Helsinki City Theatre

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Photo: Helifoto / MFA
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1967
  • Decade1960s
  • PeriodThe rise of the welfare state
  • Year of selection1993


Helsinki City Theatre was founded in 1965, when the two workers’ theatres the Helsinki People’s Theatre and the Helsinki Workers’ Theatre, both founded at the beginning of the 1900s, merged to become a new municipal theatre institution. The placement of the new City Theatre building followed the principles of Yrjö Lindegren’s and Erik Kråkström’s  Helsinki City Centre plan from 1954, in which the city’s sheltered bays were reserved as an area for cultural life and public buildings. An open architectural competition was held for the City Theatre in 1960-61, which was won by architects Timo Penttilä and Kari Virta with their proposal “Arlecchino”. The founding of the theatre and the decision to begin the construction were made in 1965 and the theatre began its operations in the new building in 1967.

The starting point of Penttilä’s and Virta’s design was the placement of the important areas of the two stages on the same level, as well as placing the entire building on the plot so that the existing mature trees of Eläintarha Park were preserved as much as possible. The audience spaces are located on the south side of the building as a long strip, such that the foyers of the main stage have unobstructed views over the park. The massing of the building is enclosed and stepped as terraces in the terrain. The facades are clad in special clinker tiles manufactured in the Arabia factory. The cantilevered concrete structures emphasize the horizontality of the spaces. The stage tower, with its polygonal form and bevelled corners, stands out as a dominant feature in the cityscape, in the otherwise horizontal building that adapts to the surrounding landscape.

Helsinki City Theatre is among the main works of architect and professor Timo Penttilä, and is an example of the diversifying modernist architecture of the 1960s. The building is one of the earliest municipal theatre buildings in Finland. The municipal theatre’s extensive room programme comprises a diverse functional totality, and was carefully designed and built as a total work of art.

The interior designer of the theatre was Maija Ruoslahti. The large “Colibri” stage curtain was designed by textile designer Marjatta Metsovaara. The surrounding landscaping was designed by landscape architect Auli Hietakangas. The theatre was extended in 1989 with a rehearsal stage, designed by Timo Penttilä together with Kari Lind and Sakari Tilanterä. The first major renovation of the theatre was carried out in 2015-17 under the direction of Pauno Narjus of LPR Architects.


Mikko Lindqvist

Koho, Timo (1991). Teatteriarkkitehtuurin merkitysarvoja. Helsinki: Suomen Muinaismuistoyhdistyksen aikakauskirja 97.
Koski, Pirkko & Palander, Misa (toim.) (2007). Kansaa teatterissa. Helsingin Kaupunginteatterin historiaa. Keuruu: Like kustannus.
Penttilä, Timo (1967). ”Helsingin Kaupunginteatteri / Helsinki City Theatre”. Arkkitehti 10-11/1967.
Penttilä, Timo (2013). Oikeat ja väärät arkkitehdit. 2000 vuotta arkkitehtuuriteoriaa. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

Projects by same architect