Architecture in Finland

Finland is a border area between East and West. This is more clearly reflected in the traditional rural development than in the monumental architecture and in the urban development.

As a general characteristic, it can be said that the rural development in western Finland at an early age tended to firmness in the form of square plots and other enclosed facilities. The farms in the eastern part of the country had a looser structure. All the buildings were roofed. Each yard consisted of a number of buildings, each with its function. A central position included the sauna, in Finnish called sauna. This was often the first building erected. The dwelling house was usually built as a variation of the living room, where the walled stove was the usual heat source. For the settlement in Karelia also belongs to large, timber unit buildings where all functions are placed under one roof. Regional examples of traditional Finnish rural buildings are collected at the open-air museum Seurasaari (Fölisön) near Helsinki.

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral, also referred to as the Great Church

The Middle Ages

Even though Finland was relatively Christianized late, it is still the churches that make up the foremost architectural monuments of the Middle Ages. The earliest are found in Åland, where also the first stone churches were built. The oldest is the church in Jomala, originally from the 1100s when the tower was built, the current ship and choir are from ca. 1260. The church is built with almost square ship and a somewhat narrower choir. On the mainland, it was the large river valleys in southwestern Finland that first became Christian. In the Nousiainen, traces of a former church building in timber have been found that have been interpreted as a precursor to the Turku Cathedral (Turku). Medieval stave buildings are not known in Finland.

The first stone churches on the mainland date to the end of the 13th century. the present church in Nousiainen. The Gothic brick cathedral in Turku was first built in 1286–92, rebuilt after destruction in 1318. The existing choir dates from ca. 1350 and is built after North German examples. In the 1300s, a number of smaller churches of gray stone were also built in southwestern Finland. in Tyrvää and Rymättylä. The churches are built with ships and choirs of the same width and have freestanding foundry. In the 15th century, several of the churches received brick vaults. From the same time, many of the gilded ornaments come from where brick blinds form crosses and other figures that help to give the Finnish medieval churches a distinctive appearance. Porvoo Cathedral (1414-18) is built on the same pattern as the medieval village churches.

No medieval churches of three have been preserved in Finland. Existing church buildings from the 17th century, however, seem to represent a medieval tradition with the use of zinc roofs and rafters. the archipelago church in Pyhämaa (c. 1660).

Part of the fortress Suomenlinna (Sveaborg).

All through the Middle Ages, several fortresses were built to some impressive extent. The oldest is Turunlinna (Turku House) in Turku, built in the 1280s, later converted into a castle. The best preserved is Olavinlinna (St. Olavsborg) in eastern Finland, founded in 1475, which is also the best preserved medieval castle in the Nordic countries.

The first real city in Finland was Turku, which got its privileges in the 1290s. Another important medieval town was Vyborg, now part of Russia. As a border city with Russia, it was equipped with a ring wall. However, both Turku and Vyborg were relatively small urban communities. As late as approx. 1500 they had approx. 2000 and 1500 inhabitants. Now the medieval town pattern with dense, irregular wooden house construction is best preserved in Porvoo.

Renaissance and Baroque

The two following centuries after the Reformation became an architectural historical period. However, in Finland too, there are examples of Renaissance and Baroque architecture. The first style direction includes the remodeling work done on the 16th-century Turku castle, primarily the impressive royal hall. After a previous ban on the nobility to build fortifications of stone was lifted in 1483, several noble sites were also built in the 16th century. From the 1600s, i.a. the mansions of Villnäs (1653–55) and Särvlax (c. 1670). Due to its strict axiality, both facilities are linked to European Baroque architecture.

The cities also had great development in the 17th century. About. In 1630, the previously random development pattern was replaced by a strict chessboard pattern, following the Renaissance model. is preserved in Kristiinankaupunki. However, the settlement in the 17th century towns did not differ significantly from that in the medieval towns with low, unpainted timber buildings.

