Helsinki - A growing city

Museum of Contemporary Art KIASMA

Picture: Pirje Mykkänen / Visit Finland

Finland suffered great hardship during the World War II, and the post-war reconstruction effort was not completed until the 1950s.

With the burgeoning growth of the city in the 1950s and 1960s, the focus of new building shifted to the suburbs.

Tapiola Garden City was built among pristine forests and meadows in Espoo, west of Helsinki.

Tapiola became internationally famous for its spacious layout and meticulous landscape design. 

Public building in Helsinki escalated in the 1950s, the “Golden Age” of Finnish architecture.

Numerous buildings were commissioned, among them the Helsinki School of Economics (Runeberginkatu 14–16) and the Porthania Building of Helsinki University (Yliopistonkatu 3).

The renowned architect Alvar Aalto, who had already made his name in the 1930s, designed the main office of the National Pensions Institute of Finland, the House of Culture (Kulttuuritalo), and the so-called Rautatalo (“Iron House”) office building with its Marble Hall.

Anyone who steps inside one of these interiors will sense Aalto’s special gift for creating fluid spatial sequences. A late Aalto masterpiece, the white, marble-clad Finlandia Hall (Mannerheimintie 13 E), also impresses with its foyer, auditorium, and congress wing. 

Amongst tourists, the best-known building in Helsinki is almost certainly The Rock Church at Temppeliaukio (Lutherinkatu 3).

It is often known simply as “The Church in the Rock”, and is partially embedded in a granite outcrop.

The gently-domed copper roof, large skylight windows, and impressive rough-hewn stone interior draw large crowds to the church, which was designed in the 1960s by two brothers, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen.

The late 1970s represent a statistical watershed: approximately half the buildings in Finland have been completed after that time.

The population of Helsinki multiplied as people from the country’s outlying regions inexorably moved south. 

Helsinki today

Various schemes to develop the area surrounding the inland bay of Töölönlahti have been aired during Finland’s independence.

Three major cultural buildings have been completed on the shores of this inlet of the sea: Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall, Timo Penttilä’s Helsinki City Theatre (1967), and the Finnish National Opera (1993) by the Hyvämäki-Karhunen-Parkkinen partnership.

The area is constantly developing.

Facing Parliament on the other side of Mannerheimintie and next to the main Railway Station is the bastion of Helsingin Sanomat, the country’s largest daily newspaper.

This large nine-storey cube has brought fresh glass architecture and a new scale of building to the heart of the city.

It was designed by Antti-Matti Siikala and Jan Söderlund from SARC Architects.

During the past few decades, major new developments in the city centre have taken place behind the historic facades, as new pedestrian routes and glazed shopping precincts have been created among the masonry buildings erected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

A piece of original architecture is the Museum of Contemporary Art (Kiasma) by the American Steven Holl, which has won plaudits and stimulated debate. 

REMEMBER THESE TREASURES

The Pohjola building (Aleksanterinkatu 44) with its abundant decorative sculpture is worth a stop during your shopping spree. 

For inner peace, spend a few quiet moments at the National Library of Finland (Unioninkatu 36) designed by C.L. Engel. 

For a peek of a different side of Helsinki, take the tram no. 7 to Mäkelänkatu and visit the idyllic Puu-Vallila area, famous for its old wooden houses dating back to the early 20th century. 

Take a walk in the Linnunlaulu area around the Töölönlahti Bay for Chekhovian moments. The beautiful villas in the area were built between the 1870’s and 1880’s.

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