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Helsinki Hotel Opens in Saarinen-Designed Space

An adaptive reuse and expansion project transforms the Eliel Saarinen-designed train station’s administrative buildings into one of the largest hotels in Finland.

By Rachel Gallaher

A rounded beige building full of rectangular buildings looks out onto a a landscaped courtyard. The sky overheads cloudy and gray.

The Scandic Grand Central Helsinki, located in the former administrative spaces of the Helsinki Central Railway Station. The station and its accompanying buildings were originally designed by Ell Saarinen. An addition, by Futudesign, looks to Saarinen's work for inspiration. designed by Image by Marc Goodwin.

The Helsinki Central Railway Station—designed by architect Eliel Saarinen (father of the infamous Eero Saarinen) and completed in 1919—is one of Finland’s most popular, and most-visited, architecture destinations. After the city’s first railway station, built in 1862, became too small for the increasing number of train travelers, and in 1904 a design contest was organized the intention of producing plans for a new station. The competition received 21 entries, with Saarinen cinching the commission.

The final plan, which was altered by Saarinen after his design was dubbed as too romantic, produced a masterpiece of the Finnish Art Nouveau style. With an exterior is mostly clad in Finnish granite, its rosy-pink hue complementing the green copper roof, the building’s striking entrance features a huge arched window flanked by two pairs of stern-faced statues, each holding a globe-shaped lamp. These unique design elements make the station an architectural marvel, and served as a touchstone for the recently opened Scandic Grand Central Helsinki—a 500 room hotel located in the old administrative buildings of the railway station, which were also originally designed by Saarinen.

An aerial shot of a historic train station and the city around it. Two bodies of water can be seen in the background.

An aerial shot showing the rail station in the foreground, and the hotel further back, attached by a long rectangular section. Image by Iikka Airas.

The project was a joint effort between three Finnish firms: Soini & Horto Architects in collaboration with the Finnish Heritage Agency (restoration and adaptive reuse of the administrative buildings), Futudesign (design of the contemporary additions), and Puroplan (the interiors program).

“The Helsinki Central Railway Station, and its administrative buildings, are amongst Eliel Saarinen’s most important achievements in Finland,” says architect Aleksi Niemeläinen of Futudesign. “The building has been listed amongst the most beautiful railway stations in the world and one of the most visited architecture destinations in Finland.

“By interpreting Eliel Saarinen’s architecture boldly from a totally new perspective, the idea was to create contemporary architecture that makes both the old and the new elements interesting. The new plan honors the logic of the original station: for example, the layout of the new building follows Eliel Saarinen’s principle of an indented façade and leaves the ends of the original building in plain sight.”

A shot looking up a set of steps into a triad of windows. Dark wood railings line the stairs.

The architects maintains the original staircases in the building. The new addition can be seen through the windows. Image by Marc Goodwin.

The restoration of the administrative buildings (located behind the main station) maintained the old corridors and staircases, and the remaining original furniture was carefully restored for continued use. According to the architects, a traditional double-loaded hotel corridor (a design in which there are rooms on both sides of the hallway) would have restricted the number of rooms and covered too much of Saarinen’s original façade, so they opted to extend the façade outward in a semi-circular form, allowing for more rooms to be located facing the courtyard. This design move also follows Saarinen’s original program of maintaining a central courtyard punctuated by the curves of circular lobbies throughout the building.

“Many design details are inspired by Eliel Saarinen’s original plans and applied to contemporary features such as street level and top floor arch windows,” Niemeläinen notes. “The wall materials imitate the railway station’s facade with a mix of concrete and red granite to add to the building’s grand appearance.”

A hotel room with wooden floors and a large alcove of windows. A bed on the left has an orange bench at the bottom and a sitting area with orange and dark blue furniture sits in front of the windows.

Interior spaces and hotel rooms were designed by Puroplan and embrace a Scandinavian modernist sensibility. Image by Annabelle Antas.

Additionally, Niemeläinen points out that the architects decided to keep the ceiling heights in the new build at nearly 15 feet. “In addition to accessibility, the solution offers a higher room height than a standard hotel, giving them a wonderful feeling of spaciousness,” he says. “Space is further emphasized with floor to ceiling windows, which ensure an unparalleled view of the beautiful courtyard, and of Kaisaniemi park, which surrounds the hotel. Keeping the high floors did not mean having to compromise on the number of rooms, as more rooms could be added on the quiet courtyard side by curving the facade.”

The interiors are a modernist-lover’s dream with clean lines, classic pieces such as Platner chairs, and rich tones of dark green and pumpkin orange balanced by neutral grays and blues. The Brasserie Grand restaurant and Bar G amp up the glamour (the bar’s signature drink is a mini martini, how chic) with velvet seating, bubble chandeliers, and a peacock motif that inspired an elegant color palette.


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