At the end of the 1600s, the medieval long church was still the most common form of planning. The building materials were mainly timber. The pure crucifix was first introduced in some city churches ca. 1660–70, but gradually gained entry across the country. Between 1750 and 1850, the cross-church was the most common form of planning. A good example is the church in Petäjävesi (1763–64) with polygon vault and octagonal dome. As in the Middle Ages, the bells were often placed in a freestanding cast. From the 18th century also came the Karelian double choir churches, which were supposed to have their greatest spread in the early 1800s, including the church in Kirvu (1815–16). The first example in Finland of neoclassical architecture using simple geometric shapes was the church in Hämeenlinna (1798), designed by architect LJ Desprez after the example of the Pantheon in Rome.

In 1721 the border with Russia was moved further west. The following year, the fortress town of Hamina was constructed with a plan in which eight streets radiate from a central square. As part of the new defense works to the east, the island fortress Suomenlinna was built at Helsinki in 1747. The fortress was planned by A. Ehrenswaard and has been designated as the foremost monument in Finnish architecture after the Middle Ages.

Parliamentary Building in Helsinki

Parliamentary Building in Helsinki, built in 1927–31 in granite according to drawings by Johan Sirén. In the foreground is a statue of Finland’s first president, Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg. 


In the 18th century, Turku was still the leading city in Finland and also the most important gateway for new trends in architecture. Around 1800 the population had increased to approx. 11,000, and the city competed for the place as the third largest city in the Swedish-Finnish realm. In 1734, German mason S. Berner was hired as the first city architect in Turku. Berner’s successor was another German immigrant, CF Schröder, who built a number of public buildings, manor houses and town yards, characterized by French classicism. These include: the manor house in the early industrial society Fagervik (1762–73), the town hall in Raumo (1776–77) and the manor house in Svartå (1782–89, which Schröder designed in collaboration with the architect E. Palmstedt), one of Finland’s most stately wooden buildings. In 1802, the Italian-born architect C. Bassi settled in Turku to lead the construction of the strictly classicist Academy building (1802-15), designed by the Swedish architect CG Gjörwell. The facility includes the Solennitetsalen, which is considered to be one of the finest interiors of the period in the Nordic countries.

Upon the relinquishment of Finland to Russia in 1809, the capital was moved from Turku to the former small town of Helsinki. In 1827, Turku was also hit by the largest urban fire that has been in the Nordic countries, where a total of 2,500 buildings were destroyed. In the reconstruction, Turku got straight, wide streets and a classicist building. The foremost representative of the “Turku Empire” was C. Bassi, who in 1809 became the first leader for the construction of public buildings in Finland. His works include: the old university building in Turku (1802–15).

In 1808, Helsinki was hit by fire. After 1809, the city was rebuilt according to a plan drawn up by politician JA Eherenström, who wanted to create a representative capital with straight streets and large spaces. It was also Eherenström’s merit that the German architect CL Engel was summoned from St. Petersburg to participate in the reconstruction of the city. In 1824 he succeeded C. Bassi as head of all public construction activities. Eng’s major work in Helsinki includes The Senate House (1818–22), the University’s main building (1828–32) and the Great Church (1830–40). The material used was mainly plastered bricks, and the design language was strictly classicist, the “Helsinki empirical”.

Engel’s business was not just related to the capital. In addition to leading the public construction business, he was also personally responsible for designing a large number of churches and town halls across the country, e.g. the church in Lapua (1827) and the town hall in Pori (1840). In addition come a number of private buildings such as the manor Vuojoki (1836) and the operating buildings of the manor Viurila (c. 1840), all held in the same classicist form.

More than anyone else, Engel came to characterize Finnish architecture in the first half of the 19th century. Among his many Finnish apprentices and associates was the architect AF Granstedt, who in collaboration with EB Lohrmann was responsible for the construction of the church in Kerimäki (1848), one of the world’s largest wooden churches with 3400 seats.

The Great Church

The Great Church (Cathedral) at the Senate Square in Helsinki, 1830-40, designed by the German architect CL Engel.

