Travel Guide: Helsinki

by | 06. Mar 2014


By Ulf Meyer

Helsinki is known as a ‘city of architecture’. As one of Europe’s youngest capitals, it was first shaped by Neoclassical architecture and later became the world’s  largest concentration of Jugendstil buildings and National Romanticism. It was Alvar Aalto, who put Finnland’s modern architecture on the world map. Helsinki features several of his masterpieces such as the Academic Bookstore and Finlandia Hall. Recently the city experienced a renaissance of wooden architecture (see Kamppi Chapel) as well as major international art centers such as The Kiasma (1998) designed by Steven Holl and the Helsinki Music Centre.

When walking through Helsinki one notices the lack of old landmarks. There is no historic core, old town or remains of a fortress or a medieval city center, like in other cities along the Baltic Sea or in Scandinavia. Helsinki’s story is based on its modern capital city status and on its location at the sea, the Gulf of Finland. Helsinki came about as the result of royal and imperial politics. The location on the sea, between East and West, has been an advantage. The Vantaa River, the waterfront, the bays, shores and coast-lines, have shaped the development of the city, whose Golden Age was before the First Word War. Helsinki had become the cultural, intellectual and political center of the country. After the end of the Cold War, Helsinki became a metropolis. Globalization and European integration prompted change in the planning. Helsinki sought its references not in a national urban hierarchy but among other capitals around the Baltic and Europe. Old factory and warehouse areas, ports and waterfronts become new housing areas. The 1952 Olympic Games and the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe 1975 bestowed international self-esteem, the ‘Helsinki spirit’. East or west? This question remains unsolved in Helsinki.


Main Railway Station. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Main Railway Station
Eliel Saarinen (1919)

The 200.000 passengers a day make Helsinki’s Railway Station the most visited building in Finland. With the inauguration of the first railway in the country in 1860 a first station was built on site. When it became too small, in 1904 an architectural competition was held for the new building. Eliel Saarinen emerged as a winner with his design in the national-romantic style. In the next five years, Saarinen revised his design in the Jugendstil. The station is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. Its three main facades are clad in Finnish granite. There is a clock tower in the East and two figures at the main entrance who hold lamps in their hands. The entrance leads into a large hall with a barrel roof. Three story office buildings with plaster facades flank the main hall. The station has 19 platforms, but only the central platforms reach right up to the hall. To the sides there are the suburban lines. A large lounge in the station serves the President of Finland exclusively. Its vintage furniture was designed by Saarinen himself. The lounge was originally planned for the Czar of Russia. Saarinen’s design had already called for a shelter for all platforms with a glass roof. However, it was only built in 2000 designed by Esa Piironen.


Kiasma. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Steven Holl (1998)
Mannerheiminaukio 2

In 1993 American architect Steven Holl had been invited to participate in the architectural design competition for the construction of the new art museum in the city -against 514 European competitors. He was the only American participant and his scheme won. His design is called “Kiasma”. The word “Kiasma” is the “finnisized” form for the biological term “chiasm” (crossroads), alluding to the design concept of the building. The museum houses the collection of Contemporary Art of the Finnish National Gallery on more than 9,000 m2 of exhibition space. It wants to “get modern art close to a wide audience.” The Kiasma has four floors with overlapping, curved galleries. To the west there is a narrow shaft and a trapezoid to the east. At their interface there is an atrium in which a long ramp leads to the upper floor. The floors are designed so that visitors can find their own paths through the building. All rooms are naturally lit. The vaulted roof has narrow light slits cut into it. In the twilight the Kiasma glows mysteriously from within through its profile-glass facades. The facade consists of hand-polished aluminum and frosted and clear glass, the roof is made of pre-oxydized zinc.

Read the arcspace feature on the Kiasma


National Parliament. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

National Parliament
Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1931)
Mannerheimintie 30

In 1923 a study concluded that the Arkadianmäki Hill in the Töölö-District would be the best site for the construction of the new Finnish National Parliament. In 1924 the classic architectural design by Johan Sigfrid Sirén won in an architectural design competition. The facades of the Parliament are covered with reddish Kalvola granite. Fourteen Corinthian columns adorn the front along Mannerheiminitie. In his design Sirén combined elements of neo-classicism with modern features such as the simplified design of the monumental columns. Two white marble staircases and a paternoster connect the floors vertically. The basement houses the lobby, a meeting hall and the great “Hall of the State.” The floor above contains the main foyer, a media room, information services, archives and dining rooms. The second floor is the main floor. It provides access to the public galleries of the plenary hall and a cafeteria. The floor above offers space for the information office and the press, the Protocol Office and several committee rooms. The fourth floor is reserved for political committees. On the top floor there are meeting- and party rooms.

