The National Museum of Finland

We visited the National Museum of Finland on the first full day of our recent stay in Helsinki – on the Sunday afternoon after we’d been to the Didrichsen Art Museum. It tells the story of Finland and its people, going right back to the pre-historic times and is definitely worth a visit to get an understanding of this relatively young nation.

The museum is in a distinctive Finnish National Romantic style building, designed by architects Herman Gesellius, Armas Lindgren, and Eliel Saarinen, directly opposite the Finlandia Hall, close to the city centre. The exterior is rather austere and influenced by medieval architecture but with some Art Nouveau / Jugendstil touches.


Inside includes murals and other Finnish style Jugendstil features, particularly in the central hall and main staircase. It’s hard to do justice to the ceiling mural in the central entrance hall which depicts scenes from the Kalevala, the Finnish national myth.

There were some beautiful stained glass windows on the main staircase


The first half of the museum concentrates on the history of Finland from the Middle Ages to the foundation of the independent Finnish State in 1917 (after the Russian Revolution). It’s what I would call a traditional type of museum with lots of artefacts presented in a relatively static way with limited interaction. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting and we learned quite a bit about the history of Finland when it was a colony of Sweden and then, later, a Russian Grand Duchy.

The Medieval room


A recreated room from the 18th Century when Finland was a Swedish colony – the large white “cabinet” is a ceramic heater – needed in the depths of the Finnish winter!


The throne used by the Tsar during his visit to Finland when it was under Russian Imperial influence


The second half of the museum, covering the modern era from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present day was very modern in style with lots of interactive and hands-on displays including this interactive panorama of Helsinki at the end of the Russian era


and a “book” where the content was projected on to blank pages.

Nationalist feeling was growing in Finland at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century – which is reflected in the Jugenstil and National Romantic architecture so prevalent in Helsinki. After the fall of the Tsar, taking opportunity of the Bolshevik policy of  National Determination, Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. A Civil War followed between “Reds” and conservative “Whites”, the latter eventually being victorious.

At the beginning of WWII Finland was attacked by Soviet Russia leading to a bitter “Winter War” where the much smaller country defeated the Red Army, yet the Moscow Peace treaty ceded territory to Russia. There was a period of peace before war resumed in autumn 1941 when Russia was preoccupied with defending itself from the German invasion.  Power relations had changed and The USSR were now allied with Great Britain, which resulted in the latter declaring war on Finland on 6 December., and Finland was supported by, if not allied with, the Nazis. I felt that although much was made of the hardship and heroics of the Winter War (quite rightly), this aspect was rather glossed over.

After WWII Finland was in a difficult position with a long border with the USSR and and had to balance carefully between the big powers maintaining a neutral stance. Like the other Nordic countries it developed a strong welfare state which largely remains today despite some economic difficulties and the rise of the Nationalist right who are now in Government.

Last year was the Centenary of the founding of the Finnish state and the final exhibit in this part of the Museum was a film show with an image of a Finn from each year from 1917 until 2017 projected on a large screen. Visitors could control both the direction of the film (past to present or vice versa) and the speed.

As we were about to leave the museum we realised we’d missed a whole section devoted to prehistoric Finland, so we went to have a look. Again, it was an interesting exhibition, well presented in a modern way.

Given it’s position in the frozen north, early population was sparse and life would have been hard so no major civilisations developed like in more temperate environments. However there was some migration after the last Ice Age and a number of artefacts were displayed, such as weapons and jewellery.



as well as displays and models about the environment and how people lived.

We enjoyed our visit to the Museum. There was more  to see and we could have spent longer there, but we were starting to feel tired so it was time to head back to our hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for something to eat.


A walk to Kallio

On the Tuesday during my stay in Helsinki my wife had flown back home so I had the rest of the week on my own. I was working during the day but the course I was running finished at 5 I had the evening to occupy myself. I’m not one for sitting in hotel rooms just working and as it was light until late, I took the opportunity to explore the city.

A prominent landmark in Helsinki is the tower of a church up on a hill in the Kallio district. It can be seen from all over the city. I knew that it had been designed by the Finnish architect Lars Sonck, who is well known for his Jugendstil style buildings, so I decided to wander over to take a look. I could have caught the tram but decided that it was within walking distance and I needed some exercise!

