How Less Really Could Be More?

“It´s really small things that can bring the sense of community. It´s enough that we know one same person or we have gone to the same school. That helps a lot when you move to Helsinki for the first time and you are kind of freaked out by the city”, biology student Elina explains. We´re at Satakuntatalo, one of the student dormitories in Helsinki run by a regional student organisation. She has lived in the building for more than five years.

Satakuntatalo

Satakuntatalo is in no way luxurious apart from being right smack in the centre of Helsinki. It´s pretty clear that the building was not built yesterday and it has been on heavy use. Most students live in rooms of 8 square meters, A LOT smaller than for instance at Helsinki Region Student Housing Foundation.

But the students at Satakuntatalo have something more. They have a community. They have a clubroom that you can come alone to, get a cup of coffee and always find someone to chat. You can play boardgames and watch stupid reality TV. Or close with a bunch of people to the TV room and watch a movie together.

What binds them together is that they all come from the same region and in that way are new to Helsinki. They have all applied to live in this building and have been selected by the other students. They run the community together. For instance on Wednesdays Satakuntatalo has a shared evening with some programme and a good meal for a euro.

At Satakuntatalo everyone pitches in. By engaging in the shared activities you also strengthen your case for another year in the centre of Helsinki.

A room of 8 square meters is really small. It basically means that you have a bed and some storage. At Satakuntatalo people also have a fridge in the room. The shared areas are cleaned once a week by a cleaner.

Room at Satakuntatalo

The visit to Satakuntatalo could not have come at a better time. We had just spent five hours at the Aalto Department of Architecture in a mid-term critique of our housing studio. The students were clearly impressed by our visit to Denmark and the shared facilities in buildings like Tietgenkollegiet.

But many of the presented designs for Jämeräntaival 10–11 were still such that the increased shared spaces had dramatically brought down the number of tenants as the shared spaces had not made the private rooms smaller. So sharing was an add-on, not a replacement.

Jämeräntaival 10–11 in Otaniemi (architects Heikki and Kaija Sirén)

Both from an economic and sustainability point of view this equates trouble. If you bring down the number of tenants, that means that the rents of fewer students need to cover the costs of the whole building – i.e. higher rents. This is especially difficult regarding Aalto University´s plans to increase the number of foreign students on the expense of Finnish students as this means that students who do not urgently need an apartment are replaced by students who urgently need any apartment. Especially amongst African and Asian students the need for an affordable living solution is high.

From a sustainability point of view this in the worst case means that you actually build double systems and increase the use of energy. It also means that the heated square meters per capita actually grow and not diminish as a result of sharing.

The good thing is that the course is only half way. Good thing is also that there´s genuine boldness in the plans.

And this is why it is called studying and learning. It´s really impressive how the students have taken the issue of sharing seriously. They have really listened to the students they interviewed for their design brief. Now they just need to make it work in the economic parametres of student housing.

But the direction promises a lot for the future of student living. Maybe a visit to Satakuntatalo would help.