Antti-Matti Siikala, Jan Söderlund (1999)
Töölönlahdenkatu 2

Antti-Matti Siikala and Jan Söderlund, the architects of the “Sanomatalo”-Building, designed a lofty building housing the editorial offices of the largest Finnish daily newspaper, the “Helsingin Sanomat”. A thousand employees work in the building. The “Sanomatalo” (News House) is one of the first fully-glazed office buildings in Northern Europe. The low sun in the North can illuminate the depth of the office floors. Thanks to the long  twilight hours, passers-by can watch editors at work in the building that glows at night like a crystal. The three lower floors contain an “exercise editorial office for students”, a fitness room with sauna, conference rooms, auditorium and canteen. The editorial, advertising and marketing departments, management and administration offices are located in the top eight floors. The building is square in plan with two diagonal paths cutting through. Siikala and Söderlund had won the architectural competition in 1995, because they promised to “bring the city into the building”: The accessible ground and first floors are grouped around the thirty meter tall atrium containing an art gallery, shops, a restaurant, a design forum and service counters. The northern corner is empty. Glass elevators and sculptural stairs make vertical movement exciting. The generous use of glass express the “spirit of a pro-European company” (according to the architect). The open floor plans are designed to encourage exchange and teamwork. A special coating on the double façade reduces the summerly heat gains by allowing only one-fifth of natural sunlight into the building. Glass corridor walls allow light into the depth of the building.


Musiikitalo. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

LPR Architects (2011)
Mannerheimintie 13 a

The new “Musiikitalo” or “House of Music” complements the architectural ensemble of the Finlandia Hall, the National Parliament and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art which surround it. Its green copper façade establishes a relationship to the adjacent buildings and green spaces. The glass facades in the South and East provide views into the interior and enter into a dialogue with its neighbors. The heart of the building is the crater-shaped concert hall for 1,700 music lovers. Its inner glass walls provide insights from the foyer. The acoustic design is by Yasuhisa Toyota (Nagata Acoustics) from Japan. Besides the great music hall the center houses five smaller halls, rehearsal rooms for the Helsinki Philharmonic and the Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as the headquarters of the Sibelius Academy.


Temppeliaukio Church. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Temppeliaukio Church
Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen (1969)
Lutherinkatu 3

The Temppeliaukio Church in the Töölö-District is an excellent example of Finnish architecture of the late 1960s. The church was designed by architects (and brothers) Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and is built largely into the granite rock on site. Daylight enters the church through a circular skylight that surrounds the copper dome in the center. The 5 to 8 m tall walls are made of rough-hewn rock. The top of the dome has a height of 13 m. Besides the use for worship, the church is also used for concerts and is a popular tourist attraction with 500,000 visitors annually.


Finlandia Hall. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Finlandia Hall
Alvar Aalto 1971 (1st phase) 1975 (2nd phase)
Mannerheimintie 13 e

The Finlandia Hall is the largest work of Aalto in Finland’s capital and the only realized building from his “city plan” of 1961. That plan stated that on the banks of the nearby Töölö-Lake, a series of cultural buildings should be built. Finlandia Hall is considered to be Finland’s architectural icon. The concert hall tract provides a large hall, a chamber music hall and a restaurant on the first floor while to the South there is a congress wing. The foyer overlooks the nearby lake. From here, two staircases lead up to the stands. One of them is visible in the facade. The horizontality of the facade towards Hesperianpuisto Park is broken only by the slanted stage tower of the great hall, which is covered with white marble and black granite. The facades were covered with thin slabs of Carrara marble, combined with copper roofs and teak window frames. The panels, however, proved too weak for the harsh northern climate and had to be replaced (renovations took place in 1998 and 2006). The Italian marble is also to be found in the interiors, where it is combined with wood details and cobalt blue ceramic tile surfaces. A flat and wide staircase leads up to the large and smaller halls. The halls are determined by asymmetrical floor plans, balconies and walls made of marble and the acoustic panels. From the outset the acoustics were suboptimal, because the ranks create a pocket in which the sound is trapped. The floor plan is derived from the classical Greek typology. The southern congress wing was completed in 1975 as the second phase of construction and completed in time for the OSCE Conference. Its great hall has 1,700 seats and the small one 340. The convention hall holds 450-900 people. Currently, the car-parking spaces located on the lake side are being removed in favor of the addition of a new café and more conference rooms, and an underground garage is created. Since 2011, when the new concert hall next door -with better acoustics- was inaugurated, Finlandia Hall needs to re-position itself as a venue.

