House of Culture

1958
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Photo: Martti Kapanen / AAM
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1958
  • Decade1950s
  • PeriodPost-war modernism
  • Year of selection1993

 

The cultural multipurpose building has been a familiar building type, both internationally and domestically, in the history of architecture: Aalto, too, had designed for diverse uses both workers’ clubs and defence corps buildings, among these also the Southwestern Finland Agricultural Cooperative building. When designing the National Pensions Institute headquarters in Helsinki, Aalto became acquainted with the government minister Matti Janhunen, who was a powerful figure in the Finnish Communist Party. Consequently, Aalto was commissioned to design the headquarters of the Finnish People’s Democratic League on a plot at Sturenkatu 4 in Helsinki. Aalto made a draft for the detailed plan for the urban block in 1952 in which he envisioned the split form of the building.

The cultural history of the building is extremely complex. The building, largely constructed by volunteers, was simultaneously a beloved stronghold and centre for recreational activities, as well as a display of political power. The city’s largest concert hall became a key venue for Finnish popular culture – top artists from both the East and West performed there. A strong political undertone nevertheless influenced the reception of the building.

The building, completed in 1958, is one of the major works of Aalto’s red-brick architecture. One particular culmination of the red-brick era was the wedge-shaped brick of the concert hall section of the building, which Aalto described as follows: “The auditorium’s asymmetrical, architectural free form required the construction of a new element. With the wedge-shaped special brick, which has been made and tested specifically for this, it is possible to adapt the facade envelope to all the different radiuses of the external wall surfaces using the same standard brick.” (Aalto 1959) The detailed copper facades of the rational office wing place the House of Culture among Aalto’s Helsinki office buildings, such as the Rautatalo office building, the Academic Bookstore, the Helsinki city electric power company building, and the Nordic Union Bank offices.

Multiple alterations had been carried out in the House of Culture by the end of the 1980s. Though some of these were the result of careful planning by Aalto’s office, a large part was nevertheless alien to the building’s architecture. The value of the building was understood and in 1989, at just over 30 years of age, the House of Culture was protected under the Building Protection Act. After this, Elissa Aalto began to plan the renovation and the partial restoration of those original themes of the building that had been greatly modified, such as the Alppisali cinema and the restaurant. The slow cessation of the Communist Party activities and its eventual bankruptcy in 1991 was followed by the forced sale of the building. The transfer of ownership left the first renovation partly incomplete.

In 2008 the planning began of a second renovation of the building, which had now come under the ownership of the state-owned Senate Properties. The building has two main uses: the concert hall is used for events and the office wing houses the National Board of Antiquities. At the same time, behind the buildings, against the rock wall of the Linnanmäki amusement park, and partly underground, was planned a connecting passage leading to the neighbouring building and the facilities for the National Board of Antiquities’ collections. In the extensive renovation planned by NRT Architects, the changes in the interior focused on the low intermediate section between the concert hall and the offices where, for instance, a new lift was installed. The building’s technical infrastructure was renewed, such that the majority of the building’s interior surfaces were refinished or renewed. The badly decayed wooden awning in front of the building was rebuilt.

 

Jonas Malmberg

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Aalto, Alvar (1959). ”Helsingin kulttuuritalo”. Arkkitehti 12/1959.
Böök, Netta (2014). ”Helsingin Kulttuurintalon peruskorjaus / Renovation of the House of Culture in Helsinki”. Arkkitehti 2/2014.
Holma, Marjo (toim./ed.) 2015. Kulttuuritalo / House of Culture. Alvar Aallon arkkitehtuuria n:o 12. Jyväskylä: Alvar Aalto -museo.