|Construction started||December 1967|
|Completed||2 December 1971|
|Design and construction|
The Finlandia Hall is a congress and event venue in the centre of Helsinki on the Töölönlahti Bay. The building, which was designed by architect Alvar Aalto, was completed in 1971. Every detail in the building is designed by Aalto. The designs were completed in 1962, and building too place in 1967-1971. The Congress Wing was designed in 1970 and built in 1973-1975. In 2011, the building was expanded with new exhibition and meeting facilities.
The inauguration of the Finlandia Hall was celebrated on 2 December 1971. The inauguration concert included the first performance of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Meren tytär (Daughter of the Sea) and Aulis Sallinen’s Symphony (opus 24), as well as Sibelius’s violin concerto with Isaac Stern as the piano soloist of the Helsinki City Orchestra. A comprehensive history of the Finlandia Hall, Events, People and Music, was published in 2001 by the Otava Publishing Company. The book was written by Pekka Suhonen, Petri Mustonen and Eeva-Kaarina Holopainen.
The versatile and flexible meeting, exhibition, festival and concert facilities of the Finlandia Hall offer a setting for both large international congresses and small-scale meetings, and for various entertainment and public events. The Finlandia Hall has proved its ability to serve as a venue for several world congresses and as a forum for the world’s top economic and political leaders. The building itself is a popular attraction visited by thousands of tourists from all over the world every year. The building is owned by the City of Helsinki.
The main feature of the Finlandia Hall building is a tower like section with a sloping roof. Alvar Aalto’s idea behind the design was that a high empty space would provide better acoustics. A lattice ceiling hides the space to the audience but it allows the creation of the same deep post-echo as tall church towers. Aalto used marble in both indoor and outdoor surfaces as a contrast to black granite. For Aalto, marble was a tie to the Mediterranean culture, which he wanted to bring to Finland.
The inserted picture on the opening page shows an optical illusion: The National Museum building on the other side of the street seems to rise from the edge of the Finlandia Hall tower. The effect is created by a black trapezium on the white marble surface of the Finlandia Hall tower, The trapezium has been measured to fit the rising tower of the National Museum when the Finlandia Hall is viewed from the eastern shore of the Töölönlahti Bay. You can see the effect by clicking on the picture. Aalto liked to create optical illusions. Another example of this can be found on the pedestrian path behind the library building of the Helsinki University of Technology (current Aalto University) in Espoo.
The interior design of the building is a tribute to detail. The design of each lamp, piece of furniture, panel, flooring material and decorative board reflects the mature approach resulting from Aalto’s long career as an architect. All the materials speak the language of nature, simply without technically artificial tones. This is because Aalto’s basic view was that architecture should create a frame for human beings. In the Finlandia Hall, the focus is not on extraordinary forms or ostentatious interior. It is on the audience and on the performers. According to Aalto, the audience at the Finlandia Hall need not dress up like people used to in the opera foyers and gilded concert halls of the old days. What people wear should be as genuine and natural as the environment in the building.
The main building houses the Main Auditorium (seats 1700), Helsinki Hall (seats 340), Terrace Hall (seats 250), Elissa Hall (seats 130), Aurora Hall (seats 894), Veranda (seats 1700) and Finlandia Restaurant, as well as Cafe Veranda (open to the public) and Galleria Veranda.
