Modeling our historical past:

Iivantiiran Ypykkä revisited

This exploratory study is part of the survey on oral history in Iivantiira village. It is an attempt to create new methods for interview based research in oral history, by using aerial and other conventional photographs in conjunction with 3D modeling. It is assumed that the approach can elaborate and strengthen the interview process by giving new projective stimulus for the respondent and a way of testing interview findings.

Focus of the study is on the oral history of Iivantiiran Ypykkä, a legendary neighborhood of Iivantiira village which formerly was an archetype of backwardness. Ypykkä is located in the author's home village in Kuhmo municipality, at the eastern border of Finland. The villagers aim at making the bad renommee of the village into a positive asset, which will help in community construction in a scarcely populated countryside area with many challenges.


Ypykkä was visited by nationally well known author Ilmari Kianto, who describes the house and its inhabitants in a chapter of his book 'Kuhmon kulmilta: Matkavälineenä postiauto - takatuuppari ja suutarin hevoset' (1927) [Kuhmo neighborhoods: Travelling with post car - motorboat and shoemaker's horses]. Although the account 'YPYKKÄ! Akattomain veljesten talorähjä' [YPYKKÄ! The awkward house of unmarried brothers] wasn't badly meant, it is still an example of Kianto's pejorative way of describing the difficult living conditions in Kainuu region in mid-eastern Finland.

Former president Urho Kekkonen, who was also born in Kainuu, was a friend of Kianto. While supporting his political carrieer by skilled journalism and ambitious road construction projects, Kekkonen also visited Iivantiira in Kuhmo, and naturally also Ypykkä. His elaborate description gives due credit to the tough and zealous efforts and of the inhabitants. The article 'Kekkonen Kuhmossa' [Kekkonen in Kuhmo] which appeared in Suomen Kuvalehti 37/1951 could have been titled 'Kekkonen in Iivantiira' as his report is almost entirely dedicated to the village.

Early photographs

Both Kekkonen and Kianto were skilled amateur photographs who utilized their talent in producing their vivid accounts local conditions. The articles would maybe today be called investigative reports. Unfortunately it seems that all the negative originals of Kianto's and Kekkonen's high quality photographs have disappeared. Apparently Kianto's material was abundant, but further photographs which could through light on Ypykkä architecture of 1921 can hardly be found, as the author's home was twice destroyed by fire - with fatal consequences for Kianto and his archive.

'Ypykän akattomat veljekset', the unmarried four brothers portrayed in front of the 'savupirtti' [smoke cabin]
(Photograph reproduced from Ilmari Kianto's book 'Kuhmon Kulmilta', 1921. Copyrights are being processed)

Kekkonen was famous for his journalistic talent. His article has in fact been described as a contribution in a race with Kuvalehti's chief editor Ilmari Turja (yet another famous personality of the day). The two reporters were trying to excel in journalistic style and skill. The president reporter's photograph is of high interest, especially if it would be possible to trace the original negatives. The published picture of Ypykkä gives a detailed view of the layout of the houses of the Heikkinen family living in Ypykkävaara. Initial investigation into the location of the material indicates that Kekkonen's material was sent back to him from Suomen Kuvalehti, but apart from a note about this fact there is no trace of the current location of the material.

'Households of Ypykkävaara', Urho Kekkonen's illustration for Suomen Kuvalehti's article
(Published with permission from President Urho Kekkonen's heirs)

In addition to these two important resources, members of the Heikkinen family own photographs of the earlier Ypykkä houses, but possible not documents showing the original 'savupirtti' [smoke cabin] where Kianto met the four unmarried brothers. This material will be covered during the interview program of this research pilot.

The undertaking is based on a participatory approach where Matti Heikkinen — the current owner of the name giving household Ypykkä — plays an active part. Heikkinen has researched family history and he maintains a collection of source material which will now be accumulated with the outcome of this data gathering effort. Heikkinen has maintained an archive on material describing the current house and he has catalogued members of the family who have lived in Ypykkä. Some of them were present during Kekkonen's visit.

Aerial photography

Most households in Iivantiira village have an aerial photograph portraying of the main buildings hanging on the wall the main living room. Photographs taken from aircrafts seem in fact to be an interesting and highly potential source for research in oral history. Quite obviously they may provide an excellent base material for projective interviews describing change patterns in Ypykkä and other households in Iivantiira. As the abundant material stems from various historical periods, it should be possible to reconstruct a time line spanning maybe over a period of 50 years.

