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Architect Wivi Lönn

The city of Iisalmi

Wivi Lönn (1872? 1966) was a prolific architect, whose buildings include e.g. From Helsinki, Tampere and Jyväskylä. She ran her own architectural firm, the first woman in Finland, and designed e.g. several school buildings. For example, he designed the wooden part of Edvin Laine's school in Iisalmi in the early 20th century.

Olivia Mathilda Lönn was born in Tampere in 1872. Her father was brewmaster Emanuel Wilhelm Lönn and her mother Johanna Maria Mathilda Sirén. Olivia was the second child in the family. His older brother Fredrik Wilhelm was born in 1870. After Olivia, Emil Arvid was born in 1874 and Aina Maria in 1876. The family lived near the Onkiniemi brewery in a villa owned by the brewery. Lönn fondly remembered his cozy and beautiful childhood home even in his old age.

Wivi Lönni's childhood was marked by tragedy, her father died in 1888, after which the family was in financial trouble. Wivi's single mother had to rely on the help of her children while she supported the family as a boarding house keeper. It took Wivi 8 years instead of 6 years to graduate from high school.

In middle school, Lönni had an excellent math teacher, thanks to whom he learned to calculate high school level math. In mathematics, he was the best in his class, which led to his interest in architecture. In the last grades of middle school, Lönn had started to use the shortened form of his name Vivi and soon after that the form Wivi. The colloquial name later became established as the name he used as an architect.

Wivi Lönn is perhaps the most underrated of the great Finnish architects. He is often overshadowed by Saarinen, Engel, Lindgren and Sonck, although his works are on the same level as the buildings of the aforementioned masters. 

Wivi Lönn is known for its many schools, among which Tampere Finnish Girls' School, Tampere Aleksanterinkoulu, Mikkeli Finnish Co-educational School and Tampere Business School have gained fame. In Jyväskylä, Lönn designed almost an entire district for Seminaarinmäki. For the Jyväskylä beverage factory, he designed a red brick factory building and a residential and office building built of stone and wood.

Wivi Lönni's most impressive work is probably the Estonia theater, which even today dominates the look of Tallinn's old town. Estonia teatteri was Wivi and Armas Lindgren's landmark work Thalia from 1908. With that plan, they won the design competition for a multifunctional theater and opera house. The actual Estonia theater was completed in 1913.

Iisalmi Kauppala's first public school building was completed in 1878 on plot no. 10 at the corner of today's Savonkatu and Ilvolankatu. The number of students at the school increased after Iisalmi became a city, and more space was needed. In 1905, the city bought the school plot, neighboring plot no. 9, from Anna Sofia Korhose. The lots were combined into one lot and work was started on a new separate annex. 

Wivi Lönn designed the wooden part of Edvin Laine's school in Iisalmi at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1908, the new side of the national school was completed, a wooden building designed by architect Wivi Lönni. The new side was a one-story wooden building in the style of the old side, which included 6 classrooms and a ballroom. The building was covered with an iron sheet. The building was placed in the western corner of plot no. 9. The area between both schools remained the school yard.? ?An art nouveau school building from the beginning of the century, quite rich in details, and represents Wivi Lönni's production. The building is related to the history of the Iisalmi school. The building is located in a city-scape significant location on the edge of Kirkkoaukio.

Museum Agency

Wivi Lönn was active until the 1930s, but the change in the prevailing trend in architecture from the classicism of the 1920s to functionalism discouraged Wivi's will to continue designing, although some works were completed as late as the 1950s. Wivi Lönn stated that building materials and new trends have overtaken his time. Wivi Lönn died at the age of 94. He lived the last years in Helsinki in his own designed ?Hotel Helkan? in a house. The house was financed by Wivi's long-time friend, sales advisor Hanna Parviainen, Hanna also had an apartment in the same building. 

Wivi is buried in the Kalevankanka cemetery of his hometown, Tampere.


General catalog of Finnish building culture.

Holmila, P. 2022. Architect Wivi Lönn was perhaps a more significant name in 20th-century architecture than is even realised. HS.fi 29.4. https://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/art-2000008775566.html

Photos: Helsinki City Museum. Museum Agency's history picture collection. Lönn, W. & Lindgren, A. Estonia Theatre, Tallinn, Architecture Museum.

Sketches: Lönn, W., Tampere School of Commerce, Architecture Museum.

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