Rauma is a city on the southwest coast of Finland. Its historic city centre, Vanha Rauma in the local language, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. It is one of the largest and best conserved examples of Finnish traditional architecture and mediaeval urbanism, and provides an important account of the panorama in northern Europe. This project has sought to explore its outstanding urban, architectural and cultural features, but also the transformation processes over time, which the city has chosen to integrate while maintaining its essential characteristics. In this context, traditional constructive techniques and materials, structure and composition of dwellings, and their evolution over time were analysed, as were the conservation strategies being used in this complex, which is one of the most interesting aspects of the case study.
Watch video content
River Canal - Pappilankatu-kunninkaankat
Explore interactive 3D models
Learn more about Old Rauma, Finland
The original settlement around which the city of Rauma expanded was built on the slopes of Raumanmeri before the 15th century (Jämsä, 2012). In the years that followed, the town grew taking advantage of navigable waters and canals, between the church of the Holy Trinity, the sea, and the river-canal and on 17 April 1442 it was awarded the full privileges of city (Salo, Sundelin, 2015). At that point, Old Rauma was already developing around the Fishmarket Square (Kalatori), Market Street (Kauppakatu), and three of the streets which cross it. The town continued to grow towards the sea throughout the 17th century. Following a fire in the church of the Holy Trinity in 1640, the centre of the city was moved east, around Market Square (Kauppatori). At the same time a second longitudinal axis, King’s Street (Kunninkaankatu) was also built, and fences began to be used to define the limits of the settlement and to organize tax collection. This was also to limit growth: the delimited area is more or less an exact match to the current perimeter of the protected historic city centre, which at that point was full of blocks (Salo, Sundelin, 2015). The city was not greatly modified in the centuries that followed, despite being subjected to cycles of abandonment, repopulation, and growth. Different urban planning proposals were drawn up, especially aimed at regularizing the urban fabric and preventing fires, although in the end none of these were carried out completely. In the second half of the 19th century the city grew towards the sea following its economic development and population growth (Koivula et al., 1992). Various urban planning proposals were made throughout the 20th century. Among these it is worth highlighting those from the 1960s-70s, which would have drastically changed the appearance of the city, adding modern blocks and destroying almost all the historic dwellings, leaving only part of the historic and traditional constructions, those considered to be the most characteristic and important. A stop was put to this plan thanks to the determined opposition of residents and changes in attitude towards traditional architecture which were emerging in northern Europe at that point (Koivula et al., 1992). Thus, a new plan was drawn up in 1981, conserving the historic city centre, and finally, in 1991, Old Rauma was declared World Heritage Site by Unesco (Raitio, Tammi, 2018).
Rauma is a city with a population of 40,000 located in the region of Satakunta, on the west coast of Finland. Spread across 863 km2, it consists of nuclei built in various sectors. Some of these nuclei are groups of row housing or apartment blocks, while others are mixed groups of housing units, shops, bars, restaurants and public services or industrial areas, ports and elements connected with marine activity, shopping centres, and schools.
The original nucleus of the city is its historic centre 2 km east of the commercial port, and is still the heart and main centre of cultural and social activities. New Rauma has grown and developed, especially to the north, where most of the residential neighbourhoods are, whereas the south is mainly home to industrial facilities and shopping centres. The main economic activities, especially since the Second World War, are manufacturing industries including shipbuilding, steel, paper, and cellulose pulp. Furthermore, the port of Rauma is the fifth biggest commercial port in Finland in terms of volume of goods.
The historic centre of the city, which occupies around 0.3 km2, is known as Vanha Rauma, Old Rauma in Finnish. There are approximately 800 residents in the historic centre, spread out through 600 buildings, mostly dwellings and small stores, the oldest dating back to the 18th century. The city was built around the church of the Holy Trinity, near the sea, throughout the 15th century, taking advantage of the navigable canal which linked it directly to the sea (Jämsä, 2012).