For more images, visit the arcspace image library of Finlandia Hall


Olympic Stadium. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Olympic Stadium
Yrjö Lindgren, Toivo Jäntti (1938)
Paavo Nurmes tie

The gleaming white Olympic Stadium in the Töölö-District is the largest sports stadium in Finland and considered a high point of functionalist architectural design in the country. In addition to sporting events it is also used for concerts. Many competitions of the Olympic Summer Games of 1952 were held here. However, it was originally built for the 1940 Summer Games, which were awarded to Tokyo, and were eventually canceled completely because of World War II. In 1983 and again in 2005 the World Athletics Championships took place in the Stadium. It also is the home of the Finnish national soccer team. In 1990-1994, the stadium has been fully refurbished and the seating capacity reduced from 70,000 to 40,000. The 72 meter tall stadium tower is a landmark in the city. The eastern roof over the spectator seats was designed by Kimmo Lintula, Niko and Mikko Summanen Sirola in 2005. Integrated into the stadium is the Finnish Sports Museum.


Lasipalatsi. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Lasipalatsi (‘Glass Palace’)
Niilo Kokko, Viljo Revell, Heimo Riihimäki (1936)
Mannerheimintie 22

The Lasipalatsi is considered one of the most beautiful functionalist buildings in Helsinki. The U-shaped ‘Glass Palace’ with an arcade on one side contains offices, restaurants and a cinema. It was originally planned as a temporary building. and  had been erected for the Olympic Games in 1940. The site was formerly the location of the Russian barracks built in 1830. In 1933 the three architecture students Niilo Kokko, Viljo Revell and Heimo Riihimäki designed the Palace. The emergence of long-distance bus traffic  had made a new bus station necessary, and the city suggested that it should be built on the site. The trippy, lighthearted design was a breakthrough for the architects. Of the three architects only Revell made a career. The streamlined upper floor stands on slender concrete pillars. The design follows the intent of “light, air and sun”. Large windows on both sides turn the shops into showcases. The modern skeleton structure allowed for open floor plans. Only the colorful awnings animate its white plaster surfaces. The ambience in the restaurant is particularly pleasing. The main staircase is decorated with a huge mural. In the 80s the building was run down and there were plans to demolish the Palace. Luckily in 1991, the building was listed. New life came to the building in 1998, when it was converted into a media center. The Glass Palace is now a mix of book, computer, telecom and photography shops, a library, a video store, media companies, a cinema, gallery and internet café. The private and state television companies operate TV studios in it. Passers-by can watch the studios through display windows. The Glass Palace has been restored by Pia Ilonen and Minna Lukander. The signs, lamps, walls, curved glass windows and old neon signs were all restored.


Finnish National Opera. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Finnish National Opera (Kansallisooppera)
Eero Hyvämäki, Kari Piela, Tuula Mäkinen Antti Laiho-Karhunen, Parkkinen (1992)
Helsinginkatu 58

The National Opera is the leading opera in Finland. Opened in 1993, the Opera is located on the Töölön-Bay and has two auditoriums: The main theater with 1.350 seats, and a smaller hall offering 300-500 seats. Regular opera performances began in Finland in 1873 with the founding of the Finnish opera by Karl Bergbom. Prior opera houses were only used temporarily and most actors were amateurs on tour. In 1956 the Finnish opera was taken over by a foundation and became the Finnish National Opera. Today, there are 30 full-time solo singers, a 60-member choir, an orchestra with about 120 musicians and the ballet with 90 dancers. Overall, the opera is about 735 members strong. Every year the National Opera performs between four and six premieres including at least one world premiere of a Finnish opera. Access to the Opera Building is from the Mannerheiminitie through a sculpture courtyard. The street elevation does not reveal the building’s full size, because the opera is partially inserted in the rolling hills on the site. The public areas enjoy views of the nearby Hesperia Park and Töölö-Bay. The concert hall follows the traditional horseshoe-typology and has three ranks.