I walked past the front of the railway station and then cut across past the Finnish National Theatre to the Kaisanemi park. The trees were still bare of leaves, Spring not having quite arrived in Helsinki. Heading diagonally across the park, I passed this statue, Convolvulus, by Viktor Jansson, the father of Tove Jansson, the artist and author of the Moomin books, who modelled for the sculpture. The pose made me think that she was practicing karate or Tai Chi!


After crossing the bridge over the Pitkäsilta bridge I turned left, walking along the waterside. A little way along on my right I could see the Paasitorni, also known as the Helsinki Workers’ House, a Jugendstil building designed by Karl Lindahl, built from granite, which opened in 1908 as conference and leisure premises for the working class. It’s very characteristic of the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.


On the square in front of the main entrance to the building I spotted this statue of two boxers by Johannes Haapasalo.


Cutting back round to Siltasaarenkatu, I walked up the hill towards the church. It’s an imposing granite structure standing on top of the hill and, like the Paasitorni, built in the Finnish National Romanticism Jugendstil style.


It’s an impressive building; solid and imposing but with some delicate decorative touches.

I had a look inside, but it looked as if a service was about to start to I snapped a few photos but felt it would be inappropriate to look around.

I spent a lttle time wandering round the nearby streets. Kallio, although originally a workers’ district has become gentrified and has something of a bohemian reputation.  I was also surprised by the number of “massage parlours” close to the church so Kallio clearly has a “red light district”, but not as blatant as Amsterdam.


Heading back towards the city centre, near Paasitorni, I turned right and walked along the shore of Eläintarhanlahti



and then over the railway bridge to Töölönlahti. These are both seawater lakes connected to each other and the sea by narrow straights. I walked south along the eastern shore from where there were views across to the Opera and Finlandia Hall.



It was only a short distance back to my hotel.


Amsterdam Oud Zuid architecture


During our recent trip to Amsterdam we were staying on the edge of the area known as Oud Zuid (the Old South) on Stadionplein, directly across from the Olympic Stadium. The area was developed at the beginning of the 20th Century. Travelling on the tram to and from the city centre I’d noticed that many of the buildings had features that suggested that they’d been designed by architects from the Amsterdam School, so I decided to go for a bit of a mooch and look into this further.

The area was developed under the Plan Zuid, which was designed by the architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and many of the architects were from the Amsterdam School.

Although the  Amsterdam School movement is considered to be part of international Expressionist architecture, there are features reminiscent of both Art Nouveau and Art Deco in their buildings. As with most architectural movements, each building has it’s own features, but there are some common characteristics.

  • The architects’ emphasis was on the outward appearance of a building and less on its functionality – “Form before function”
  • the buildings are mainly constructed from bricks – often different shapes, textures and and colours of brick are used.
  • The windows are often eye-catching shapes,
  • There is great attention to detail and ornamentation, including sculptures, wrought iron decorations and stained-glass windows.
  • The facades often have curves and bulges, concave and convex shapes
  • The corner buildings or buildings at the end of a complex, often emphasized by a tower-like element.
  • The entrances and staircases are often highlighted by a special shape or decorations in stone or wrought iron.

I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the streets snapping photos, even though it was rather grey and cold with some rain showers. Here’s a few of the pictures I took.





Windows and doors tend to be particularly ornate


Although most of the buildings were residential blocks, I did spot a few individual houses with characteristic Amsterdam School features


Art Nouveau in Helsinki – Part 3


During my visit to Helsinki 3 years ago I spent some time seeking out buildings constructed in the Jugendstil style, the Finnish variant of “Art Nouveau”.This wasn’t too difficult as the style was associated with an upsurge in Finnish nationalism at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century and there are plenty of examples in the city centre and the inner districts which were developed during that period.. After that visit I wrote a couple of posts about some of the buildings I’d seen. As I’m particularly interested in this type of architecture I decided to spend some time during my latest visit seeking out some more.

Early Sunday morning I caught the No. 3 tram out to the district of Eira. a wealthy district  which, according to Wikipedia “has some of the most expensive and sought-after old apartments in Helsinki”, many of them built in the Jugendstil style.

