Quick guide: Architectural layers of Helsinki

New office facilities for the Urban Environment Division
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Modernism, functionalism and the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe make Helsinki a major city of architecture.

The era of the Swedish rule: Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

The Suomenlinna Sea Fortress interweaves three unique periods – the Swedish, Russian and Finnish – into a fascinating entity. In 1991 Suomenlinna was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

A view looking towards King's Gate on Suomenlinna where a few small groups of people are sitting on the steps and enjoying the sea view. A grassy bank rises up to the right of the photo.
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Neoclassicism: Senate Square

The architecture in Helsinki is typified by Nordic minimalism and refinement. The city centre, especially around Senate Square, forms a unique and cohesive example of Neoclassical architecture.

A glimpse of the Helsinki Christmas Market in Senate Square seen from the steps of Helsinki Cathedral. The back of Tsar Alexander II's statue faces the camera with a merry-go-round directly beneath it and market stalls to the right.
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Byzantine-Russian style: Uspenski Cathedral

Even if the Byzantine-Russian architectural tradition is not so significant in Helsinki, it is well represented in the Uspenski Cathedral (1868), the largest orthodox church edifice in Western Europe, while worth a visit.

A close up of Uspenski Cathedral's upper spire and structure during evening time.
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Neo-Renaissance: Ateneum

The city centre features many buildings that typify a specific style of architecture, such as Gustaf Nyström’s House of the Estates (1890). The Neo-Renaissance work of Theodor Höijer can be admired along the north side of the Esplanade, as well as in the Ateneum Art Museum (1883).

Looking up from the bottom of the grand staircase in the dimly lit entrance of the Ateneum Art Museum, a plinth holding a bust of Jean Sibelius stands on a plateau half-way up.
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Jugend: National Museum

Art Nouveau or Jugend architecture was interpreted in Finland according to its own form of National Romanticism. Some of the finest examples include Lars Sonck’s Jugendsali Hall (1904) and the National Museum (1910) by famous architect trio Gesellius-Lindgren-Saarinen. Late-Jugend is represented by Eliel Saarinen’s Central Railway Station (1914).

National Museum of Finland
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Portrait orientation. Elielinaukio entrance to Helsinki Central Railway Station on a rainy evening. The lights of the station reflect on the wet street below as people walk by the station.
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1920s Classicism: Etu-Töölö district

Wooden architecture can be admired in the Käpylä, Puu-Vallila and Etu-Töölö districts. The architecture of the Käpylä district represents 1920s Classicism. The newest example of wooden architecture is Kamppi Chapel (2012). Nordic Classicism of the 1920s is represented by J. S. Siren’s Parliament House (1931).

Puu-Käpylä
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Functionalism: Lasipalatsi “Glass Palace”

Bold examples of Functionalism include the Olympic Stadium (1938), Metsätalo "Forest House" by the University of Helsinki (1939) and the Lasipalatsi “Glass Palace” (1935).

Olympiastadion
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Modernism: Finlandia Hall

The works of world-famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto represent Modernism at its finest. These include the Academic Bookstore (1969) and Finlandia Hall (1971/1975). One of the most popular tourist destinations in Helsinki is the Temppeliaukio “Rock” Church (1969), designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen as part of the natural bedrock.

Finlandia Hall
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A spectacular view from the second floor encompasses the whole interior of the Temppeliaukio church, where the pews, stage, organ and the copper lined dome can all be seen.
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Glass architecture: Sanomatalo

Minimalist glass and steel design is represented by the Sanomatalo (1999) and the High Tech Centre (2001) in Ruoholahti.

A view looking towards the High Tech Center Helsinki's row of buildings in Ruoholahti, with the water in from the harbour reflecting the buildings' light.
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Significant buildings of the 21st century: The Main Library of the University of Helsinki

The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, designed by American architect Steven Holl, was completed before the end of the century (1998). One of the significant new buildings of the 21st century is the Helsinki Music Centre that opened next to Finlandia Hall in autumn 2011. The Main Library of the University of Helsinki, the popular Kaisa-talo (2012), was designed by Anttinen Oiva Arkkitehdit Oy.

Reading hall at Kaisa, where students sit reading facing the huge, circular window looking out onto Helsinki.
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New wooden architecture: Kamppi Chapel

More and more contemporary wooden architecture can be seen these days in Helsinki. The stunning Kamppi Chapel was completed already in 2012. In summer 2016 two modern sauna-spa complexes opened in Helsinki, Löyly in Hernesaari and Allas Sea Pool in the Market Square. A new wooden sauna was opened on the island of Lonna in summer 2017. In 2018 the new Helsinki Central Library Oodi was opened by the Töölönlahti bay. The international design competition for “Oodi” was won by the Finnish architectural firm ALA Architects. 

Standing underneath Oodi's outdoor front structure and with Kiasma in the distance to the right, Oodi's wooden roof sweeps in a curve like a wave, twisting to meet the ground many metres away.
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A view of Kamppi's Chapel of Silence lit gently from below on a rainy evening. People are walking by and Scandic Simonkenttä hotel is immediately behind, lit up by the rooms within.
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A front view of Löyly and its outdoor terrace under an overcast sky.
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Teaser text
Modernism, functionalism and the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe make Helsinki a major city of architecture.