Throughout its history, Rauma has witnessed numerous major events of different types, from fires to evolutions in culture, economy, and style, and has undergone many modifications which have formed its current appearance. Despite all these changes, the city continues to be an incredible example of Nordic mediaeval traditional architecture, which was appointed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1991 for its size and Conservation Management.
Old Rauma is composed of the addition of simple nuclei of wooden dwellings. Almost all the traditional buildings are ancient houses made of wood, nowadays largely converted into restaurants and shops. There are few examples of monumental architecture, among them stand 1) religious buildings, stone churches as The Holy Cross’s or The Holy Trinity’s, whose ruins lay in the southern part of the settlement; 2) public architecture, as the Old Town Hall’s, built with bricks and stones.
Old Rauma’s urban shape is composed of blocks whose shapes are often repeated and featured as described in the paragraph 2 of the following text. Regardless, blocks located among Old Rauma’s borders, whose limits are established by natural elements such as the river-canal or big stones blocks, have an irregular shape (such as Kirsti’s block one); the blocks located in the internal part of the settlement (such as Marela’s and Squared one’s) usually have a pseudo rectangular o squared shape.
Old Rauma is located in the centre of the current city’s territory, between the two north and south residential and commercial areas, the port and the east sector of the city. The structure of the urban fabric continues to reflect the original mediaeval settlement and it is composed of an irregular network of pseudo-rectangular blocks set out in orthogonal streets with the long sides going from east to west and the short sides north to south. Therefore, the historic city centre of Rauma follows a grid of orthogonal streets in which more or less rectangular blocks are inserted. There is no specific hierarchy for these spaces, although the two longitudinal streets across the city - King’s Street (Kuninkaankatu) and Market Street (Kauppakatu) - are identified as main streets. The city is made up of blocks with interior courtyards with dwellings on the perimeter, while secondary constructions such as warehouses, workshops, and stores are found inside (Raitio, Tammi, 2018).
At present, the courtyards, well-cared for and organized, are also used as ornamental gardens or leisure spaces, and serve as back spaces or terraces for bars, restaurants, and shops. As these places were originally used for rearing animals such as hens and pigs they would have looked very different in the past: there were no ornamental objects and instead of grass, they often incorporated earth or cobbles (a paving technique still used in many parts of Old Rauma). The secondary buildings found in the courtyards were warehouses and stables and the fences between plots and in the blocks were to prevent animals from escaping. Nowadays the subdivision between plots is unclear and is often merely theoretical.
No closed typology can be established for blocks, as there is rigorous and systematic repetition of geometries or modules, although some elements are always found forming the various blocks differently every time. These elements are closely linked to the city’s evolutions and changes over time. As these appeared “spontaneously” there are many characteristics irregularities specific to the historic city centre itself, including iron gates and entrances, fences, courtyards, secondary buildings, and dwellings (Raitio, Tammi, 2018).
Kirsti and Marela are the names of 2 historical houses that are located in these blocks. They were used, in the analysis, to identify those elements but they are not the official names of the blocks. ↩
Traditional dwellings in Old Rauma came to be as a result of the addition of small nuclei grouped within the same building, usually linear volumes or simple L- or T- shapes, the highest built on two levels with a basement below, under a single roof. Entrances can be found in different spots: along the outer edge directly giving onto the street, inside the courtyard, or in the chamfered corners of the block (Raitio, Tammi, 2018). Usually, the middle floor is the only inhabited space, while the other two (basement and attic) remain empty and are used to ventilate the entire building or for secondary domestic activities. Building height varies substantially and is especially dependent on the typology of foundation and plinths. In some cases the buildings have no basement so that the foundations are simple individual stone elements, which means that the dwelling rests almost directly on the ground. However, in other cases, especially in areas where the ground is uneven, the dwellings make full use of very high plinths.
