- Completion 1970, 1968
- PeriodThe rise of the welfare state
- Year of selection2017
The restructuring of the urban block comprising the Helsinki City Hall was part of an attempt to alleviate the shortage of administrative and reception spaces, which had plagued the city already since the late 19th century. The problem was skilfully resolved by architect Aarno Ruusuvuori, whose scheme shows a clear distinction between old and new.
Helsinki had over the years acquired a number of buildings in the city blocks between the Senate Square and the Market Square. The former Hotel Seurahuone (C. L. Engel, 1833) had eventually been inaugurated as the city hall in 1932, because an architectural competition held 19 years earlier for a new building on the site had not produced a satisfactory solution. Ruusuvuori had drawn up preliminary plans for the refurbishment of the block in the 1950s and then went on to win the architectural competition held in 1960-1961.
Ruusuvuori’s starting point was to build completely new premises behind the old façades. The solutions he envisaged were closely tested in the neighbouring Uschakoff House, which in 1964-68 was converted into the city’s Kluuvi office building. The street façades of the building were retained, but of the interiors only the Jugendsali hall and staircase designed by Lars Sonck in the beginning of the 20th century were spared. Concrete and large glass surfaces dominate the new courtyard, from where there is access on the north side of the plot to an art gallery on the third floor. The gallery’s exhibition operations came to an end in the summer of 2015.
The extensive remodelling of the City Hall began in 1965. Only the façades, vaulted entrance and first-floor festival hall were preserved. Offices were placed along the perimeter of the block, and reception facilities in the middle of the building. On the sides of the low-ceilinged lower lobby are tall light wells, the impressive stairs of which lead up to the festival hall. The spaces are notable for their refined materials and the details have a high degree of finish. Strong colour accents based on artist Anitra Lucander’s colour scheme enliven the otherwise minimalist whiteness. Also the programme of artworks in the building was ambitious.
After its completion in 1970, the remodelling sparked a heated debate about building conservation. On the one hand, the preservation aspects were praised while, on the other hand, the removal of historical layers was criticized. Ruusuvuori himself spoke negatively about reconstruction, which was still typical in the 1960s. A robust modernism and the differentiation between new and old through strong contrasts were uncompromising solutions at a time when the criteria for good restoration practices were still in the process of being formulated.
The second phase of the remodelling of the City Hall block was completed in 1988: a new council chamber was built in the centre of the block, while the buildings on the Senate Square side were restored, though now preserving the temporal layers. The parts of the City Hall and Kluuvi office building designed in the 1960s were renovated in 1998-1999.