Stockmann Department Store
Sigurd Frosterus (1930)
Aleksanterinkatu 52 B

More than 17 million customers per anum make Stockmann’s the largest department store in Northern Europe. First, in the 20’s only the lower four floors of the store were built after a design by Sigurd Frosterus that had prevailed in an architectural design competition. In the 30’s four more floors were added with a large courtyard in the middle that has the same shape as the building block. The dark red brick facades have a vertical emphasis. The food hall in the basement and the famous clock at the main entrance quickly became popular meeting points in the city. The store was continually expanded and now occupies the entire city block. In 1989, the adjacent “Argos-House” was completely gutted and incorporated into the department store. In 2007 a second expansion began, which will enlarge the retail area by another 10,000 m2 to over 50,000 m2. The atrium will get partly covered for this purpose (from the 6th to 8th floor). In the attic, a food court will be added with 950 seats. The vertical circulation with 40 elevators and escalators will be unified. The latest expansion was designed by Pekka Laatio. The extension by Kristian Gullichsen, Timo Vormala and Erkki Kairamo of 1989 stands on a narrow, but prominent urban corner lot to the Southeast of the Store. The design by Gullichsen, Vormala and Kairamo is a typical child of the 80’s. Situated next to the Argos-Building from 1897 its stainless steel and glass brick tower draws customers from the North Esplanade into the department store. The new building sets itself apart from the existing buildings. Particularly the tower and the set-back corner make it a landmark. Inside the large hall is a counterpart to the existing main hall of the department store.

Myyrmäki Church
Juha Leiviska (1984)
Uomatie 1, Vantaa

The narrow Myyrmäki Church is located on an elongated plot of land along an elevated commuter rail line. It is considered one of the most successful religious buildings by Leiviska. A segmented wall of yellow bricks forms the backbone of the church towards the railway. Towards a small grove on the back side there are the longitudinal prayer hall, a chapel, two congregation halls and offices, children’s and youth areas. The church resembles the vertical trunks of birch trees. The altar is placed along the long side, but the the organ loft along the long side. The altar is naturally lit from the side. The hall with 460 seats is lit from above by a skylight. Visitors first enter at a low, dark lobby, after which the effect of the bright, light-filled rooms are all the more towering.


Malmi Airport Terminal. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Malmi Airport Terminal
Dag Englund and Vera Rosendahl (1938)

Malmi airport is situated in the Malmi-District, northeast of downtown Helsinki. Until the opening of the new airport in Vantaa in 1952, it was the largest airport in the country. It now serves only general aviation. Measured by the number of takeoffs and landings, it is still the second most important airport in Finland. The city’s plans to close the airport and to build up the land have not yet been implemented. The airport was put into operation in 1936 after most aircraft were converted from water- to land operations. In the 30s all major cities in the country could be reached from Malmi by air. The Second World War interrupted civilian aviation at Malmi, but in 1946 the airfield was reopened. For the larger and heavier aircraft of the postwar period, however, a new airport in Vantaa was soon built, in time for the Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. Following the relocation of all scheduled services there, Malmi was still used for charter flights. Today, there are flight schools and also an aviation base for the Finnish Border Police. The State may require the city to keep the airport open until 2034. The terminal building is circular in plan and has three floors. It includes the air traffic control tower. At right angles to each other two office wings reach away from the circular center and thus frame the drive-up. Circumferential ribbon windows accentuate the horizontality of the terminal building. In the center there used to be the Ticketing Hall with a skylight. The first floor contains a restaurant and offices on the floor above.


Church in Viikki. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Church in Viikki
JKMM (Asmo Jaaksi, Teemu Kurkela, Samuli Miettinen and Juha Mäki-Jyllilä) 2005
Agronominkatu 5

While in other European countries churches close down and mostly mosques are the only sacred buildings that get built from scratch, the Christian church architecture in Finland is not yet dead. The new wooden churches in suburbs show how deeply rooted the original Protestant concept of space (still) is in Northern Europe. Often, the churche’s bright wooden rooms are more reminiscent of saunas than the mystique of dark Baroque churches. Wood also has a symbolic meaning: the natural, renewable, warm material “is reminiscent of a clearing in the sacred forest, in which the Christians meet,” says project architect for the new Church in the Viikki-District. Tightly packed wooden pillars dominate its entire space. “A space made completely out of wood is godly and uplifting”, the designer claims. In the Latokartano neighborhood the church stands out because of its facades made of untreated grey aspen wood shingles. Over time they get a silver patina. The design by the office JKMM had won 1st prize in an architectural design competition. The structure is made of wooden glue-laminated beams and props, which were assembled from prefabricated segments. The skeleton is reinforced with concrete walls. Horizontal boards shape the community rooms and vertical squares of bright, radially sawn spruce timber the bell tower. The lattice work lined with laminated veneer wood panels of the walls act as part of the supporting structure. For the ceiling molded veneer elements have been used. The wooden surfaces of the halls were washed with brine.

