VERSION #2 at Pori Biennial 2014





In the 8th town district of the City of Pori, at Siltapuistokatu 21, where there today is a wild growing thicket, existed between 1911-1983 a building known as St. Isak’s. The house was named after its builder, Isak Mäkelä, and its inhabitants were mostly poor people: factory workers with family, unemployed or otherwise temporary guests. At its density peak St. Isak’s housed more than sixty tenants. The legend goes that the self-taught builder Isak had a new apartment built always when asked for by changing the existing arrangements of walls or putting up a few new ones. He also utilised all the nooks and corners in the complex roof structure to create separate rooms. Isak also had a knack for gathering all possible materials for building; parts of the bearing construction of the house came from the old wooden bridge Charlotta as it was demolished in 1926. Isak’s house was literally like St. Isaac’s. It grew slowly and gradually as time went by, quite definitely without any final plan. It can be thought that the speciality of St. Isak’s was in its flexible capacity to house different amounts of people. The house could not be said to be ready or having reached a likeness to any architectonic drawing since there were no such drawings to begin with and the existence of the building was the changing life situations of its inhabitants.

To commemorate the building we commissioned a scale model and a vitrine for it from local craftmen. This installation we placed in the thicket on the property where the house used to be. To understand the place and its history we also interviewed people who still remember St. Isak’s and one person who had actually lived there. In the interviews a paradoxical attitude towards the conditions under which people lived then and live now, came strongly through. On one hand St. Isak’s was thought of as the slum of the 8th district, but also an atmosphere of strange warmth was reminisced. The changed standard of living was seen as a God’s blessing – a blissful state somehow still shadowed with the awareness that God was not able to grant the same standards to all peoples’ of the earth. One of the interviewees concluded that: ”This is a too high standard of living. This cannot go on.” At the same time his wife happily told a story of how the first radio came in their house during the war. She ended her tale by saying: “We had a bomb shelter in the field, but in the radio they said that Pori will not be bombed and we should just stay at home. So there we stood at the window watching the bombs fall – and listened to the radio.”

After spending quite some time wondering at the ticket replacing St. Isak’s now and fantasising about all those people inhabiting their erratic attic rooms where now the tree canopies swayed, we also started to think of time itself as something self-made and as a very concrete space fro living in. If we experience time as a continuum, we are fastened to it both by our practices as well as by all the signs and remains of all other practices before us referring to the continuum. We might, so to say, be facing hard times when a rushing structural change sweeps off all the environmental and social remnants to ground a temporal existence to, and replaces the continuum with a timeless space, a ’new time’, a future, which is separated from all the old and by-gone things. In these Modernistic visions environments can be produced from scratch, from a clean slate as the saying goes. Getting an edgewise attitude through in the urban design practices seems slow. Environments that are built based on urban design that is inside out productisized and standardized, leaving out all historical residue, are as if hermetically sealed off in a frozen architectonic vision.

This abstraction leaves the inhabitants in a situation where in order to assemble a perspective in time, they have to bring along all personal and historical ‘vestiges’ as they move in and thus create their own time continuums, separate from where they actually are. A building lot over-taken by vegetation with red bricks peaking from the soil – the foundations of St. Isak’s – forces the question of personal, historical relations to the environments we live back into the light of day idf we can think of it anything else than a vacant lot for further development. We happen to think that these kinds of temporal thickets like St. Isak’s, plots and wastelands beyond planning control, are very important breathing spots for city structures, also in the future.