Alvar Aalto's Helsinki

Finlandia Hall

Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), one of Finland's greatest architects, enjoyed an exceptionally rich and varied career also as a city planner and furniture designer, both at home in Finland and abroad. Aalto's international reputation rests on a distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail.

Here's a list of Aalto's buildings in Helsinki:

The Aalto House, 1934-36

Aino and Alvar Aalto's home was completed in Riihitie Road, Munkkiniemi, Helsinki, in autumn 1936. In this as in their other works, the young architects combined modern and traditional thinking. The furniture, designed by the Aaltos, had already won international acclaim in the early 1930s, and the couple furnished their home with their own creations. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of the home is underlined by works of well known artists such as Le Corbusier, Alexander Calder and Poul Henningsen. The Aaltos’ home has been lovingly restored and is now a home museum open to the public. 
Riihitie 20

Savoy (restaurant) interior, 1936-37

In 1932 the prohibition act forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages is rescinded, and once again it is allowed to have fun and enjoy life in Finland. On 3 June 1937 an article titled “Restaurant cosiness above Helsinki’s rooftops” appears in the Helsingin Sanomat. “Today the new top-class Restaurant Savoy was opened in A. Ahlström Osakeyhtiö’s handsome new building at the corner of the South Esplanade and Kasarmikatu; all indications are that it will form a popular dining and meeting place for city residents and tourists alike.” 

Nothing is left to chance in the interiors of the new Restaurant Savoy. Behind the classical and restrained appearance of the dining room are the Architects Alvar and Aino Aalto; Artek Oy implements the interiors’ construction. The architects’ intent is to create an intimate restaurant above Helsinki. The walls’ and ceilings’ birch veneers, Aino Aalto’s club chairs, and Alvar Aalto’s clean-lined lighting fixtures contribute to the intimacy of the Savoy’s dining room. 

The Restaurant Savoy’s best-known interior design detail is the Savoy Vase, nowadays known as the Aalto Vase, designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto.
Eteläesplanadi 14


The Restaurant Savoy’s best-known interior design detail is the Savoy Vase, nowadays known as the Aalto Vase, designed by Alvar and Aino Aalto.

Erottaja Pavillon, 1951

The first public building in Helsinki designed by Alvar Aalto. Aalto won the wartime bid in 1941 organised by the City of Helsinki to design the entrance to the bomb shelter below the Erottaja hill. Aalto's original plan was left unrealised due to the war, and a temporary construction was erected on the location. The pavilion found there now was built in 1951. Alvar Aalto wanted to reshape his design after winning the bid, as the execution was postponed with several years. The new traffic arrangements proposed by Aalto were not done, and his contribution was left to include the aboveground construction and the staircase.

Finnish Engineers' Association Building, 1948-53

After the World War II bombings, an empty lot was left along Ratakatu. Alvar Aalto received a commission from the Association of Finnish Engineer Professionals to design an office building. The street level would host a restaurant. The house includes three underground floors, with the top one now hosting the Club Soho nightclub. The building was designed to the last detail in Aalto's studio. His Hand Grenade lamp was customised for this very house. The building was badly damaged in an arson in 1997, when most of the original interior was lost.
Ratakatu 9

Rautatalo Office Building, 1951, 1955, 1957

Rautatalo was originally built 1952-55 after an invited architecture competition in 1951 won by Aalto. Rautatalo is one of the first listed modern buildings in Finland that has been protected by law. The quality of the original architecture of Alvar Aalto’s Rautatalo lies in two main aspects: The first is the street facade that in abstract way adapts to its neighbouring buildings. The second is the main interior, so called Marble Hall. The cafeteria of the Marble Hall was a thoroughly designed interior. It was an important social institution and a meeting point in Helsinki. 
Keskuskatu 3

Riihitie Blocks of Flats, 1952–54

Once serving as staff housing for the Social Insurance Institution, the housing block has since been turned into a regular apartment complex.
Riihitie 12-14

Studio Aalto, 1954–55, 1962–63

Alvar Aalto designed the building at Tiilimäki 20 in Munkkiniemi as his own office in 1955. The building is only a short walk from Aalto's own house, where the office had previously been located. Because of a number of large commissions, the office needed more space to work in. Studio Aalto is one of the best of Alvar Aalto's 1950s buildings.
Tiilimäki 20

The Social Insurance Institution, 1953–57

Located in Töölö on the fringes of downtown Helsinki, The Social Insurance Institution's (Kela) main office was designed by Alvar Aalto. It is not only the workplace of over 400 Kela employees, but also a renowned architectural monument. Experts count it among the five best Aalto designs. The main office was completed in 1956.
Nordenskiöldinkatu 12