Historicalism and Renal Renaissance

Engel’s death in 1840 marked the end of a hectic construction period in Finland. At the same time, historicalism gained a foothold in Finnish architecture, but this too was characterized by the simplified expression of the empiricism. Among the most famous architects of the period was GTP Chiewitz, who had moved in from Sweden, from the 1860 city architect in Turku. His works include: the New Gothic Knight’s House in Helsinki (1858–61) and the New Gothic Church in Pori, where the tower is made of pierced cast iron (1863). Chiewitz’s student, the architect CT Höijer, was the foremost representative of the 1880s renal Renaissance. for the construction of the Atheneum building in Helsinki (1887).

In the second half of the 19th century, the many Finnish small towns were characterized by low, paneled buildings, often richly decorated with moldings and machine-made joinery details. In several of the cities, e.g. Uusikaupunki and Raahe at Botanical Bay, parts of this settlement are still preserved.

The Helsinki Railway Station

The Helsinki Railway Station, designed by Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen, 1904, and worked by Saarinen in 1906-14.

National identity

The common European escape from historicism in the late 19th century took the form of a return to the building tradition in Karelia province in Finland. Architecture thus became an important mark of national identity in the years leading up to independence. The first example is a timber villa on Åland, built in 1894 by Lars Sonck. Sonck belonged to the younger generation of architects who graduated from the Polytechnic Institute in Helsinki.

Also from this came the trio Eliel Saarinen, Armas Lindgren and Herman Gesellius, who, after winning the competition for Finland’s pavilion at the world exhibition in Paris 1900, joined forces and built homes and studios in Hvitträsk west of Helsinki (1902). The project was initially modeled on the Karelian farmhouse, but gradually became more sophisticated in its design language, with clear inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement in England and Art on the continent. The highlight of the national style is marked by the trio’s National Museum in Helsinki, erected in 1905, and several contemporary churches designed by Sonck. All of these buildings, with their rough, carved granite blocks and sculpted mass structure, clearly show the influence of the American architect Richardson.

The new architectural ideals became more dominant in Finland than in other European countries. The liberation from academia’s forced jersey that the national currents entailed, thus also laid the basis for a broad acceptance of the emerging international modernism. The transition is marked first and foremost with the Helsinki railway station. Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen won the competition in 1904 with a project that had clear romantic features, but after Saarinen’s work (1906–14) the building took on a simpler and more regular form that more strongly expressed its constructive structure. The Saarinen had had several study trips in Europe. become acquainted with the work of P. Behrens in Germany. Classicism was a short interlude in Finland, with JS Sirens Parliament House(1924-30) as an outstanding highlight. As early as 1928 Pauli Blomstedt, with his article “Architectural Anemia”, proclaimed the end of classicism and paved the way for the breakthrough of functionalism.

Library Finland. Metso (Capercaillie), the library in Tampere, built in 1983–86, designed by architect-couple Raili and Reima Pietilä, is one of the highest-valued buildings in modern Finnish architecture.

Functionalism and modernism

Alvar Aalto now became the big name. In the 1920s, Aalto designed a few churches that, with his campaign motif, show his earliest Italy-inspired classicism. But then, while Blomstedt published his article, Aalto won the competition for a tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio. The building was built in the years 1929–32, and the functional design and exposure of the reinforced concrete structures make the sanatorium the first real contribution of Finland to international modern architecture. Both here and in the library in Vyborg (1930–35), Aalto experimented for the first time with furniture made of laminated and bent birch.

Functionalism’s program of emphasis on technology, purity and Puritanism was too narrowly formulated for Aalto, and in Villa Mairea (1938–399) and the municipal center in Säynätsalo (1952) he created, based on Finnish natural understanding, an architecture that forms an organic whole. His organic modernism became an inspiration for the international architectural environment and laid the foundation for a new Finnish tradition.

We also find an understanding of Finnish nature and climate in two early housing projects by Aalto. Both at Sunnila (1936–39) and Kauttua (1938–40), it is the topography, vegetation and sun direction that determine the location of terraced and terraced houses. The same gentle terrain adaptation came to mark the earliest phase of the urban development, such as in Tapiola outside Helsinki (1962-64), where several architects were engaged to develop model and experimental homes. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, residential construction was increasingly controlled by large development companies, and the solutions often received a schematic touch, more adapted to the new production methods than the existing natural environment.

