What do you picture when you think of architecture in Helsinki? (And no, I don’t mean the indie pop band, although they’re great!) Just as the band has some underrated songs that aren’t as popular as their hit singles, so does Helsinki have some underrated architecture. If you’re ready to step away from Uspenski Cathedral and the Old Market Hall, here are some buildings that might just make their way into your Instagram photos!
1. Liisankatu 16
Liisankatu 16 is a building in Kruunuhaka which houses, among others, the Finnish Psychological Association. The building’s name is The Wilkman House, although this name isn’t commonly known. If you walk around Kruunuhaka you’re sure to see many spectacular buildings, so standing out isn’t easy. But if you stop and take in the details of this building, it becomes totally worthy of a photograph. Most notable are the brilliant golden details framing some of the windows and lining the edge of the roof.
2. Maurinkatu 6
Maurinkatu 6 is another notable building in Kruunuhaka. The eclectic structure was designed by Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer under commission by Ossian Donner. The house first functioned as a home for Donner’s family in the early 20th century. Today the building is a meeting- and party space called Svenska Klubben. The views from inside are just as good: the house’s facade looks out onto a small green park and a harbour.
3. Siltavuorenpenger 5
I spotted Siltavuorenpenger 5 while walking along Liisankatu in – guess where? Kruunuhaka! I happened to look down Snellmanninkatu and saw this multicoloured building at the end of it. After some research, I think it belongs to one of the University of Helsinki’s campuses. Dark grey cobblestones form the base, and the rest of the building is split between tan concrete and red bricks.
Säätytalo (The House of the Estates) is in the must-see corner of Helsinki which also includes the Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square. As you might guess from the name, Säätytalo plays host to government functions. Visually, it’s about as close to ancient Greece as you can get in Helsinki! The building was originally built in 1888-90, and in 1903 artist Emil Wikström added the bronze sculptures to the pediment. And because this is one of the facts that I will eternally remember from art history classes in school, I can tell you that the columns are Corinthian Order columns!
5. National Archive of Finland’s Old Research Hall
I was introduced to this magnificent building when I attended an awards ceremony there. Just a stone’s throw from Säätytalo (and therefore Helsinki Cathedral and Senate Square), this building also harkens back to ancient Greece. More columns adorn the front and statues perch on the edge of the roof. The main entrance to the building is actually at the side and is much more modern looking. The outside of this building is great, but what really struck me was the inside! I felt as if I was in a storybook as I wandered the marble halls. What’s more, there’s what looks to be a late 19th-century wagon in the lobby!
6. Helsinki Fire Museum
The Helsinki Fire Museum is not actually a pyromaniac’s dream, despite its striking red colour! In fact, it’s the exact opposite, as the museum showcases the history of the Helsinki Fire Department. Theodor Höijer designed the 42-metre tall building, complete with a castle-like tower, in 1891. The building is actually still in use by the fire department, but you can visit the museum’s collections on Wednesday and Sunday between 12:00 and 16:00.
7. Korkeavuorenkatu 35
Korkeavuorenkatu 35 houses Microsoft Flux, a coworking space for startups. I attended a hackathon in Microsoft Flux, which is how I found out about the building. It’s also directly across the street from the Helsinki Fire Museum, and I got a wonderful view of the museum from here. Korkeavuorenkatu 35 itself is reminiscent of a medieval castle. The large rectangular stones and cone-topped bartizan are a total throwback to the middle ages. I love how a very contemporary and tech-heavy space like Microsoft Flux resides in a building like this!
8. Kallio Church
Helsinki is known for its architecturally variant churches, but this one doesn’t get much attention. Perhaps its location outside of the centre of Helsinki contributes to this, but anyone interested in architecture should definitely give it a look! Architect Lars Sonck designed the church, which opened its doors in 1912. The grey building is simpler in style than the grand Helsinki- and Uspenski Cathedrals. The style used is National Romanticism with Art Nouveau influences.
9. Villa Johanna
Uno Staudinger had architect Selim Arvid Lindqvist build this house for his wife Johanna. Lindqvist built Villa Johanna in the beautiful Ullanlinna neighbourhood back in 1905-06. This charming house looks like a marriage between Art Nouveau age aesthetics and a fairytale castle! The asymmetrical, multicoloured facade is topped off by a tall spire. The eclectic mishmash of elements could have gone badly and looked gaudy, but Lindqvist pulled it off and made Villa Johanna look harmonious and inviting.
10. Kalevankatu 7
I’ve walked down Kalevankatu many times, but only recently did I really take a close look at this building. The facade is mostly an inconspicuous light brown, but look closer. There are coloured flowering vines blooming above the windows and doorways and a swallow swooping down between the windows. Adding to the Art Nouveau charm is the arch surrounding the main doorway, emblazoned with the name “Kyllikki”. Georg Wasastjerna and K.V. Polón built Kalevankatu 7 in 1903.
A few honourable mentions
Helsinki is packed full of amazing architecture, including many Art Nouveau/Jugend masterpieces. There are great buildings to see all around the city, but if you’re especially keen to see architecture, some neighbourhoods stand out. Among the best are Kruunuhaka and Eira. I’ve included more than one example from both neighbourhoods in my selections above.