Little Finlandia: a pine-lined urban venue overlooking Töölö Bay in Helsinki

While Finlandia Hall is undergoing comprehensive refurbishments, Little Finlandia, a pavilion-like building supported by sturdy pines, will serve as a temporary venue. Design Stories interviewed architect Jaakko Torvinen, who came up with the idea for the wooden building for an Aalto University student competition.

Jaakko Torvinen, Little Finlandia
Architect Jaakko Torvinen designed Little Finlandia when still a student. The new venue opened in March 2022. Image: Mika Pollari

REFURBISHMENTS OF FINLANDIA HALL started in Helsinki in early 2022, and are due to be completed in the next two and half years. Events will continue to take place throughout the renovations, however, in a new, wood-framed temporary building that opened its doors at the beginning of March 2022.

This is Little Finlandia, a conference, banquet and event center on Karamzininranta street, between Töölö Bay and Finlandia Hall. In addition to customizable event spaces, it also houses a cafe-restaurant and gallery. The large terrace is ideal for outdoor celebrations and relaxation during the summer season.

During the estimated 2.5-year refurbishments of Finlandia Hall, Little Finlandia will serve as an event center, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Image: Mikael Lindén
Little Finlandia and Finlandia Hall
Constructed from wooden modules, Little Finlandia was built right next to the Finlandia Hall during 2021. The contractor was the Finnish company FM-Haus. Image: Mikko Raskinen

The designs for the temporary facilities were created and chosen at Aalto University, in a student competition held in the university’s Department of Architecture through a joint course in construction design and wood architecture. The winning design was ‘Finlandia Forest’ by Jaakko Torvinen, which was further developed to its final form in collaboration with a student group and the course teachers. The client, the City of Helsinki, wanted to have a movable, wood-framed temporary venue next to Finlandia Hall.

“A pine colonnade creates a new, smaller outdoor space in the large park landscape.”

“The building had to be wooden, adaptable and portable. The aim was to create something new and innovative that would be an accessible, low-threshold building for everyone. A pine colonnade was designed on the long facade of Little Finlandia facing the park, creating a new, smaller outdoor space in the large park landscape. And the terrace at the Töölö Bay side is a new outdoor space for city dwellers,” Torvinen says.

Little Finlandia sketch
Alongside Jaakko Torvinen, Little Finlandia’s concept was developed by Aalto University students Elli Wendelin, Havu Järvelä and Stine Pedersen in collaboration with professor Pekka Heikkinen and Arkkitehdit NRT Oy. Image: Jaakko Torvinen

From forest to city

According to Torvinen, the planning work started with the idea of bringing more wood to Töölö Bay. A total of 95 whole Baltic pines were used to support Little Finlandia, with the lines of their trunks and branches helping the building to blend into the surrounding park area and seascape.

“I originally thought that the trees could be used as pillars so that the branches would stiffen the structure at the same time, and therefore the use of branched trees was important for the concept. But as the design evolved, the role of the branches became more ornamental, underlining the naturalness of the trees. The pines themselves nonetheless remained as the pillars supporting the building.”

The architects visited a forest in Loviisa, South-Eastern Finland, to individually select all the pines they needed.

“The forester felled the trees so that as many of their branches as possible remained undamaged, and during transportation they took great care to leave no excessive marks on the trunks. All the trees were pressure washed to remove the bark and fibrous bast layer, leaving only the hard wood surface visible. Finally, the pines were cut to the right length and joints were made at their ends.”

Little Finlandia pines
The Baltic pines used in the building were selected one by one in a forest in South-Eastern Finland. Image: Jaakko Torvinen
Little Finlandia pines
When transporting the trees, great care was taken to cause no damage to the trunks. Image: Jaakko Torvinen
Architect Jaakko Torvinen
Jaakko Torvinen, who now teaches at Aalto University, wants to promote the use of raw and natural wood in architecture. Image: Mika Pollari

One could well imagine that using nearly a hundred hand-selected tree trunks might present some additional design and logistical headaches for the architects and builders alike. According to the architect, however, everything went surprisingly smoothly.

“Many people were nervous beforehand about the challenges that natural pine trees might bring to construction.”

“I think the biggest job was documenting all the pines according to how many branches each had, and which way they pointed. I then planned the positioning of each pine tree in the building, and which way the branches had to point so that they did not intersect with other structures in the building or obstruct the building technology. Many people, including myself, were nervous beforehand about the challenges that natural pine trees might bring to construction. However, the project proved that once you’ve planned well, the actual execution will go smoothly.”

Little Finlandia facade
In addition to pine trees, a wide variety of wood construction elements have been used in the building. The exterior walls are clad with varnished spruce panels, and the terrace surface is untreated Siberian larch. Image: Mikael Lindén
Little Finlandia main entrance
Wooden surfaces add to the inviting and easily approachable appearance of the main entrance. Image: Mikael Lindén
Little Finlandia cafe
The café, located on the other end of the building, provides unobstructed views to Töölö Bay. Image: Mika Pollari
Little Finlandia cafe
Cross-laminated timber wood panels and spruce-paneled partition walls were used in the interior, and cork was used for the floors. Image: Kimmo Räisänen

Repurposing architecture for the circular economy

Finlandia Hall, designed by Alvar Aalto and completed in 1971, is one of Helsinki’s most significant architectural attractions and venues. Little Finlandia, therefore, had big boots to fill: the scalable multifunctional spaces were designed to accommodate events for up to 1,000 people. The total area of the pavilion-like building with its cafes and terraces is over 3,000 square meters.

When the Finlandia Hall refurbishments are completed, Little Finlandia will be disassembled and moved to a new location.

When the Finlandia Hall refurbishments are completed, the wooden modules of which Little Finlandia has been built will be disassembled and moved to a new location in Helsinki. The plan is that the building will be repurposed as a school or kindergarten. In this way, Little Finlandia fits in well with the City of Helsinki’s strategic goals in promoting the circular economy and Finnish wood construction.

For Torvinen, who graduated from Aalto University as an architect in autumn 2021, winning the university’s design competition was a real jackpot. His reputation continues to grow: he won an honorable mention in the Sara Hildén Art Museum’s open architecture competition in 2021, and, with his colleague Elli Wendelin, was recently listed as one of the most promising recent graduates by the influential design magazine Wallpaper*.

Little Finlandia pines
“As the design evolved, the role of the branches became more ornamental, underlining the naturalness of the trees. The pines themselves nonetheless remained as the pillars supporting the building.” Image: Mika Pollari
Little Finlandia and Finlandia Hall
Little Finlandia shortens the duration of Finlandia Hall’s refurbishments by about one and a half years and allows events to be continued without interruption. Image: Mika Pollari
Little Finlandia cafe
The organic forms of the pines blended in with the rest of the building beautifully. Image: Mika Pollari

And what does the architect himself think of how Little Finlandia turned out?

“I’m really happy with it. I’m particularly pleased with how well the pines retained their branches and how well they blended in with the rest of the building. Part of the Little Finlandia concept is that the understated and linear building allows as much attention as possible to be focused on the organic forms of the pine trees. Achieving this in construction is sometimes difficult, but it worked very well here.

Little Finlandia is definitely an important achievement in my career, and will probably remain the most significant personally,” Torvinen says. “In the future, I hope to design more public wood buildings and promote the use of raw and natural wood in architecture.”

See also:

• Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall is a work of art down to the finest detail >

Text: Nora Uotila

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