468

Concrete Dreams
And Other Perspectives on 1970s Architecture

Museum of Finnish Architecture 17.5.–15.10.2023

Image: Volker von Bonin / Helsinki City Museum

Published: 2 May, 2023