BUILD Blog


The Modern List Finland


BUILD llc recently returned from Scandinavia where we tracked the latest modern architecture, design, art, food and culture. Helsinki is a convenient overnight boat ride away from Stockholm – the cost of taking the overnight ferry is actually less than most hotel rooms in either city. Helsinki is small enough to get your head around, pedestrian friendly and full of rich design. Scandinavian’s have a knack for subtle, sensible design and Helsinki didn’t let us down with it’s no-nonsense warm modernism. The people are a bit reticent, but maybe that’s what happens after you’ve been in between a Swedish-Russian tug-of-war for several hundred years. At any rate, since 1917 Finland has held its own politically and as a hub of design. The Modern List 2 page 14KB PDF download can be found here: TML-Finland. The list is full of restaurants, design shops and other finds, here are some of our favorites:


Temppeliaukio Church, or church of the rock, is not to be missed. Designed by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen and completed in 1969 the church has been inserted within a natural rock depression at the city’s center. The church is a photographer’s daydream in terms of the photographic exploration and serendipity. And a nightmare due to the shear number of tourists pouring out of buses and incessantly flashing their point-and-shoots.

[photos by BUILD llc]

The approach to Steven Holl’s Kiasma Contemporary Art Museum is every bit as interesting as the museum itself. The various corridors and surrounding buildings provide a dramatic sequence of views.


[photos by BUILD llc]

A skateboard ramp out front brings some needed activity to the museums lawn. Even the ramp was beautifully constructed out of stained, curved glue-lam beams.


[photos by BUILD llc]

Just next door to Kiasma is the Sanoma Building by Antti-Matti Siikala & Jan Soderlund. It seems all too delicate a building for the brutal winters Helsinki receives, but gorgeous nonetheless. Although the massing is huge and blocky, the transparent facades and reflected grey skies lighten up the building and alleviate the enormous massing.


[photos by BUILD llc]

Another not-to-be missed venue is Alvar Aalto’s Savoy restaurant. Everything from the textiles to the lamps is original Alvar Aalto design. If you don’t feel like dropping a second mortgage of your home on dinner just go for drinks and enjoy one of the better views in town.

[photo courtesy of Artek]

Harbor and cafe


[photos by BUILD llc]

Underneath Helsinki Cathedral (the most prominent church in town, you can’t miss it) is a café and gallery. Being the design geeks that we are, we headed straight for the restrooms to see how the Fins resolved new in the context of old. The result was impressive: the new wall planes are held out from the original foundation to differentiate the two and allow the viewer to see the traditional construction, even in the bathroom! The plumbing fixtures, including the sinks and toilets, are all stainless steel to further separate new and old.

[photo by BUILD llc]

There is mastery in most of Scandinavian architecture when it comes to inserting design of the current time into a traditional context. The commercial buildings below are a good example in Helsinki. A weathered copper bridge gracefully connects the new to the old.

[photo by BUILD llc]

Many of the new commercial buildings have a design of solidarity and permanence. Heavy stone and marble facades are often combined with expansive teak windows and copper roofs.


[photos by BUILD llc]

Finlandia Hall by Alvar Aalto is a massive building, entirely clad in white marble.

[photo by BUILD llc]

Helsinki has been experimental and creative with their housing and it seems to be paying off with some very handsome projects and pleasant living environments. Most striking was the number of decks and terraces for such a northern climate. Most of the “outdoor rooms” were lined with single pane glass sheets. The projects below are: Kesakatu, Laivapoika, Sinebrychof Brewery Block & housing across from the ferry terminal.


[photos by BUILD llc]

This park facility building was one of the most refined and clever designs we came across. A board & batten siding system uses longer battens for attachment of the horizontal slat rainscreen.

Even the utility structures have been carefully designed. Vertical steel fins line the circumference of this vent stack.

The Helsinki train station speaks to the bold forms and dramatic architecture of its neighbor to the east.

Some other great Helsinki resources:
Architectural Map Guide by the Finnish Association of Architects
Design District Helskinki
materialicious has a great spread on Alvar Aalto’s home

Let us know if we missed anything and stay tuned for St. Petersburg next…

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[…] is the 3rd and final modern list guide from our recent travels which also include Stockholm and Helsinki.  There are many reasons to visit St. Petersburg: a robust and fascinating history, political […]

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