Read the arcspace feature on the Viikki Church


Villa Didrichsen Art Museum. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Villa Didrichsen Art Museum
Viljo Revell (1959)
Kuusilahdenkuja 1

The low Villa Didrichsen is now home to a private art museum. The art collectors Marie-Louise and Gunnar Didrichsen have compiled an impressive collection of Finnish art from the 20th Century, supplemented by works by international artists such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Miró, Moore, Giacometti and Arp. The basement of the villa contains the only significant Finnish collection of pre-Columbian American art, as well as an Asian collection with a focus on Chinese art of the Shang and Ming Dynasty. In 1965 an extension wing was built for the art collection. The cozy museum mixes architecture, art and nature. The windows repeatedly offer views of the surrounding garden, which is decorated with a sculpture by Henry Moore. The architect of the Villa, Viljo Revell, had worked for Alvar Aalto before, where he had “learned the humble and humanistic version of modernism” (according to the museum). In the 1950’s Revell tended to a more rigorous rationalism, inspired by Le Corbusier and British Brutalism.

‘Kamppi’ Metro Station
Eero Hyvämäki, Jukka Risto Karhunen and Parkkinen (HKP) 1983

The “Kamppi” Metro station is well integrated into the shopping center of the same name that also includes a large bus terminal. Transport links thus are excellent. The subway station is the deepest in Finland. It lies 31 meters below ground and 15 m below sea level. The pavilion-like ticket hall has skylights to let in natural daylight. The surfaces are covered with granite, bronze and glass. At right angles to the existing platform, a second station for later use has been built. In 2005, a new exit was built, which leads directly into the Kamppi Center.

Otaniemi Chapel
Kaija and Heikki Sirén 1957
Jämeräntaival 8, Espoo

The Otaniemi Chapel, a culmination of ’50s architecture in Finland, has an altar wall, which opens fully to the surrounding forest making the surrounding nature and the changing seasons the visual and spiritual center of worship. Behind the glass wall a simple steel cross was placed in the garden. The covered atrium leads to the low entrance hall and on to the chapel for 180 worshipers with a pitched roof. The side walls and floors are made of brick, but the ceiling and roof are wooden. The chapel was rebuilt after a fire in 1978.


‘Kupla’ Observation Tower. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

‘Kupla’ Observation Tower
Avanto Architects, Anu Puustinen and Ville Hara / HUT Wood Studio (2002)
Korkesaari Zoo

At the invitation of the Helsinki Zoo and the “Wood Focus Finland” in 1999 a competition was organized for the students of the University of Helsinki, for a ten-meter high observation tower made of wood. The winning design by Ville Hara has a cage-like shell in a free form and is called “Kupla” (“bubble”). With the help of physical and electronic models its form was determined (and also simplified). The pre-formed laminated timber elements were – as is usual in boatbuilding – treated with steam in order to bring them into the desired shapes. Linseed oil was applied to the surfaces. The teardrop shape of the observation deck became a symbol for the Korkesaari Island and can be easily seen by the passing large passenger ferries, because it stands 18 meters above sea level. The oval tower has three floors. Like an eggshell the lattice shell can withstand pressure well. The 72 long slats of the structure are bolted at more than 600 points. Eight students built the pavilion themselves.

Read the arcspace feature on the ‘Kupla’ Observation Tower


New library of the University of Helsinki. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

New library of the University of Helsinki
Anttinen Oiva (2012)

This new building for the University of Helsinki contains the four libraries for law, theology, politics and a school library as well as a campus center and shops. Anttinen Oiva had won the architectural design competition. The design fills an empty downtown lot with a strictly gridded brick facade, punctuated by large, parabola-shaped openings.