Directly opposite the tram stop is the Eira hospital. Wikipedia tells us that the district was named after the hospital rather than vice verca!DSC02565


The architect was Lars Sonck, who designed a number of notable buildings in Helsinki and other cities in Finland.

Finnish Jugendstil incorporates rustic type elements along with more Modernist type features and this is the case with the hospital. 

So this doorway has a very rustic look


while the overall look is much more modern with many decorative eatures that were avant-garde for the time it was built



The building next door was particularly interesting – a fix of “rustic”, mock Medieval and Modernist elements


as typified with this section – rustic stonework at the bottom, geometric patterns above with a mythical beast in between.



Just round the corner was this building, similar in style to the hospital



This apartment bock was on the corner of a whole street of Jugendstil buildings





Some more examples from the area illustrating that Jugendstil wasn’t a coherent style but was experimental – incorporating many different influences








One thing I noticed was that many of the buildings included owl motifs in their decorative features





I couldn’t find out what that was about but it must have some significance.

There are many more Jugenstil buildings throughout Helsinki city centre – these two are directly across the road from the hotel where I’ve been staying. They’re simpler buildings than those at Eira, but have incorporated decorative elements that give them that distinctive look.

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Der Hackeschen Höfe


A feature of Berlin architecture from the 19th and early 20th Centuries was the linked courtyards behind the large buildings used for housing and commercial purposes.

Due to targeted immigration polices of the Prussian rulers as well as other factors, Berlin’s population began to boom in the 19th century and new residential buildings had to be constructed. In the 1870s, Berlin developed a population of over one million people, whereas ……..

The city center residential districts had to be utilized as optimally as possible – this resulted in tenement houses. Behind the prestigious street-front buildings that served as the homes of the bourgeoisie, rear buildings were built across the city, which housed domestic employees, workmen, and the poorer social strata.

The building’s courtyard served as a separation for these differing social and spatial lifestyles – often three or four courtyards were placed in a row.  (Source)

One example of this type of arrangement that has been restored and renovated and which is a popular tourist attraction is the Hackeschen Höfe, which is in the Hackeschen Market district and literally around the corner from the hotel we stayed in during our recent visit to Berlin.

The compex, designed by August Endel in the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau)  style , has a total of 8 interconnected courtyards which contain shops, bars, restaurants, offices and apartments. There’s even a small cinema and a theatre.

The first courtyard is particularly impressive with it’s coloured glazed brickwork and highly ornamented windows.



The buildings in the second courtyard were mainly occupied by offices but those in the other courtyards were mainly residential with smaller shops etc. on the ground floor.






It was very pleant wandering around the courtyards and browsing in the shops, some of them selling quite distinctive products including one, the Golem Kollektion, that specialised in Art Nouveau style tiles.




Lovely – but quite pricey!

Art Nouveau in Berlin

Like many other European cities, Berlin expanded at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries, spreading out into the suburbs and absorbing outlying villages. In the wealthier areas, houses and blocks of flats were built to try and impress and the more modern and adventurous developers and clients who were receptive to new ideas adopted the new style that had emerged during that period known as Art Nouveau in France and Belgium and  Jugendstil in Germany, Charlottenburg developed as a wealthy suburb in the late 19th Century and when we were walking up Schlossstrasse from the U-Bahn station towrds the Palace and the Berggruen Museum I noticed a number of houses built in the Jugenstil style or with Jugenstil type feature.

Although Berlin was badly damaged during the Second World War, many of its older buildings have been restored and that seems to be true of Charlottenburg

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St. George’s House, Manchester

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This interesting building is on Peter Street in Manchester, quite close to the Midland Hotel and the former Free Trade Hall. It looks quite different to the neo-classical, Italianate and neo-gothic buildings in the vicinity.

It was designed by the architectural practice of Woodhouse, Corbett & Dean and constructed between 1907 and 1911. Like many buildings from this period in the north of England, it’s covered with Terracotta bricks and was the first concrete framed building in Manchester. It was originally built to for the YMCA and had a swimming pool on the roof and a running track on the top floor, although according to Pevsner’s architectural guide to Manchester, these were removed when it was converted to offices in the 1990’s.

The building is asymmetrical. There are two rounded projecting bays around a recessed “lunette” on the right hand side. There’s a statue of St George, based on a work by Donatello above the main entrance which is set inside a rounded arch.