The history of aerial photography in Finland seems to go back to the 1930s. The Finnish aviation company Veljekset Karhumäki Oy took the first photographs in 1929 and since 1934 this branch became a vital part of their business operations. By 1950s the company had developed a collection of 40.000 air photographs. They were used for cartography but also sold as postcards. A majority of the images are from the 1960s but there seem to be a wider time spectrum and various approaches. Ari Koistinen from Helsinki not only colored pictures, but he also 'improved' quality by painting sharp details.

Photographer Keijo Kääriäinen from Lammi municipality took in 1967 a great number of high quality air photographs in Iivantiira village. His images were enlarged, framed and sold as such as artwork for the local households. Kääriäinen produced photographs between 1956 and 1996, both as photographer and later on also as pilot. The earliest photographs were taken with a 6x6 Hasselblad, which was succeeded by 32 mm equipment. According to Keijo Kääriäinen's son Pekka, there could be sufficient source material to produce a review of 4 to 5 time layers portraying the development of the Ypykkä settlement.

Detail of Keijo Kääriäinen's photograph of Ypykkä household in 1967
(Published with permission granted by Suomen Ilmakuva Oy)

Currently Pohjoismainen Ilmakuva Oy (earlier RINO-KUVA Oy) seems to be the most active company in the Iivantiira area. Operating from Tuuri in southern Ostrobotnia, their aeroplanes and helicopters seem to regularly survey also northern Kuhmo.

3D modeling and timelines

The first wave of virtual reality modeling occurred in Kainuu region in 2002 when the Virtuaali-Kainuu project made virtual reality (VRML) 3D models of central parts of Kajaani and other municipal centers. Some environments were also reproduced in Kuhmo at the initiative of the current author. Due to lack of economical incentive the idea was unfortunately dropped at the point were VRML modeling should have turned into a mass movement. But the time wasn't maybe yet ripe for such a development.

The 3D modeling application SketchUp was originally developed in 1999 by Brad Schell and Joe Esch for a small startup company called Last Software. When Last Software managed to develop a plugin for Google Earth this attracted the Internet giant to acquire Schell's and Esch' company. Since then, freely distributed SketchUp has matured through a number of user-friendly innovations and some vital support software, which enable users to publish their 3D models in Google Earth. SketchUp is available for both Macintosh and Windows computers. Quick learning is supported by the fact that the program is highly intuitive. Moreover, there is abundant support literature and good tutorial videos. A pro version is also available, which improves user's capability to use component oriented design patterns and to produce 3D based presentations with an auxiliary tool called LayOut.

The first model of the current Ypykkä main building was designed from a plan submitted by Matti Heikkinen to the municipal authorities as part of an application. In addition, the above detail of the Kääriäinen's aerial photograph was used as a design aid. Measurements of room and window heights were made. Finally the location (southwestern corner of the building at N 64° 29.387', E 29° 29.710) and direction (82°) of the house were ascertained with GPS equipment and compass. After a number of earlier tutorial exercises the design process wasn't too much of burden. (Further information on this modeling effort can be found in Finnish on the Google web site Iivantiira 3D.)

Interview procedures

Google Earth has recently added a new feature which supports the idea of this study: Apart from spatial navigation, it is now possible to move chronologically in the 'time line'. Architectural development can thus be portrayed diachronically. In this way historical change in the Ypykkä settlement can be viewed and deliberately constructed. In this case we should be able to produce a series of presentations from aerial photographs over a period 50 years. This can be supplemented with yet some 30 years portrayed through conventional photographs. In addition, we could also consider the use early maps.

Architect's view of the entrance and western side of the Ypykkä main house
(Matti Heikkinen's personal collection)

The interviewer prepares a Google LayOut presentation of the settlement which provides the structure of the interview. Parts of the model are detailed by photographic material and a list of interview questions. It is assumed that the answers will add further depth to the visual data. This additional information will naturally be added to the model. In this way the study will apply a dialectical methodology, were the interview process iterates the findings towards a gradually improving model and related contextual information.

— Philip Donner

2D rendition of the SketchUp model of the current Ypykkä main building