Helsinki is beautifully situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland on a peninsula surrounded by islands. The town was founded in 1550 by Gustav Vasa, King of Sweden, and made capital of Finland by Alexander I, Emperor of Russia in 1812. At the turn of the 19th and 20th century Helsinki grew rapidly with its population reaching 170000 at the burst of the WW I. Many quarters were planned and built simultaneously with the great variosity in style and building type. Helsinki is the capital of the republic since national independence in 1917.
In 1895 the British magazine The Studio wrote:
"If a number of people interested in art had been studying an outspread map of Europe in a search of a probable locality where a natural revival of the fine arts might be expected, it is extremely improbable that Finland would have suggested itself to any one of them. Yet from Helsinki come proofs of a peculiarly interesting movement in all branches of the arts."
The struggle for independence, national awakening and economic growth provided ideal conditions for creativity. Not only in music, literature and visual arts but also in architecture new ideals were searched.
A first generation of architects schooled in Finland emerged, and there were about 100-150 architects at the turn of the century. But also master builders were often responsible for design. The pioneering works of the period were the private homes as a work of art as Hvitträsk, the dwelling and studio of the architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren and Eliel Saarinen. It was one of the many Gesamthkunstwerk by this most famous trio.
While the national aspects and roots were stressed, international influences and ideals were also essential in creating the Finnish Art Nouveau architecture with a distinctly local character. The severe climate influenced its simple but strong expression, along with a Finnish tradition which has not favoured the decorative. The dominating material in public buildings was natural stone, while residential buildings were usually plastered. The period created a diverse townscape, which is still an important part of Helsinki's identity.
Helsingin kaupunginmuseo - Helsinki City Museum
PO Box 4300
FIN - 00099 Helsinki
Phone: +358 093101041
Fax: +358 09310 36664
Museovirasto - The National Board of Antiquities
Museum of Finnish Architecture
Helsingin kaupunki Kulttuuriasiainkeskus - City of Helsinki, Cultural Office
Helsinki City Tourist & Convention Bureau
With the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union