The interior of the Finlandia Hall displays many themes that are typical of Aalto. The Main Auditorium was originally designed as a concert hall, and it is a simplified version of the concert hall in the Essen Opera House in Germany. The Main Auditorium has been a popular venue for meetings, congresses, festivities, concerts and events from the very beginning. The Auditorium seats 1700 people, 1200 in the stalls and 500 in the balcony. The floor is oak parquet and the blue sections of the wall are Finnish birch. The stage is 14 metres wide. It consists of several modular platforms. In the middle, there is an elevator to the storage rooms located on two floors underneath the stage. The curtain is designed by Dora Jung, a Finnish textile designer. The Main Auditorium has served as a venue for several international summit meetings, for instance for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, which was participated by President Breznev from the Soviet Union and President Ford from the United States. In the meeting, every second seat row was removed to accommodate desks for the participants. There are several other heads of states who have given speeches in the Main Auditorium, e.g. President Reagan, President George H.V. Bush, President Gorbatsov, Pope John Paul II and Dalai Lama. There has been a lot of discussion about the acoustics of the Main Auditorium. In the beginning, there were problems, mainly because Aalto wanted the space to be like a medieval church in which the acoustics are known to be good. The tower section shown here was fully open. In the reparations that took place later, the ceiling was lowered to this height, and the height of the stage was increased by half a metre. The level of the acoustics in the Main Auditorium is described as “upper average”. The doors of the Main Auditorium are covered with material made of horsehair. The organ in the Auditorium, made by the Kanagasala Organ Factory, was the first concert hall organ in Finland. The front section of the organ was also designed by Alvar Aalto.
Piazza is a large foyer that is full of natural light. The name goes back to Italy, the country that Alto admired greatly, its market places and squares where people gathered to see each other. The colours are subdued and quiet. The floor or the foyer is covered with high-quality English wool carpeting.
The Helsinki Hall with its 340 seats and pleasant foyer is an excellent venue for various events. The Helsinki Hall has features that resemble the church hall that Aalto designed for Detmerode, Germany. Especially the roof is copied from it. The “panels” in the ceiling are American Oregon Pine. A closer look at the walls of the Helsinki Hall shows that there is only one sharp angle in the Hall.
The Finlandia Restaurant consists of three dining rooms separated by movable walls. As a single space, the restaurant seats 380 people and accommodates a cocktail party for 650 people. Combining the restaurant and the adjoining foyer allows the arrangement of catering for almost 1300 people and cocktail parties for up to 2500 people.
The Congress Wing was completed in 1975. The special feature of the Congress Wing is the “waves” of the facade that give the building unique beauty and vivacity. The outer walls of the Wing are not direct. They curve, following the form of the terrain. On the one hand, Aalto wanted to save most of the trees on the site, but on the other hand, he wanted to avoid the monotony of direct walls. The Congress Wing contains convertible halls A, B and C, as well as several (total 13) smaller meeting rooms.
The Veranda extension of the Finlandia Hall, which was completed in 2011, is a conversion of the covered parking lot and ramp on the Karamzininranta side of the main building. The main idea of the design was a feeling of a covered outdoor space, simple. light and neutral. For example, the original nature and material of the ceiling, wall and floor surfaces were not changed if possible. The construction work was implemented in cooperation with Finland’s National Board of Antiquities. The number of new fixed elements was minimised to allow the use of the space for a large number of different functions, exhibitions, banquets, etc. The hall can be divided into spaces of various sizes by means of movable walls. Veranda’s floor area, 2200 m2, provides meeting space for 240 -1310 people. It allows the arrangement of catering for 1000 people and cocktail parties for 1700 people. The main architect for Veranda is Jyrki Iso-Aho and the interior design is by Jaakko Puro Oy. Apart from design, the leading idea in furnishing is lightness, movability and suitability for various purposes. Veranda also houses Cafe Veranda, which is open to the public, and Galleria Veranda. Both Veranda and Cafe Veranda offer a good view to the Töölönlahti Bay.
The Finlandia Hall is operated by an independent company. On 1 June 2008, the management organisation of the Finlandia Hall was changed into a limited liability company, Finlandia-talo Oy. The whole share capital of the company is owned by the City of Helsinki. The Managing Director of the company is Johanna Tolonen.
- Göran Schildt: Alvar Aalto – A Life's Work: Architecture, Design and Art, Otava, Helsinki, ISBN 951-1-12975-9)
Media related to Finlandia Hall at Wikimedia Commons
- Webpage of Finlandia Hall
- Architecture of Finlandia Hall – for a more detailed essay on the architecture of Finlandia Hall.