St. Lawrence Chapel and Crematorium
Avanto Architects (2010)
Pappilankuja 3, Vantaa

Avanto, a young architect’s office prevailed in 2003 in an open design competition for the construction of a crematorium with their spectacular design. The low chapel combines various elements of the outer space and does not compete visually with the medieval stone church nearby. The facades are made of masonry, natural stone, patinated copper and metallic fabrics. The design seeks to give the urn ceremony “peace and dignity.” The movement from room to room is finely decorated and accentuated with mood lighting and different spaces. Under the title “Polku” (“Path”), an architecturally sensitive path is created “from mortality to eternity”; courtyards act as passages for the ceremony, the mourners can look into the light or enjoy spatial enclosure. “The path leads into the unknown, but not from tears” to the architects to formulate its draft poetic.


Building Conservation Center. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

Building Conservation Center
Seppo Häkli (2009)
Seurasaari Museum Island (southern tip)

The open-air museum on Seurasaari island is home to 87 historic buildings dating from the 17th to 20th century. The shape of the new “building conservation center” was borrowed from vernacular farms where buildings and fencing create an enclosed courtyard that is protected against wild animals. The main building of the center is used for the conservation works for the buildings in the open-air museum and contains a wood workshop. The courtyard is divided into an area for equipment and one for presentations, which is framed by the workshops. The long pent roofs facilitate the removal of snow in winter. The structure has double columns made of solid wood. The cantilevered roof is supported by glulam beams. The tarred pine walls of the storage-room contrast with the bright pine of the main building. The center was commissioned by the National Monument Office. Its design is modern, but the materials and craftsmanship are traditional.


FMO Finnforest Building. Photo courtesy of City of Helsinki

FMO Finnforest Building
Pekka Helin (2005)
Tuulikuja, Tapiola

The “FMO” Building (“Finnforest Modular Office”) is a four-story office building that was built to show that even large office buildings can be built entirely of wood. It consists of three modules with rectangular courtyards. The facade is curved at one end of the building like a screen. Laminated wood was used for the structure (columns and walls). It comes exclusively from sustainably managed forests and was prefabricated in modules. The facade consists of 1,200 parts, which were prefabricated and another 17.000 individually molded parts made of wood. All fire safety standards were met. The modern timber building proves that a human and environmentally friendly architecture can be achieved in timber. A total of 2.400 cubic meters of wood were used in the FMO.


Hotels and Restaurants

Hotel Torni
Jung & Jung 1931
Yrjönkatu 26

At its completion the 14-storey Hotel Torni (‘Tower’) was the tallest skyscraper in Finland. It retained this status until 1976. In 2005 the hotel was extensively renovated and all rooms furnished in one of three styles: Art deco, art nouveau and functionalism. The hotel offers three conference rooms and four restaurants. During World War II Hotel Torni served the air defense base and later as the headquarters of the Allies. In the spire, the “Ateljee” bar offers views over the city.

‘Savoy’ Restaurant
Alvar Aalto (1937)
Eteläesplanadi 14

The Savoy Restaurant is famous for its Alvar and Aino Aalto designed interiors that make it a unique Gesamtkunstwerk of early modern Finnish design. It was Aalto’s first commission in Helsinki. In addition to the ceiling and wall covers with birch veneer, all furniture and lamps including the cutlery, table ware and glasses, and of course the famous ‘Savoy Vase’ were all designed by the Aaltos. In 1936 the A. Ahlströhm company built the building, in which the Savoy is housed, designed by Valter Jung at the corner of the Southern Esplanade and Kasarmikatu. Ahlstrom asked Aalto to design the restaurant with 100 seats and lounges in the 7th and 8th floor. Despite the wide view over the city, the restaurant’s atmosphere is intimate and cozy. Among the technologically modern elements of the design are the four express elevators that bring customers upstairs and a modern air filter. The clean lines have made the restaurant one of the most popular and best restaurants in the city for decades. The most famous restaurant guest was national hero Marshal Mannerheim, whose table is still preserved in his memory.

