Major renovation of the Helsinki Olympic Stadium brings 30’s functionalism face-to-face with modern design

Finland's largest and best-known arena, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, has been given a major renovation, highlighting the Stadium’s 30’s functionalism while doubling its surface area. The renovation was a balancing act between preservation and new construction.

Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The most visible feature of the renewed Olympic Stadium is the new canopy circling the stand. However, the Stadium's famous silhouette looks the same as before from street level.

SOMETIMES REFERRED TO AS THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL OLYMPIC STADIUM, the 1930’s Helsinki Olympic Stadium has been reopened after over four years of extensive renovation. Following an external facelift and major extension, the stadium was re-inaugurated in August 2020.

The Olympic Stadium, which is one of Finland's most famous buildings, was in desperate need of renovation by the turn of the millennium. A condition survey in 2010 found that it was almost fit for closure. The renovation, which began in 2016, had three key objectives: to create a new underground facility of around 20,000 square meters, to build a new canopy over the stands, and to preserve the Stadium's iconic silhouette.

Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium and its tower, which were designed by Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti, are an integral part of Helsinki's cityscape. The Stadium was inaugurated in 1938.
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
A warm, stylish finish is added by the new wooden canopy. The new seats are made of ecological Finnish wood composite.
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The plastered facades, as well as the concrete and brick structures of the Stadium, have been restored according to the original drawings.

The history of the Olympic Stadium is almost as old as Finland’s independence. Encouraged by Finns’ great sporting performances in the 1920’s, the young nation dreamed of hosting the Olympic Games, so an architectural competition was held for an Olympic-level stadium. Distinguished by its 72-meter tower, a streamlined, functionalist design by Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti won the competition. Construction of the Stadium began in 1934 and was completed in 1938.

The Helsinki Summer Olympics were opened by Finnish legends of the running track on July 19, 1952. Paavo Nurmi carried the Olympic torch into the Stadium, and Hannes Kolehmainen ignited the Olympic flame on the tower.

Finland's Olympic dreams were ultimately realized: Helsinki was due to host the 1940 Summer Olympics, but they were moved to 1952 because of the war. The Olympic Games were a showcase for post-war Finland and a huge media event. Almost 5,000 athletes from 69 countries participated, and athletics, football and equestrian events were held in the Stadium with many new world records. Up to 70,000 spectators crowded into the Stadium during the games.

Helsinki Olympic Stadium
Painted in a clean white shade, the concrete surfaces recall the functionalist spirit of the 1930’s and the Stadium’s original splendor.
Helsinki Olympic Stadium
The Olympic Stadium has been renovated eight times since its original completion. It was expanded for the Olympic Games in the 1950’s and given a major renovation between 1990 and 1994.

The Olympic Stadium Tower, which is 72 meters high, is open to visitors. It was once known as the marathon tower: the final sprint for marathon runners began when they caught sight of the tower.

Helsinki Olympic Stadium
During the renovation, AV technology was integrated with the canopies and rear structures of the stands.

The renovated Stadium has a seating capacity of 36,200, and can accommodate concert audiences of 50,000. During the renovation, the original concrete canopy over Stand A was restored to its former glory and the stands along the bends and back straight were covered with a new, gently streamlined canopy. The inner surface of the new canopy is lined with wood, and a modern wood composite serves as the material for the seats. The material choices honor the Stadium’s history: in the 1950’s, both temporary and permanent wooden structures were added to the concrete Stadium.

New multifunctional and sports facilities, which are almost as large as the Stadium itself, are concealed under the grounds of the tower. Two new sports halls, an auditorium, new changing rooms, a logistics center, and a technology tunnel transformed into a full-sized running track were built underground. The materials and colors of the old interior were restored. Because the Olympic Stadium is a protected building, the Finnish Heritage Agency supervised the careful preservation of its 30’s ambience and details.

A consortium, K2S and NRT, was in charge of the project's architectural design, in cooperation with the Swedish agency White Arkitekter and the Dutch architect Wessel de Jonge.

Helsinki Design Week
Concerts and cultural events, such as the main exhibition of Helsinki Design Week 2020, will be held at the Stadium in addition to sports events.

Helsinki Design Week 2020 at the Olympic Stadium

THE OLYMPIC STADIUM will serve as a venue for the main event of Helsinki Design Week 2020, featuring 19 installations and exhibitions by contemporary designers and artists. This year's main exhibition will focus on how to reconcile two very different mindsets: the "faster, higher, stronger" motto of the Olympic movement with the "less is more" approach of modern design.

During Helsinki Design Week, the stadium will also host PechaKucha Night, a globally ultra-popular event format developed by Japanese architects, and the Children's Design Weekend, which playfully combines art and sport.

The main exhibition of the Helsinki Design Week is open at the Olympic Stadium on 11–13 September 2020. The Children's Design Weekend takes place on 12–13 September, and the PechaKucha Night on 12 September.

Text: Nora Uotila Images: Stadion Foundation / Wellu Hämäläinen and Helsinki Design Week

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