After an incredible summer in San Francisco with the office of Hart Howerton, I made my way through the natural and urban landscapes of Finland, Sweden and Norway. These countries place their powerful nature at the crux of everything. I encountered a few forms of TIght Urbanism in each country. Finland has a remarkable history of small wooden gridded towns, most often being about 3 by 5 blocks. Some of these towns, such as Jyvaskyla – hometown of major Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto has such a grid layout. However, in order to adapt the grid, commonly used to organize buildings of stone, modifications to the model had to be made to accomodate the predominantly timber construction. These came in the form of fire alleys – often about 20′ wide mid-block and planted with deciduous trees to slow burn from one group of buildings to another. Here you can see one still in existence as a park now that most grid towns are made up of banal, post-war, concrete housing blocks.
Another example of wooden urbanism is the very well preserved village of Rauma, the best kept example of Nordic wooden villages. One can imagine these tiny lanes filled with people bustling about in the winter work hours with snow covering everything before one tucks into one of the low brightly colored buildings where everything is wood. These scales create a very intimate form of urban life that serves as an itneresting model for high density low-rise neighborhoods.
In Norway, Bergen is an interesting waterfront town on the rugged fjord coast of the southwest, where the Hanseatic League, a set of trade guilds had their northern outpost in the Middle Ages. The town is backed right up against a set of mountains and the sea, giving an interesting topography for building fabric to nestle into. Here are some examples of the Hanseatic Bryggen pier village and some of the more typical housing alleys in the town: