Helsinki 2022: Big Names and Big Projects

Ulf Meyer
18. April 2022
Pikku Finlandia (Photo: Mikael Linden)

Eliel Saarinen is considered the father of modern architecture and urban design in Finland, and Helsinki’s main railway station, completed in 1919, is one of his masterpieces. Building right next to it is a delicate task, yet the aptly named Elielplatsen (Eliel Square) just west of the station is too attractive a piece of real estate for it to remain an underused bus station. When Oslo’s Snøhetta won the competition last year to design a big commercial building on the site, it recalled the competition for Finland’s premier art museum, Kiasma, located just one block away.

"Klyyga," Snøhetta with Davidsson Tarkela Oy and WSP, 2022 (Visualization © Snøhetta and Plomp)

Thirty years ago, another prominent foreign architect, Steven Holl, had beaten the proud Finnish competitors. Now Holl's early masterpiece, completed in 1998, has just reopened after an intensive 28 million-euro renovation, which followed the aim of “not changing anything” — well, aesthetically that is, because the roof, ceiling, and facades revealed surprisingly many hidden, technical details that needed to be reworked.

Kiasma, Steven Holl Architects, 1998; lobby during the reopening festivities this year. (Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen)

Just down the road, along the shores of Töölönlahti Bay, a black wooden hall has been erected, another reworking of a masterpiece of modern architecture. Not long after the inauguration of Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall in 1971, the Carrara stone it was covered in proved to be problematic, unable to withstand the harsh Nordic winters. Because the convention center needed to get — yet another — facade replacement (this time with Lasa Bianco Nuvolato marble) and cannot currently be used, the “Pikku Finlandia” was built right next door. It is intended as a temporary building, but because it is so charming it may well be more durable and lasting than anticipated.

Pikku Finlandia, Jaakko Torvinen, Havu Järvelä, and Elli Wendelin in collaboration with Pekka Heikkinen and Architects NRT, 2022 (Photo: Mikael Linden)

The “Little Finlandia” substitute pavilion was designed by Jaakko Torvinen, Havu Järvelä, and Elli Wendelin in collaboration with Pekka Heikkinen and Architects NRT with circular economy, sustainability, and reusability in mind. While floor-to-ceiling glass lines the front, a colonnade runs along the length of the hall, with tree trunk-columns with protruding branches. Inside, these former trees create a little “forest.” The modular hall is meant to be disassembled after three years, once the Aalto building reopens, after which it will be reused as a school or day care at a different location.

Pikku Finlandia, Jaakko Torvinen, Havu Järvelä, and Elli Wendelin in collaboration with Pekka Heikkinen and Architects NRT, 2022 (Photo: Mika Pollari)

For their competition-winning building, Snøhetta chose granite, not wood or marble, for the facades. While the firm claims to have designed a hybrid timber structure that will act as a “porous new city block” and “make the city center more vibrant,” critics have dismissed the project as just another commercial building that takes advantage of proximity to a railway station. There are two other recent projects in Finland’s capital that also do just that: Tripla, designed by Helsinki’s Soini & Horto, is a new center around Pasila station, Finland’s second busiest station. Completed in 2020, the Tripla complex encompasses office space, a hotel with 400 rooms, and 1,000 residences; it cost more than one billion euros.

Tripla, Soini & Horto, 2020, seen from Pasila station. (Photo: Ximonic/Wikimedia Commons)

A similar price tag is expected once the Redi complex in the Kalasatama neighborhood is completed. Designed by architect Pekka Helin, also from Helsinki, Redi includes the tallest residential building in Finland, the 134-meter Majakka tower. The 35-story tower with 283 residences will be joined by seven other towers, as well as a hotel and offices. At the base of the towers, three of which have been built at this point, there is a shopping center. Redi is a classic example of a TOD (transit-oriented development), in this case centered around the Kalasatama Metro Station, which is located on the third floor and is directly accessible from Redi. Additionally, there is a nice public park on its roof.

Redi, Helin & Co Architects, ongoing. (Photo: Mika Huisman/Decopic)

Meanwhile, Helsinki’s JKMM Architects is going in the other direction: underground. Their winning proposal for the extension of the National Museum of Finland — another Saarinen building and one of Finland’s most important landmarks in the National Romantic style — features a new entrance and a restaurant in the listed museum garden designed by Saarinen colleague Armas Lindgren. The exhibition spaces and workshops will be underground, while aboveground a disc-shaped pavilion will have a roof that will appear to float over a structurally glazed facade. As a nod to Aalto’s Finlandia Hall across the street, the pavilion’s roof will be white — made of durable concrete, however, not marble.

National Museum of Finland expansion, JKMM Architects, ongoing. (Visualization: JKMM Architects)

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