The architectural composition of these houses is usually made up of three horizontal volumes: the stone plinth or base of the building, which corresponds to the basement; the main body of the house or external timber-clad walls, with windows, doors, and the entire system of cornices and decorations of the buildings; and the roof or attic (Mattila, 2014), sometimes complemented with storm windows for lighting, with gable or hip roofs usually waterproofed with painted corrugated iron. Secondary buildings follow the same composition criteria, albeit simpler and undecorated.
The traditional lifestyle was quite modest: the nucleus of the dwelling was usually made up of one or two large rooms where all activities were carried out, both during the day and night. Each room tended to have its own stove, a key element in dwellings, where they were not only the main source of heat but were also used for cooking (Nurmi-Nielsen, Lybeck, 1984).
Each housing unit was usually accessed through an entrance area which connected the different dwellings. The buildings had no running water or sanitary facilities indoors, so water was usually obtained from wells, which were generally public.
A final characteristic element is that of names: almost every building displays its own name, written in Gothic script on an oval plate on one of the outer walls. The names go back centuries to when the houses were named after the owners.
Traditional buildings, the most widespread building typology in Old Rauma, are almost always simple pine buildings. However, it should be noted that some masonry buildings date back to the 19th century, some new concrete buildings to the 20th century, and that the church of the Holy Cross and the original Town Hall were built in masonry and brick.
The foundations of the dwellings are usually large stone ashlar walls 1–1.5 m down in the ground. Furthermore, these walls also support the wooden beam under the upper logs that make up the outer building walls (Salo, Sundelin, 2015).
The traditional floor and roofs are wooden, usually consisting of a grid of main beams around the perimeter and half-log beams or crisscross boards, on which insulation (moss or other natural fibres and gravel) rests. The bare wooden floorboards are sometimes covered in linoleum, a material frequently used in the 20th century (Caruso, 2019).
The walls are built by piling wooden logs assembled at the corner. The exterior walls are separated from the ground by the main beam running along the stone walls of the basement. Strata of fibres are placed between the different rows of logs in order to level and aid insulation. The interior walls are built in the same way, although they rest on a main beam supported at the ends by brick cubes or piled bricks. It is also worth noting the existence of brick walls built around the stoves. Walls are usually clad on the outside with timber boards and decorative mouldings, while the interiors are covered with ornamental wallpaper (Raitio, Tammi, 2018).
Traditional roofs are truss roofs, made up of wooden boards, often covered with corrugated iron, already used at the end of the 19th century. Doors and windows are traditionally made of wood, with shapes and styles which have changed over time and fashion. Windows are generally double glazed to prevent heat loss while letting in daylight.
The roaps used for these activities can still be found in attics in Tammela. See CARUSO 2019 ↩
Old Rauma should be considered a valuable example of an inhabited traditional historic site: some users have reported on their knowledge of traditional trades which they continue to use, partly due to the initiatives mentioned. In general, the Conservation Management of the historic city centre can be considered rather good, generally tending to maintain buildings. Citizens usually have a high awareness of their surroundings and many of them try to respect them to the best of their knowledge and possibilities. In addition, local professionals display good knowledge of the characteristics of local architecture and carry out sensitive intervention. Some of the current constructive techniques can be seen to be based on traditional ones, while a few newly built dwellings have continued to use traditional materials and an architectural composition which is very similar to the traditional one.
The general architectural, technical, and material Conservation Management is good: many buildings have been preserved to the present day, and the original urban configuration can be clearly seen. In addition, systematic maintenance helps to combat the chronic degradation phenomena affecting materials, especially wood, which is vulnerable to water and deformation (Dumitrescu, 2016).
It is interesting to note how far dwellings have evolved in accordance with changes in lifestyle and needs. Originally, each building contained several one- or two-bedroom dwellings which over time have been merged to create modern dwellings with more rooms, which take up the whole building, but do not excessively change or denaturalize it. It should also be noted that some of the dwellings have undergone radical modifications, especially in private areas such as interiors and courtyards, resulting in irreversible and often harmful change due to the use of incompatible materials and/or techniques (Raitio, Tammi, 2018) by non-professionals with limited knowledge of traditional architecture. In addition to potentially causing irreversible damage to urban architecture and the urban complex, this trend could also lead to traditional trades being completely lost.
