Korkeasaari Lookout Tower

by | 12. Feb 2013

Parks | Project | Public/ leisure

Situated on a site eighteen meters above sea, with spectacular views of the sea and the city of Helsinki,  the tower  is a delicately transparent landmark of Korkeasaari Island.


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

Established in 1889 Helsinki’s Korkeasaari Zoo, located on Korkeasaari Island, has animals from Finland and around the world housed in large natural enclosures.

The competition for the design of the ten-meter-high timber tower, presented to students of architecture at Helsinki University of Technology, was organized by the Korkeasaari Zoo in collaboration with Wood Focus Finland.

The load bearing structure consists of 72 long battens, with a section of 60mmx60mm, that are bent and twisted on the site from seven pre-bent types.  Over 600 bolted joints hold the shell structure together.

Having no weather protection the wood is treated with a linen oil-based wood balm with UV-protection.


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

The free form of Hara’s winning entry, inspired by the natural setting, follows the existing low stone wall and skirts around a small birch grove.

When the drawing of the irregular form proved difficult Hara moulded a plastoline model. Digital images of the model then functioned as a basis for the AutoCAD drawings.

Using the level drawings he constructed a 3D-computer model onto which he “taped” the curved battens to form the grid shell.


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

Students at the Wood Studio workshop developed the draft design further by assembling scale models and exploring structural details.


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

To test if  the pre-bent battens, that form the  basket-like grid shell, tolerated bending and twisting Hara laminated full-scale pieces of the battens. When the laminated timber resisted twisting he resorted to steaming, a traditional method in boat building.


Photo: Jussi Tiainen, HUT photography laboratory

The effect of surface treatment with linen oil-based wood balm on moisture content was determined by moisture tests and the durability of the joints was proved by tension tests.

The tower was erected by an international group of eight students of architecture. With the hot, sunny summer drying up the timber, the duct pipes that were used for steaming proved useful. It took us three months to complete the job.

The Helsinki University of Technology Wood Studio workshop was started by Professor Jan Söderlund in 1994. The course was aimed to contrast the rather pragmatic building technology courses. It is characterised by innovation and artistic approach. The students are selected by an annual student competition and half of them are foreigners.

The department of Architecture now has a new professorship for wood architecture with Professor Georg Grotenfelt running the Wood Studio course.


CITY Helsinki
ARCHITECT HUT Wood Studio/ Ville Hara, Architect, SAFA