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Central Railway Station in Helsinki. Photo: Susanna Kesänen
Helsinki Music Centre. Photo: Visit Helsinki
A detail of the facade of a art Noveau building. Photo: Esko Jämsä

Architecture in Helsinki

Modernism, functionalism and the largest concentration of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe make Helsinki a major city of architecture.

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.

The buildings at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress interweave three unique periods – the Swedish, Russian and Finnish – into a fascinating entity.

The Byzantine-Russian architectural tradition is represented by Alexander M. Gornostajev’s Uspenski Cathedral (1868), the largest orthodox church edifice in Western Europe. 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).

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). Nordic Classicism of the 1920s is represented by J. S. Siren’s Parliament House

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).

Bold examples of Functionalism include the Olympic Stadium (1938) and the Lasipalatsi “Glass Palace” (1935). 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.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma (1998) designed by American architect Steven Holl represents the best of contemporary architecture. Minimalist glass and steel design is represented by the Sanomatalo (1999) and the High Tech Centre (2001) in Ruoholahti. Helsinki Music Centre opened next to Finlandia Hall in autumn 2011 and was designed by LPR-arkkitehtitoimisto. The Main Library of the University of Helsinki, Kaisa-talo, was completed in 2012 and represents glass architecture. Kaisa-talo was designed by Anttinen Oiva Arkkitehdit Oy.

Updated 10.3.2015

Kamppi Chapel of Silence. Photo: Visit Helsinki

Tip! Take an architectural tour

How about going for an architectural walk? With an Architecture Map (can be purchased from the Tourist Information) and your own copy of the Jugend Helsinki brochure you're set for exploring the architectural gems of Helsinki.

Another option is hopping on tram number 4 that covers many architectural sights along its route.

You can also take a virtual tour through Alvar Aalto's architecture, including i.a. Finlandia Hall.

Kiasma. Photo: Joel Rosenberg/Finnish National Gallery, Central Art Archives

Architectural sights in Helsinki