Grand Marina Hotel
Lars Sonck (1928)
Conversion to hotel: Gullichsen, Vormala and Kairamo
Kanavakatu 6

The large warehouse in the Katajanokka-District of the Port was built directly on the quay. Because of its size and its proximity to the precious neo-classical city center in 1911 an architectural design competition was held to find a suitable solution. Lars Sonck, the pioneer of the National Romantic style in Finland, emerged as the winner. Sonck’s robust design combined Art Nouveau with classic accents. The 140 m long, five-story warehouse is his largest executed building. The symmetrical facade is made of dark brick with bright Swedish soffits. The ground floor has arched windows with a perforated façade above. The cornerstone of the ‘K12’ warehouse was laid in 1912, but construction had to wait because of World War I. At its completion the colossus was the largest concrete building in the Nordic countries. It originally contained halls for cold storage as well as some offices. In the 1960s the demand for warehouses decreased and the building stood empty. In 1986 it was purchased and turned into the Grand Marina Hotel. Where once coffee and rubber has been stored, 462 hotel rooms have been installed. The surfaces of the warehouse remained largely unchanged but the 1.800 windows were replaced. Today, there are 16 different room types with luxury suites on the top floor. The floorplan of the warehouse proved to be quite flexible and durable.

‘Palace’ Hotel and Industry Center
Viljo Revell, Keijo Petäjä 1952
Etelränta 10

The ‘Palace’ Commercial Building at the downtown port was inaugurated in 1952, when Helsinki hosted the Olympic Summer Games. It is an expression of the modern and potent Finnish industry. It was commissioned by the Association of Finnish Industries. Known as the ‘Teollisuuskeskus’ (industrial center) the building includes offices, shops and a large hotel. Built on an H-shaped floor plan, the building is reminiscent of the big ferries in the nearby harbor. The elevators and staircase towers connect the two bars of the ‘H’. The ‘Palace’ takes up an entire city block. The two lower floors are set back from the harbor, creating an arcade. The six office floors above have strict band facades. The hotel in the 9th and 10th floor is set back from the building line. The facades of the ‘Palace’ are made of exposed concrete.

Restaurant ‘Töölönranta’
Hyvämäki and Pekka Eero Leskelä (HKP) 1996
Helsinginkatu 56

The pavilion-like restaurant ‘Töölönranta’ fits sensitively into its plot on the edge of Töölö Bay. The red brick facades are a reference to the brick-clad sugar factory that once stood on the site. Towards the street, the restaurant has a brick wall and towards the landscape park with a large glass facade. A pergola accompanies the public footpath along the bay and also frames and shades the courtyard of the restaurant. The building with a green roof is pushed halfway into the hill on the property. Skylights give the low pavilion more visual height. Steel and wood surfaces characterize the interior. The kitchen and adjoining rooms have walls made of concrete.

WISA Hotel Pavillon
Pieta-Linda Auttila 2009
Valkosaari Island

The WISA Hotel Pavilion on Valkosaari island in the bay south of the city consists of two boxes with a connecting structure made of bent wood slats. While one box contains the bedroom, the other a living room. Both cubes have a large windows at their ends, that overlook the sea on one side, and the city on the other. The curved wooden slats hold a small courtyard, which provides the lateral and upper battens protection against wind and weather through its curved design and produce an interesting play of light and shadow. The wood trim is made of pine, spruce and birch wood. The architect has used wood in many different varieties. She says about her design: “In the beginning was the Sea. Powerful waves lifted from the depths of a wooden block – from seawater already dark in color – and threw him against a rock. The force of impact broke the block in half”.

Hotel Simonkenttä
HKP 2000
Simonkatu 9

The design qualities of the Hotel Simonkenttä are to be found in the realm urban design more so than the architecture. The hotel covers a full city block and surrounds a rectangular courtyard. A high opening serves as an entrance towards Simonkatu. The eight to ten floors are placed on the sloping site in such a way that they harmonize with the heights of the surrounding buildings. The upper floors are set back. The prominent north corner was emphasized in function and design: It contains the elevator lobby and restaurants on two levels, offering nice views of the Kamppi square and the city and in the opposite direction into the interior of the hotel. The corner was accented with a round tower next to the vertical lift and a staircase illuminated by a billboard. The main entrance is through the courtyard, so that the roadside ground-floor space can be used commercially. The roof terraces and porches offer access to a sauna, suites and a restaurant. The facades are made of stainless steel and glass with metallic green aluminum, natural stone and glass blocks. Towards the courtyard, the hotel has a perforated plaster façade.


Ulf Meyer, an architectural writer from Berlin/Germany who studied architecture in Chicago and Berlin, first traveled to Helsinki to review the restoration of the Lasipalatsi (see project number 9) in the year 2000, but he fell in love with the city and its architecture and returned to Helsinki every year ever since. In summer of 2012, he published the Helsinki Architecture Guide Book with DOM Publishers of Berlin.