Helsinki is beautifully
situated on the shore of the Gulf of Finland on a peninsula surrounded
by islands. The town was founded in 1550 by Gustav Vasa, King of Sweden,
and made capital of Finland by Alexander I, Emperor of Russia in 1812.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th century Helsinki grew rapidly with its
population reaching 170000 at the burst of the WW I. Many quarters were
planned and built simultaneously with the great variosity in style and
building type. Helsinki is the capital of the republic since national
independence in 1917.
In 1895 the British magazine The Studio wrote:
"If a number of
people interested in art had been studying an outspread map of Europe in
a search of a probable locality where a natural revival of the fine arts
might be expected, it is extremely improbable that Finland would have
suggested itself to any one of them. Yet from Helsinki come proofs of a
peculiarly interesting movement in all branches of the arts."
The struggle for independence, national awakening and economic growth
provided ideal conditions for creativity. Not only in music, literature
and visual arts but also in architecture new ideals were searched.
A first generation of architects schooled in Finland emerged, and
there were about 100-150 architects at the turn of the century. But also
master builders were often responsible for design. The pioneering works
of the period were the private homes as a work of art as Hvitträsk, the
dwelling and studio of the architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren
and Eliel Saarinen. It was one of the many Gesamthkunstwerk by this most
While the national aspects and roots were stressed, international
influences and ideals were also essential in creating the Finnish Art
Nouveau architecture with a distinctly local character. The severe
climate influenced its simple but strong expression, along with a
Finnish tradition which has not favoured the decorative. The dominating
material in public buildings was natural stone, while residential
buildings were usually plastered. The period created a diverse
townscape, which is still an important part of Helsinki's identity.