Finnish designer Paavo Tynell had a distinguished career in public lighting design, and many of his masterpieces are still on display for all to admire. In this article, we explore Tynell’s lighting at Helsinki Central Station, the Helsinki School of Economics, Hotel Vaakuna and Meilahti Church.
Helsinki Central Station
Arriving in Helsinki, or departing from it, travelers are met by design masterworks from some of the greatest figures in 20th-century Finnish design. Completed in 1919, Helsinki Central Station features art nouveau architecture by Eliel Saarinen, sculpture by Emil Wikström, and lighting by Paavo Tynell.
Frequently cited as one of the world’s most beautiful railway terminals, Helsinki Central Station is distinguished externally by Wikström’s four towering statues, the Lyhdynkantajat (‘lantern bearers’), and internally by Tynell’s grand chandeliers that hang in the main hall. This was not the only project that brought Tynell and Wikström together – both were co-founders of Taito Oy, the company which manufactured the lights.
Tynell’s neoclassical chandeliers are instantly recognizable to those familiar with the station, representing homecoming to many Finns. They have hung in the main hall since the 1950s, when they were installed to replace earlier, more ornate designs that were destroyed in a fire that broke out in one of the restaurants on June 14, 1950.
Tynell’s neoclassical chandeliers are instantly recognizable to those familiar with the station, representing homecoming to many Finns.
Although the station has gone through many changes over the years, Eliel Saarinen’s landmark architecture has been meticulously preserved.
Helsinki School of Economics
Built as the Helsinki School of Economics in 1950, and reborn as the home of Aalto University Executive Education in 2020, this striking building in central Helsinki has educated Finland’s economic elite for over 70 years.
A landmark example of 1950s modernist architecture, it was designed by architects Hugo Harmia and Woldemar Baeckman, with Paavo Tynell commissioned to design lighting for the interiors.
Whereas the brick-built façade is striking for its impressive relief by sculptor Michael Schilkin, the school’s interiors are notable for their extraordinary materiality. Pine-paneled walls have patinated beautifully over time, creating the perfect backdrop to Tynell’s wall lamps, pendants, and recessed ceiling lamps in warm-toned brass.
For the grand arched ballroom – arguably the space in which it is most important to get the atmosphere right – he devised wall lamps that delicately filtered the light through their perforated brass base, enriched with elaborate decorative features crafted from brass wire.
The restoration of the building in 2020 saw its most important public spaces returned to their former glory, while other areas were adapted to meet the needs of the new business school. More than 500 Tynell lamps were preserved in place, meticulously cleaned and polished to look as resplendent as the day they were first installed.
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Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna
The largest hotel in the Nordics when it opened in 1952, Hotel Vaakuna and its famous restaurant occupy the top five floors of the Sokos department store building in central Helsinki.
The work of architect Erkki Huttunen, the building’s functionalist façade is tempered on the inside with ornamental touches of the romantic. This, in part, is thanks to Paavo Tynell, who custom-designed numerous light fixtures for the property, including the rooms, lobby, and restaurant.
Housing one of the most extensive collections of Tynell designs that survives today, Hotel Vaakuna showcases the breadth of his distinctive style.
More than 20 conical brass reading lamps line the wood-paneled circular lobby, alongside high-backed armchairs by Runar Engblom – the former teacher of Helena Tynell, and the man who encouraged her to join Taito as an apprentice, thereby bringing husband and wife together.
Several styles of chandelier adorn the space, from delicate glass-lantern cascades to clusters of golden brass bells. Natural motifs abound, including snowflake-shaped canopies and exquisite flower details crafted from brass wire.
Designed by architect Markus Tavio and completed in 1954, the brick-built Meilahti Church is one of the most remarkable mid-century churches in Helsinki.
In front, hanging above the pews, the six chandeliers rank among the most extraordinary works of Paavo Tynell’s career. Consciously designed to evoke the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross, the asymmetric brass chandeliers are beautiful, but also rich with meaning.
Unlike the lights in most churches, they are dimmable, which allows the Meilahti clergy to adjust light level over the course of the day and season, and to create specific atmospheres for services, concerts, and celebrations.
In the context of a church, light acquires a special symbolic resonance that is absent from other settings. For Christians, light is inextricably interlinked with holiness. When designing for Meilahti Church, Tynell brought not only an aesthetic and functional knowledge of light, but also a spiritual understanding of its importance.
In the context of a church, light acquires a special symbolic resonance that is absent from other settings.
As well as the main light fixtures, Tynell also designed a number of wall lamps and chandeliers for Meilahti Church, as well as the font and the candelabra beside the altar.
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Text and images: GUBI Edit: Nora Uotila
The original story was published in GUBI’s Raisonné publication, issue 03. Republished exclusively in Design Stories.