Light in the darkest of days

November, the air is fresh, sharp. The days are already short at this time of year in northern Europe and it takes a little ingenuity to keep its biological clock alert. Fortunately the possibilities of staying alert are not lacking.

Architecture is generally characterized by a sobriety typical of the countries of Northern Europe and by a Swedish and Russian past. The city center, and in particular the setting and surroundings of the Senate Square, is a remarkable neoclassical ensemble.


The city was deeply modified after its annexation by Russia, according to an orthogonal plan conceived by the architect Carl Ludwig Engel. The place of the Senate, a monumental neoclassical ensemble, is at the center of this plan. It is bordered by the university buildings, the Council of State and the Lutheran Cathedral. Not far away, the Cathedral of the Assumption (Uspenski); With its golden cupolas and red brick facade, is one of the clearest symbols of the Russian influnce in the history of Helsinki. Designed by the Russian architect Alexey Gornostaev, it is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe.


Art Nouveau (Jugend) has been the subject of a special interpretation in Finland: national romanticism. This style draws a large part of its inspiration and influences in the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic and reached its apogee in the early years of the 20th century. The most famous examples are the National Museum of Finland (by the architectural firm Gesellius Lindgren Saarinen) and the National Theater (Onni Tarjanne). Later Art Nouveau is majestically represented by the Central Station (Eliel Saarinen), the Nordic neoclassicism of the 1920s by the Parliament Palace (JS Siren), functionalism by the Olympic Stadium (1938) and the Glass Palace (Lasipalatsi, 1935).


The modern architect Alvar Aalto has made some famous works in Helsinki. He played an important urban planning role in Finland after the war. By the end of the 1920s, he differed from his contemporaries (Gropius, Le Corbusier or Breuer) whose rationalism refers to the use of industrial materials such as steel and glass, which he considers too cold. He proposes a more humanistic and closer to nature vision and makes plywood his favorite material. Both functional and seductive, this design will immediately signal the new way opened by the use of plywood and the emergence of a vocabulary of gentler and warm forms.


There is also an interesting wooden architecture, the most recent of which are the Kamppi Chapel of Silence and the Sauna of Culture (2012). The Temppeliaukio church (1969), deeply buried in the rock (Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen), the Kiasma Museum of Modern Art (1998), designed by the American Steven Holl. The House of Music (2011), designed by the LPR architectural firm next to the Finlandia Palace, and the Kaisa House (2012), award-winning glass construction of the University’s main library, designed by Anttinen Oiva Arkkitehdit Oy.


The terrace of the coffee-locker (Katamarano), located on Hietaranta beach in Hietalahti district, finished in 2011.

The Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral, Senate Square. Designed and refined for a decade by the architect Carl Ludwig Engel, built between 1830 and 1852.

The Chapel of Silence, designed by Mikko Summanen, Narinkka Square, in the middle of the shopping district considered one of the noisiest in Finland. Inside, an absolute silence conducive to recollection and the opportunity to break the rhythm.

The House of Culture (Kulttuuritalo), one of the buildings designed by Alvar Aalto in its period “red brick”, located in the district of Alppila.

Quality of life

The city was ranked first in the ranking of the 2011 study published by the magazine Monocle on capitals offering the best quality of life.
The magazine lays the laurels in Helsinki for “the city’s profound audacity to redefine its urban planning projects, with a state of mind which means that all new orientations are implemented with talent, inventiveness and guts”.

Tyler Brûlé, editor-in-chief of Monocle, explains the ranking criteria: “We decided that this year’s results would focus not only on the practical aspects of the cities cited in the ranking and that we would now take into account the final product . ” The “Quality of Life” study places particular emphasis on cities which do not close at 10 pm and where there is a balance between traditional architecture and innovative urban development projects; Similarly, account has been taken of “objective criteria, such as the number of outdoor seats, the area of green spaces and the number of hours of sunshine”.

“Helsinki is on a very good way,” adds Brûlé. “The crime rate is low, the unemployment figures are reasonable, the education system has nothing to envy what is done in the countries that are the most advanced in this field, and the culinary culture shows a strong vigor As well as entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, it is a profound influence on the corporate culture of Finland, a young country with many talents and technical skills, and Helsinki has the infrastructure, Equipment that generally works wonders. ”


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The Assumption Cathedral (Uspenski), designed by the Russian architect Alexey Gornostaev, is the largest Orthodox cathedral in Western Europe. With its golden cupolas and red brick facade it is one of the clearest symbols of Russian influence in the history of Helsinki. Built on the orders of the Emperor Alexander II of Russia between 1862 and 1868, it is located near the city center, on a hill on the peninsula of Katajanokka.

The revealing strata of the Swedish, Russian and Finnish periods are readily read on the buildings.

Jopo bikes, considered for over 50 years as cult in Finland. The word Jopo comes from a contraction signifying the bike of everyone.

"We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street."

Alvar Aalto

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