The Finnish artist Jan-Erik Andersson’s Gesamtkunstwerk (or ‘Total Art Work’), the leaf shaped house Life on a Leaf, was completed in 2009. The unique house, which functions as a home for Andersson’s family in Turku, was first conceived in 1999. It was planned with architect Erkki Pitkäranta, with whom Andersson has worked for many years under the name Rosegarden Art & Architecture.


The house is the main part of Andersson’s Doctorate in Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. In it Andersson imaginatively explores several issues, which address the relationship between art and architecture, and between a house and its surroundings: Can you live in a picture or a sculpture? In which ways can nature be mediated gradually into the house? Can a building based on stories and on representional shapes – like a leaf, a bluebell, and a Brasilian ferry – still be considered as architecture? Why don’t we see more houses shaped like flowers, hats or shoes? Doctoral study


Along with sources like Kurt Schwitters, Le Corbusier, Antoni Gaudi, Bruce Goff, Konstantin Melnikov, Hundertwasser, Archigram and Rem Koolhaas Andersson has also been inspired by the Swedish children’s author, Elsa Beskow, whose tales include houses shaped like hats and umbrellas. One of Andersson’s constant themes during his 30 years as an artist is the investigation and questioning of the border between the colourful and iconic aesthetics constructed by adults for children and the somber seriousness, which usually is related to adult visual culture.

Invited artists

The Life on a Leaf house has inspired a dozen of Andersson’s artist colleagues to make art works and poems, which are incorporated into the building ¬– wall and floor details, a laminated kitchen table top, wall paper, light fixtures, in-floor video work, outdoor tables and benches, environmental planning and a sound installation in a handrail which responds to changes in the wind and light outside. Andersson describes it as a way to have the friends of the family present. It also points to the social and communicative side of the house project. The house is not a sealed private house — it is a place where people with diverse thoughts and aesthetic views can meet and collaborate. Invited artists

Recycled interior and IKEA

This is also reflected in the interior design. Modernist elements such as the six meters high curved white walls are combined with strongly ornate floors, kitchen cupboards from IKEA and mosaic works made as a collaborate between all the members of the family. All the wash basins, toilet stools and the bath tub are from recycle centers. The house is heated by a thermal system.

A sustainable future

Andersson believes strongly that research into the visual and design aspects of a sustainable future has to be done on many levels. In the Life on a leaf project Rosegarden explores the ecologic dimension of dream, the imagination, the iconic space, and “slow living” – ideas, which have roots in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Iconic space

In the theoretical part of his Doctorate dissertation Andersson stresses the role of detail, ornamentation and artistic intervention in making a building “come forward” and become architecture in its fullest sense. Another important issue is the exploration of ways through which the surrounding nature can be mediated into the house through various cultural elements –- for example through the leaf- shaped floor plan, which eschews right angles; pictorial elements as in windows shaped like leaves, teardrops, a heart, a mouth; and also through the curved shapes of the inner walls, intended to create a feeling of walking on a pathway in natural surroundings. Andersson describes the unique sense of spatiality created by these elements as “Iconic Space”.