Pohja Life Insurance Commercial Building

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Photo: Apollo / MFA
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1930
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


On its completion, the Pohja Life Insurance commercial building attracted both positive and negative reactions, because the streamlined building radically differed from its surroundings. There was not even a consensus among the jury of the architecture competition, held a few years earlier, but opinions were sharply divided between the classicist and functionalist proposals. The mainstream of architecture was undergoing change. The building has many features typical of international modernism, such as the pillar frame, strip windows and rooftop terrace. It was only in its appearance, however, that the principles of ​​Functionalism were realized. Instead of a free facade composition, there is a break in the strip windows due to the building frame coming out all the way to the wall surface, which at that point is covered with black polished glass. The building also contains classical motifs, such as decorations on the pillars, a decorative list above the shop windows and a wide roof eaves. The decorative facade section of the stairwell links the building to the neighbouring older building.

The main staircase is impressive; on each floor is a circular vestibule connected to the stairwell. In the middle of the building frame is a light well, which is overlooked by offices. The heart of the building is the Pohja company’s nine-metre-high, glass-covered former customer service hall on the second floor, with a balcony around its perimeter. On its completion, the service hall was described as follows: “The office hall extending to a height of two floors is a rather strange cylinder. It is like a smallish theatre, where the office gentlemen sit on the first balcony and the office ladies on the parterre floor. The light comes through the ceiling from a large glass cylinder. The furnishing is modern down to the smallest detail.” (Helsingin Sanomat, 04.09.1930). Like the other spaces in the building, the former customer service hall is nowadays leased to a private company. The space itself has been preserved, but the furnishings and colours have changed.

The interior design, steel-tube furniture, plywood doors and rubber flooring were in line with the spirit of the time, or even ahead of its time. Hygienic steel-tube furniture became common soon after the breakthrough of Functionalism, especially in public spaces, though more slowly in home interiors. Plywood was favoured as it was a domestic product, while rubber, in turn, became a popular flooring material in the 1930s.

The characteristic features of the building have been well preserved, even though interior details have been lost. Some years ago, part of the railing of the roof terrace around the perimeter of the top floor was fitted with safety-enhancing metal mesh, which is nevertheless quite unnoticeable in the cityscape.


Leena Makkonen

”«Elonvara’s» och «Pohja’s» eskissritningstävlingar”, Arkitekten 8/1928.
Jeskanen, Timo & Leskelä, Pekka (2000). Oiva Kallio. Helsinki: Suomen rakennustaiteen museo.
Kallio, Oiva (1930). ”Livsförsäkningsbolaget ’Pohjas’ affärshus”, Arkitekten 8/1930.
Nimimerkki Pohjamies (1930). ”Pohjan ’funkistaloa’ katsomassa”, Helsingin Sanomat, 4.9.1930.
Standertskjöld, Elina (2008). Arkkitehtuurimme vuosikymmenet 1930–1960. Helsinki: Suomen rakennustaiteen museo, Rakennustietosäätiö, Rakennustieto Oy.