Another worrying phenomenon, perhaps the most important, is the transformation of the urban environment, where major commercial and industrial areas are built, adding to the detachment and isolation of the historic city centre from its surrounding territory and landscape. The type of architecture in these areas can also be completely unsuitable in terms of the size and materials, threatening to increase the isolation and denaturalization of the whole (Dumitrescu,2016;).
In Rauma traditional techniques are well disseminated. Although the younger residents are not as well-versed in traditional trades, and therefore lack the knowledge needed for interventions using traditional techniques in old houses, there are numerous initiatives for transmitting this type of information, as well as professionals interested in the field. In addition, many activities organized in Rauma help to keep traditional products and crafts alive, such as lacemaking, a widespread traditional domestic activity with its own festival in July. Local residents still continue their traditions of the past, such as decorating windows with elements which can be seen from the street, describing the residents and showing whether they are in or out.
The Municipal Renovation Centre of Tammela offers continuous support to citizens, builders, and tradespeople in the process of conservation of traditional dwellings, from information on the processing of grants available for restoration to contacts with companies and tradespeople who can carry out the work, as well as initiatives like the creation of a workshop open to the public. This workshop offers citizens all the tools, spaces, and conditions they need for maintenance and repair work in the form of do-it-yourself. This centre has also created a warehouse of materials and antique elements which can be acquired for installation in traditional buildings (beams, boards, doors, windows, handles, switches, tiles, fireplaces, etc.).
The centre manufactures traditional red paint (for periodic application to dwellings) following the traditional formula, which it sells at an affordable price. Finally, the centre organizes periodic meetings with the different craftsmen in the region. During this time, the courtyard of the centre in Tammela is open to citizens offering live demonstrations by the tradespeople and construction craftsmen wishing to take part: carpenters using axes to carve beams; carpentry restorers demonstrating how to replace stucco around glass; blacksmiths; and manufacturers of traditional wallpaper and traditional or compatible paint.
Thanks to this initiative, citizens of all ages, including children and young people, come into direct contact with the traditional trades, either to carry out their work at home, or to learn techniques to take care of their homes.
Rauma provides an excellent example of strategies: above all it shows the importance of a centre for education and coordination, contributing not only to the dissemination of knowledge of trades among non-professionals, but also to their training in heritage, making them more familiar with old buildings, learning about them while accepting their limitations, and appreciating their value and strengths. This is why it is important to incentivize and promote the activity of Tammela, as well as considering setting up a network of similar centres in various cities, to coordinate on a wider scale. Another lesson to be learnt from this last observation regarding Rauma is the unquestionable importance of citizens’ involvement in activities which promote and take care of the city.
Old Rauma is to some extent a system of sustainable development where buildings continued to be used as dwellings, with compatible transformations (Dumitrescu, 2016; Raitio y Tammi, 2018) (although at times it becomes necessary to compromise and sacrifice some elements), living in them and allowing the whole to continue to be a living community rather than a museum. Their survival depends on the promotion and application of urban regulations to protect the historic city centre. It is vital to strengthen this urban planning protection. The design of more compatible planning, tied to the territory, historic landscape and the historic city itself is needed. This planning should take into account the resources as a whole, providing guidance, and proposing architectural structures and urban spaces which guarantee a connection with surroundings, strengthening these based on its positive aspects. It is also important to consider an urban planning which implements compatible economic measures which respect and do not threaten the type of economy found in the historic city centre, an essential resource for the survival of Old Rauma.
Some sort of sustainable and “active” development could be recommended for Rauma, not unlike that in place. That is to say, one with people still living in old dwellings, attempting to respect them as much as possible, with interventions, modernization, and retrofits suited to a “normal” life following modern standards. However, these should also take into account the conservation of constructive techniques, materials, architecture, and the most important characteristics (Raitio, Tammi, 2018)