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What has been ongoing at Hyrsylän Koulu

On the 7th February 2019, after 1,5 years of work and negotiation since I first sighted Hyrsylän Koulu in 2017, I finally signed the deal of buying this former school. Built in 1905 and closed down in 2015. Now, in March 2020, what's been happening?

The auction by the city of Lohja ended in September 2017 and the initial proposal and price from my side stood unchanged: 180k euros to buy the property and restore it to bring a mix of private apartments, cohousing, coworking and educational spaces.

For this pilot and innovative project to succeed, I gathered a team and created a company named “Gamified Cohousing Oy”, framed under the work being done at Architectural Democracy.

Hyrsylän Koulu is now the culmination of other trials of cohousing and coworking in Finland. The most recent attempt for this, from my side, was in Porvoo, with the Svartså Skola.

Svartså did not work out despite much work, drawings, a website and a team assembled for it. It failed due to a lack of transparency by the real estate agent negotiating the deal and the high price. But luckily Hyrsylän Koulu was found just in time.

The delay of the whole process to buy Hyrsylä's abandoned school in the municipality of Lohja was caused mainly due to a neighbor’s complaint to the authorities, the nationwide famous Aira Samulin. She was against the sales of this property to me and not to her. As it is usual in most countries around the world, whenever a building is facing changes it has to go through a set of legal steps to be accepted. One of these important steps is to ask the neighbors, if they are in any way against such changes, even if all the legalities are ok. So, with the complaint, we could not sign the acquisition of the school and it was agreed with the city of Lohja, to make a pre-contract, supervised by my lawyer, to state it clearly that my intentions were serious.

The decision of the Administrative Court of Finland arrived in mid-December 2018 and decided in my favor. I respect Aira's complaint and value the system that protects the community first. Newcomers like me, must work harder than locals, simply to prove they are to be trusted by the local community.

After the Christmas holidays, and despite a great deal of unexpected delays due mostly to people’s sickness, I paid and signed it on the 7th February 2019 at 10:30 at the city of Lohja. The mayor of the city of Lohja, Mika Sivula, also dropped a short visit during the signing wishing me a warm welcome to Lohja, but it was Tapio Ruutiainen from the city of Lohja, here shaking hands with me, that did most of the work in Lohja, showing a great balance betweeen professionalism and friendship throughout these years of negotiations.

It is easy to fall in love with this region and with this building. It was Perttu Iso-Markku, a former student of this school and a friend of mine from my political life, that gave the hint that his house was being sold. From that moment till today, one can feel it with the eyes of our skin (as Juhani Pallasmaa says) that this place has seen far more happy and inspiring moments than otherwise negative ones. On that day of 7th, Feb. 2019 the cold outside mattered not.

So, now it was time to apply our ideas into Hyrsylän Koulu. During those 1,5 years before the signing, we improved our company and we were granted several financial supports as for example from Business Finland or The Helsinki Think Company, to develop the company and the needed app/game for the platform/facility management, which will be used at Hyrsylän Koulu and other future gamified cohousings.

With the valuable support of the Games Factory of Helsinki, we selected the company Zaibatsu Interactive Oy, from Jyväskylä, and made together the first lines of programming and visualizations which we have been showing throughout the world in many presentations such as this one at tiedekulma in Helsinki.

This app is at its early stages, but we are improving it constantly, see here some of its study cases and visualizations:

Meanwhile, we have documented exhaustively the whole building with laser scans and photogrammetry. The building is now far better documented then it has ever been. Soon we will be able to show much better groundbreaking 3D interactive results which we are working with a team from Portugal.

We have been in close talks with the city of Lohja and the Museovirasto (the heritage protection association of Finland) to find the right balance between improvements, to meet both the modern standards of living and working, and to keep the building as authentic as it can be to the original. For example, the floor of the school will most likely be renovated back into its original wooden floor, removing the added surface installed in the 80s and we will add ramps to make the school wheelchair accessible. My father dedicated his life to the professional integration of mental handicaps, and when he consulted the city of Porto about ramps, he simply explained to them, ramps are great for people with a troley, elderly, baby wagons and... ah yes, wheelchairs.

We have too, been extremely careful in documenting the history of the building by collecting documents and interviewing former students and teachers as here Paula Ojansuu did so well with a 360 camera.

We have created a mini provisory museum at the school, to collect documents and photos of the building's history.

We have involved 4 universities in this project for several studies. One of these will study the process related to fire safety and the difficulties caused into renovation of old buildings in Finland. According to a 2016 study from the Tampere University, Finland is nr1 in West Europe in demolishing buildings. Too many rules can create a sclerotic system unable to be flexible.

For the ongoing architectural planning of the renovations, we hired the natural Building Company to do a full survey of the condition of the house, which is going into far more detail to the ones provided by the city of Lohja.

To make Hyrsylän Koulu the reference work on cohousing and coworking, we have been interviewing too other cohousing projects worldwide, specially the ones from switzerland such as the mehr als wohnen (more than just living) with Lilo Ruther and Nina Linde. But we have also been welcoming designers, curators and diplomats to Hyrsylän Koulu.

Our work focuses on the design of the community first and the adaptation of the physical design to enhance it. This is to be reached best by interacting with the local community. We have thus engaged deeply with our neighbours, inviting them to music concerts we organized via the World Music School, grills, Christmas parties, etc. In return we have been invited to their own events, such the 90th birthday party of Leo Rautanen.

In late 2019, we celebrated the 80th birthday of the departure from this same school, of the local young men that in 1939 went to the winter war against the Soviet Union. We invited hundreds of people into a big party entitled 40+40=80. 7 music bands played and several memorable speeches were delivered, such as this one by Olavi Leikola:

The work of Gamified Cohousing and of Architectural Democracy is being noticed and so we happily currently receive weekly emails with offers. We have thus been able to talk about our ideas and process worldwide, from China to India to Mexico, invited from Universities, business development tracks, and even housing fairs such as the interior design fair of Habitare in Helsinki. For a full list see here.

One of these invitations was by the Schusev State Museum of Architecture in Moscow. Early this year we partnered with Ryozan Park of Japan and took Hyrsylän Koulu to this prestigeous Museum, just beside the Kremlin. Here is the video of that installation by redneck Productions:

And with it came a publication, where Hyrsylän Koulu featured pretty well among some well-known architects :-)

The past few months we have been preparing our exhibition for the Venice Biennale which Hyrsylän Koulu will be an element of. This process has been building up quite well and we are partnering with two major companies (further details will be disclosed soon).

We have been having many meetings with investors and potential partners and discussions on legislation of cohousing. One of these was held with Fira Oy, in helsinki, about how to enhance better cohousing financial tools. But most of such meetings and negotiations are on the making and cannot yet be disclosed. We can for now only confirm that we are 100% committed to our initial plan and we are on the right track to make it the right way, both locally and globally. Hyrsylän koulu is already a reference project, soon to become a world class working prototype.

One must deserve an old building, I hope to be up for such task and I will continue to invite locals to collaborate as much as they can with me and with our team in this path.

Pedro Aibéo



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