Jimmy and I have not been very good about being tourists of Helsinki.
It is part that we jumped in pretty quickly. The group that we spend most of our time with had already been here for a few months by the time we moved, so they had done a lot of the tourism things already. We also spent most of our time together trying to enjoy the short fall and dwindling good weather.
So on Sunday, I told Jimmy I wanted to go see the Finlandia Hall and then go to the Finnish National Museum. The weather was gloomy but surprisingly warm. So we did. We took the 7B tram a few stops, and then hopped off at the big white building: Finlandia Hall.
Designed by Alvar Aalto in 1962, it was completed and dedicated in 1971. Aalto is, perhaps, Finland’s most well known designer/architect. Well known for his expert use of natural lighting to achieve mood, understanding of the human scale, and beautiful yet non-fussy selection of natural materials, he often designed is projects down to the last chair and lighting fixture. His legacy lives on today through Artek, a Finnish furniture design retailer started by him and his wife Aino.
His work throughout Finland, particularly on the Finalnd Pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York (declared by Frank Lloyd Wright to be a “work of genius”), lead his name and work to forever be associated with Finnish nationalism. In his essential text on modern architecture, Space Time and Architecture, Siegfried Gideon declared “Finland is with Aalto wherever he goes.”
Finlandia Hall was one of his last monumental pieces of architecture. It was originally part of a large city-wide design plan for cultural buildings in Helsinki. It is one of only two designs that were realized. The exterior is clad mainly in white marble, sharply contrasted with black granite. It employs a rhythmic grid reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe’s International high rises, but at a scale that is accessible to the human visitor and a formal elegance achieved through cascading levels rising out of each other. The large central sloping piece was designed for acoustical purposes, as this building’s main function is as a concert hall to the Symphony.
I found it to be a very beautiful and well maintained piece of modernist architecture. I hope to, sometime, see the inside, as Aalto’s exteriors are only half of his genius. I hope that it feels as accessible as it did on the outside, despite its (deserved) monumentalism. In this way, Aalto was extremely successful, as he hoped that the people who attended this hall would come as they are, forging the typical opera-goer’s elaborate dress. He intended for the people to be genuine, as he intended his architecture to be.
And that is a mouthful of what degree in architecture will get you! (Plus a short review on Wiki…)
After a short tour around the building, we took a brisk walk through the park before continuing on the the Finnish National Museum.
This building is seriously cool. It is an example of Finnish national romanticism, derived from Finnish castles. It was built between 1905-1910. The interior is in an Art Nouveau style, with massive frescoes in the entryway based off of those included in the Finland Pavilion at the 1900 Worlds Fair in Paris. The museum houses Finnish history from the Stone Age through the modern area. The basement holds an extensive collection of monetary methods ranging from antiquity through to Finland’s independence in 1917, and until they joined the EU in 1995. There is a small armory, a disappointingly small display on Vikings, a large room on religious works surrounding the Reformation (Finland is predominantly Lutheran) and a collection on indigenous Suomi people and their culture.
My favorite display was a decade by decade review of the country since its independence in 1917. Each decade had a small display including popular consumer goods, clothing and articles as well as a running video of photos from that area. It is very interesting to live in a city that was, until very recently, so involved in so much political unrest. It was passed back and forth from Sweden to Russia and then suffered a bloody civil war just after its independence. Most of the war photos were on the streets here in Helsinki.
I love museums, so I got a little absorbed in it and forgot to take photos.
Except this one. Because this was awesome. The Angry Mama Clock.
Oh and a selfie of our museum selfie. They had a selfie machine.
Happy Halloween everyone!
If I come up with an interesting costume, you will certainly hear about it here.