House of Culture, 1952–58

The Helsinki Hall of Culture was designed by architect Alvar Aalto and is a venue for conferences, galas, trade fairs and concerts. Situated in the inner city, well served by public transport. The Aalto Hall has 1452 seats. There are seats both on the flat and in the raked auditorium. Seats on the flat can be removed for gala use. After complete renovation work, the venue can now offer nearly 10 different kinds of meeting rooms for 20-150 persons.
Sturenkatu 4

Stora Enso Headquarters, 1959–62

The building is the working head office of Stora Enso Oyj. Located in Katajanokka, beyond the east end of the Esplanade, near the Russian Orthodox Church, Allas Sea Pool, and SkyWheel Helsinki. Building is not open to the public
Kanavakatu 1

Nordea Bank, 1960–65

Building planned by Alvar Aalto in 1960-65. Also known as The Nordic Union Bank.
Fabianinkatu 27-29

Akateeminen kirjakauppa
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Academic Bookstore, 1968–81

Alvar Aalto designed commercial building including a bookstore with an exceptional white marbled interior. Bookstore has Café Aalto on the second floor and Starbucks on ground floor.
Pohjoisesplanadi 39

Finlandia Hall, 1965–75

Finlandia Hall was completed in 1971. Located in a beautiful park by the sea in the centre of Helsinki, Finlandia Hall is a true work of art and embodies Alvar Aalto’s vision down to the smallest detail. Whatever the occasion – whether it’s a concert, a meeting, or one of our many other events – there’s always something happening at Finlandia Hall. A masterpiece by the world-renowned Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, Finlandia Hall is worth a visit in its own right.

Finlandia Hall was designed in 1962 and built between 1967 and 71. The plan for the Congress Wing was drawn up in 1970 and it was constructed between 1973 and 75. With the completion of the first stage of his overall project, Aalto thought he had triumphed.

Finlandia Hall will be closed during the renovation 2022-2024. In the meantime, the new, magnificent wooden Pikku-Finlandia on the shores of Töölönlahti will serve.
Mannerheimintie 13

Sähkötalo Office Building, 1965–75

Designed as Helsingin Energia head quarters and constructed in Kamppi in 1973. The location is based on Alvar Aalto's zoning plan from 1961. In Aalto's design, the building included an elecricity station built in 1939. 
Kampinkuja 2


More chances to see Alvar Aalto's architecture in Helsinki

Standard house, 1939, Pirkkola 
As a part of Helsinki's Exhibition Centre's 1939 housing expo, Aalto designed his Standard House in the Pirkkola district, based on a house type made in collaboration with A. Ahlström. Aalto's building in Pirkkola has, however, been completely altered and is barely recognisable nowadays. 

Housing complex, 1942, Pitäjänmäki
Aalto designed several houses in Helsinki's Pitäjänmäki district, commissioned by the enterprise Strömberg. Some houses were never built and some have unfortunately been demolished. Two of Aalto's houses for Strömberg are still standing. The two-storey house on Kornetintie has most likely been mainly designed by Aino Aalto, with her husband Alvar Aalto serving in the war, as well as teaching and working in the US. The house was originally designed for student housing, and has since been converted into a regular housing complex. 
Kornetintie 18 

Housing complex, 1948, Pitäjänmäki
Designed as staff housing quarters for the company Strömberg, the house sits on a hill and has two storeys on the street side and three on the side of the yard. Built in the war years, the house represents a fairly modest addition to Aalto's production. 
Kornetintie 22 

Recreational building and sauna, 1952
Designed for the recreational use of the staff of Enso-Gutzeit (now Stora Enso), the house is joined by a sauna by the water. The main building has been kept almost intact, including the interior. 
Ramsinniementie 24

Housing complex, 1952–55, Pitäjänmäki 
There are only two private houses designed by Aalto in Helsinki: in addition to the Aalto House in Munkkiniemi, Aalto also designed a house for Alvi Hirvonen, who worked for a long period of time as Aalto's taxi driver. The architect exchanged the taxi services for a house design. The house is a private residence.

Memorials, Hietaniemi cemetary:

Memorial for Usko Nyström, 1928 
A headstone designed for Alvar Aalto's old teacher. 

The grave of Ahto Virtanen
Ahto Virtanen was Alvar Aalto's brother-in-law and colleague. The memorial plate was erected in 1937, over ten years past Virtanen's death. 

The grave of Uno Ullberg 
A memorial designed by Alvar Aalto for his colleague Uno Ullberg in 1944. 

The grave of Aino, Alvar and Elissa Aalto 
A memorial designed by Alvar Aalto for his own wife. Aino Aalto died in 1949. Alvar Aalto was buried in the same grave in 1976, along with his second wife Elissa Aalto.

More info about Alvar Aalto and guided tours

Reference list:
Leena Makkonen: Alvar Aallon kädenjälki Helsingissä (Helsingin kaupunginsuunnitteluvirasto 2009) 
Alvar Aalto Foundation.

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Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), one of Finland's greatest architects, enjoyed an exceptionally rich and varied career also as a city planner and furniture designer, both at home in Finland and abroad.