Finnish post-war architecture goes in two directions. Functionalism gets its foremost advocates in Aarne Ervi, who had worked with Aalto, Viljo Revell and Aulis Blomstedt, while at the same time it developed an architecture that, based on Aalto’s organic concept, had strong expressionist features. Here Reima Pietilä’s student building Dipoli (1966) is the typical example. In opposition to Pietilä, there emerged around Blomstedt a circle of younger architects who lead functionalism towards a constructivist expression. This line leads from Kristian Gullichsen’s and Juhani Pallasmaas’s small house system Moduli, via the 1977 Tampere Metal Workers Course, designed by Pekka Helin and Tuomo Siitonen, to Antti Katajamäki’s building for Valio’s dairy in Oulu from 1983; all characterized by constructive clarity combined with Finnish ability for expressive shaping.

Pietilä’s expressionist architecture, as we also see it in the Tampere Library (1986), had its distinctive successors in the environment around the Oulu School of Architecture. Pietilä himself was a teacher at the school and inspired the students to a settlement with constructivism based on studies of local building tradition. In this objective of regional character, and also in its design language, the architects of the Oulu school show the relationship with contemporary trends in international postmodernism. However, postmodernism gained less influence in Finland than in other European countries, perhaps precisely because the regional legacy of Aalto was so vivid. The genuine Finnish is therefore still present, such as at the architectural firm NVV in Oulunsalo City Hall (1983) and the winner of the competition for Kalevala hotel in Kuhmo, a project with clear references both to the Kalevala tradition and to the villa Hvitträsk by Geselius, Lindgren and Saarinen. The same taming of the international postmodern currents can also be found in the tourist center in Rovaniemi (1985), designed by the group ARRAK, and Georg Grotenfeld’s many small houses in eastern Finland, all of which, in Pietilä’s spirit, are clearly anchored locally.

In 1972 Kristian Gullichsen joined forces with Erkki Kairamo and Timo Vormala, and with two works from 1989 he confirmed his position as a leader in the modernist tradition in Finland. The Pieksämäki Cultural Center unites constructive and functional rigor with the ability to sculptural form and sense of materials and details. Extending to the Stockmann department store in Helsinki, a heavy brick building, designed by Sigurd Frosterus and erected in 1916-30, is an urban design lesson in the way architects have formed an independent building body, which at the same time takes due account of the existing building through a relationship in the rhythmic facade. structure and material value.

Another example of a distinctly modernist design language also applicable in complex urban contexts is Olli Pekka Jokela’s new building for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Helsinki (1993), where the immediate neighborhood, the Old Coin of 1864 and Aalto’s building for the company Enso-Gutzeit from 1962, requires a somewhat tighter, almost classicist facade composition. Architects Mikko Heikkinen and Markku Komonen go even further than Gullichsen in exploring the possibilities of technology. But both in the Washington Embassy building (1994) and the Kuopio Rescue Service School (1992), the latter with certain features of deconstructivism, this exploration is combined with a compelling ability to use and composition of materials, and a typical Finnish sense of the meaning of the detail.

Both of the two main trends in recent Finnish architecture claimed to build on Alvar Aalto’s ideas and architecture. And the fact that they can both rightly claim this kinship shows full Aalto’s greatness. He was the unifying force, and his work continues to prove to be an inexhaustible source of inspiration and learning. Aalto himself was active until his death in 1976, among other things. with a number of major assignments abroad. However, the last major work he saw was completed in Finland. In 1961 he had won a competition for the development of a new center in Helsinki, and in the years 1967-75, the concert hall Finlandiaerected as the first part in the realization of the ambitious plans. With its crisp, shiny white marble facade and sculptural mass treatment, the building is not only a monument to one man’s architectural grandeur, but equally a striking expression of the distinctive power of Finnish architectural tradition, expressive and at the same time logically consistent.