Nouveau ideas - boldly modernist

Central Railway Station Helsinki

Picture: Visit Finland

Nouveau ideas

Helsinki’s architecture offers many examples of turn of the century Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) and the classicism that followed.

These styles can be studied in numerous public buildings. The National Museum, the National Theatre, and Eliel Saarinen’s Central Railway Station are some of the landmarks of this period. 

Of the original interiors that still survive, it is worth noting the Jugendsali on Pohjoisesplanadi 19, which is currently used for exhibitions, the restaurant of the Hotel Seurahuone, designed by Armas Lindgren, and the glazed atrium of the Helsinki Stock Exchange building on Fabianinkatu, designed by Lars Sonck.

East of the Uspenski Cathedral stands the unique Katajanokka district, whose picturesque older streets are dominated by Art Nouveau features: massive stone gates, bay windows, and dreamlike turrets.

Other early 20th-century Jugendstil delights can be found in the areas of Kruununhaka and Eira.

Boldly modernist

Finland declared independence in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in 1917. In the first years of independence, architects entertained futuristic visions, dreaming of an American-style city centre.

The nearest they got to a skyscraper was the 14-storey Hotel Torni (“Tower”) of 1931. To this day, the planning policy has been to maintain an unbroken, horizontal skyline.

The most important public building project of the 1920s was the Finnish Parliament, designed by J. S. Sirén.

Finally completed in 1931, the Parliament building stands on an elevation, and is an imposing, granite cube conceived in a classical idiom.

The Stockmann department store further south on Mannerheimintie was completed around the same time.

The Kunst-halle, or Taidehalli, by Jarl Eklund and Hilding Ekelund, is on Nervanderinkatu 3 and offers an elegant example of so-called Nordic Classicism, the predominant style of the 1910s and 1920s.

Many examples of this restrained classicist idiom survive in the domestic architecture of the period. The suburb of Puu-Käpylä, with its colourful timber houses and leafy gardens, is one of the finest examples of the style, built on the scale of a small town.

The Modern Movement entered Finnish architecture quite smoothly, without rancorous debate. The Lasipalatsi (“Glass Palace”) building on Mannerheimintie 22–24 still appears as a fresh Modernist statement.

Initially intended as only a temporary structure, this two-storey complex is now a lovingly restored Functionalist shrine.

Another glittering Modernist interior that has been restored is the famous Karl Fazer café on Kluuvikatu.

Finally, Alvar Aalto’s distinctive, sensuous brand of Modernism can be experienced at the Savoy restaurant on Eteläesplanadi 14.

Today Modern Movement architecture is regarded as an integral part of our heritage.

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