Friday, November 19, 2010

Alvar Aalto in Helsinki

Hi there!

Finally I am back, sorry my studies kept me really busy but therefore I have a lot of new pictures to show. Actually I have been really active during this week, on Monday I visited already 7 sites in Helsinki and today I had a look on the Alvar Aalto buildings here in downtown Jyväskylä. 

Site No. 1: The Stora Enso Head Offices in Helsinki (1959-62)
Returning from a cruise to Stockholm, I entered Helsinki via the ferry terminal at Helsinki's south harbour on Monday morning. On my way from the terminal to the city centre I passed by my first site the Stora Enso Head Offices located at Kanavaranta 1 right between the famous big red orthodox church and the market square at the south harbour.

The building itself isn't public so you can only view it from outside. The outside view is really impressive and the building can hardly been overseen when you are standing at the market square. Especially its white color and its big windows but also the structure gives the building a bit of futuristic touch. It is almost unbelievable that this building was designed and build in the late 50s. 

By walking around the building I also realized how well it fits into its environment, even if there is a huge stylistic difference between the orthodox church and the building itself, according to my opinion they are fitting very well to each other.  

Site No. 2: The Former Nordic Union Bank in Helsinki (1960-65)

Before heading for lunch at the Helsinki Universities main building I shortly visited the nearby Former Nordic Union Bank located at Fabiankatu 29. This building seemed a bit hidden to me and it took me a while to find it because it is basically located in a side street of Alexanderinkatu. The building itself is not anymore in use as a bank but serves now as a furniture store. Inside the store I couldn't find any Aalto typical interior. 

Site No. 3: The Academic Bookstore in Helsinki (1961-69)

After lunch I approached the Academic Bookstore owned by Stockmann located at Pohjoisesplanadi 39. I have been visiting this store many times but this was actually the first time that I really payed attention to the building itself. Its style is quiet similar to the Former Nordic Union Bank building presented above.

After having a look on the building outside I entered the building and took also some pictures from inside. The black outside but the white marble used inside are building up a very interesting contrast. Beside that the white marble used inside gives this buildings interior also a very luxurious touch. Also mentionable are the two big windows in the roof seen on the picture below, which are not only very stylish but are also providing the big hall with additional daylight. This is a typical example of Alvar Aalto's perfect way to match design and punctuality.

Site No. 4: The Emergency Shelter Entrance in Helsinki (1951-52)

The Emergency Shelter Entrance better known as the Erottaja Pavilion, named after the district of Erottaja, where this former shelter is located, can be found in Erottajankatu. This entrance "building" is basically located between the two big lanes of Erotajankatu and was indeed not easy to find. After passing by the building the second time I noticed the Alvar Aalto typical door handle and realized that I had found what I had been looking for. Unfortunately it was not possible to enter this building which obviously is nowadays used as a entrance to a underground parking garage.

Site No. 5: The Finnish Engineers' Association Building in Helsinki (1948-52)

The Finnish Engineers' Association Building located in Ratakatu 9 is a quiet inconsiderable building. It doesn't actually look so Alvar Aalto typical and appeared quiet modern compared to the other buildings surrounding it. Also this building seems to be used in a other way than it was originally designed for hosting nowadays a night club which was still closed during the time of my visit.

Site No. 6: The Rautatalo Office in Helsinki (1951-55)

After consulting the map I realized that I already had passed by the Rautatalo Office building that day. The building is basically located next to the Academic Bookstore in Keskukatu 3. Returning back to that spot I also easily could recognize the similar style of this two buildings.

The Rautatalo Office building is from a similar time period than the Academic Bookstore as well as the Former Nordic Union Bank but also contains some red brick elements on its sidewall.

Site No. 7: The Office Building of the Helsinki City Electricity Company (1965-76)

The last site I visited in Helsinki that day was the Office Building of Helsinki's City Electricity Company Helsinki Energia located at Kampikuja 2. As I couldn't that easily find Kampikuja on the map, it is indeed a very short street, I thought according to the name it must be in the district of Kamppi. So I went to the Kamppi bus terminal, crossed it and left it on the other side and basically run into the building. Once again the style very similar to Stockmanns Akademic Bookstore as well as the Rautatalo Office Building I easily could identify it as Alvar Aaltos work. 

The ground floor of the building is nowadays used by shops and is since 2007 connected via a tunnel with the Kamppi center which was completed the same year. Below finally also pictures from the interior as taken during a second visit in summer 2014.


  1. Are these Arabia tiles again in the electric company building?

    1. Yes, Aalto used these tiles in many buildings, mostly in dark blue as also seen here in the case of the Electric Company Building.

  2. Dear Stefano

    I'm reading your blog and I find it really interesting.

    I'm planning a trip in Finland to see Alvar Aalto works. I will travel by myself I would like to know if you can tell me if it is possible to visit all of his works and if I need to book a visit in advance or ask permission to someone in order to visit them.

    Thank you in advance for your help,
    best regards

    Arch. Silvano Zanoni

    1. Dear Silvano,

      Thank you very much for your comment and your interest in my blog.

      Alvar Aalto has designed more than 100 buildings during his career, most of them located in Finland. Visiting them will take quite a while, however, I am happy to recommend you some of the most outstanding works which you should definitely visit while in Finland. The four cities with the most Aalto buildings in Finland are Helsinki, Jyväskylä, Seinäjoki and Rovaniemi. In addition I would recommend, if you have the time, to also visit the Paimio Sanatorium, Villa Mairea, the Churches in Lahti and Imatra as well as the town of Alajärvi. Most of the buildings are in public use and can be visited without appointment during their regular opening hours. Some building, however, require that you sign up for a guided tour or make special arrangements in order to obtain entry. Once you make more concrete plans you can have a look at the list on the right side of this blog that links directly to the buildings. Usually I have added information to my posts regarding the accessibility of the buildings. In case you have more specific questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. Also I would be happy to show you around the Aalto buildings in Jyväskylä if you decide to visit here and I am available.