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(There’s a better picture of the statue here)

The Manchester coat of arms, in terracotta, is featured towards the top of the building, above St George.

(Picture source:

It’s hard to classify the building’s design, but some of the decorative elements are, to me, reminiscent of the Art Nouveau / Jugendstil style which was popular in many cities on the continent during the late 19th and early 20th Century before the First World War. It particularly reminded me of some of the more restrained Jugendstil buildings I saw in Helsinki during my visit last autumn.

Art Nouveau in Copenhagen

Unlike Helsinki, where Jugendstil buildings are found throughout the city centre, Copenhagen isn’t particularly noted for “Art Nouveau” style architecture. I’m not sure why this is. One theory I read on the Internet was that the style, which was popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s before the First World War, was seen as too German at a time when an anti-German sentiment was dominant in Denmark. However I did spot a small number of “Art Nouveau”/ Judentstil buildings while wandering around Copenhagen city centre.

The Danish version of Art Nouveau is known as Skønvirke (“aesthetic work”), named after the Skønvirke magazine. According to the Danish Wikipedia

The style is a mixture of Jugendstil (German) , Art Nouveau (French) and Arts and Crafts (English) on the one hand and Nordic National Romanticism on the other.

The Palace Hotel, which is opposite the City Hall (Rådhus) on Rådhuspladsen, is probably the best example of the style I saw during my visit



Constructed from red brick and with its tall, slender tower, the design reflects that of the Rådhus itself, but is more  “graceful”. It was designed by the Danish architect Anton Rosen and built in 1910.

I liked the rounded bays over the three entrances and the rounded curves of the doorways themselves. The carvings and friezes around the doorways


and the heart shaped windows above the left and right hand entrances


and the balconies  with their gilded panels and decorative ironwork outside the bedrooms on the second and third floors



The Rådhus, very familiar to anyone who followed the first series of “The Killing” on BBC4, has a more neo-Gothic appearance. It was designed by the Martin Nyrop who took his inspiration from the Siena City Hall, opening in 1905, a few years before the Palace.


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It was hard to get a decent picture of the building due to construction works on Rådhuspladsen and as the square in front of the main entrance was fenced off due to setting up of a Gay Pride festival due to take place later in the week.

In the square between the two buildings (currently in the middle of a construction site) stands a column with a Art Nouveau style sculpture of two figures playing “lures”, distinctive Scandinavian instruments from the bronze age. The sculpture is designed to remind the Danes of their ancient Nordic civilisation. It was created by Siegfried Wagner and the column was designed by the Palace’s architect, Anton Rosen.


This building on Amagertorv, a popular square half way down the pedestrianised Strøget, the main Copenhagen shopping street, houses the Cafe Norden.


It’s directly opposite the Storkespringvandet, or “Stork Fountain”, a popular meeting place. With it’s distinctive domes, it has an almost oriental appearance, with an almost Baroque roof line.



Other than the Palace and Cafe Norden, we saw very little Art Nouveau influence on the architecture in Copenhagen. Anton Rosen was one of the few architects who worked in the Skønvirke style. There’s another of his buildings the Rosenhuset,at Hellerup, a northern suburb of Copenhagen, built in 1913 as the administrative building for the Tuborg brewery.

Aschan Café Jugen

While I was in Helsinki last week, I was able to continue my exploration of the Jugendstil style while getting something to eat by taking my lunch break in the Aschan Café Jugend, which is next door to the Tourist office just off the main Market Square on the South Harbour. From the outside, it doesn’t look particularly special, but the inside it’s decorated in the Jugend style.

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The building was opened in 1904 as a banking hall. It was converted to a café  just a few years ago. I believe that it is owned by the Tourist office and there’s a door between the two. The café also includes  a take-away delicatessen and a shop selling Finnish delicacies. Although there’s plenty of room inside there’s also a few tables outside on the pavement for customers who want a quick snack, although it would be a bit cold for a good part of the year!

Most of the guidebooks suggest that Finland is an expensive place to eat out. I have to say that wasn’t my experience during my short visit. It was certainly no more expensive than the UK and probably cheaper than Ireland. The Café Jugen had various sandwiches and cakes and light meals, including salads, which I thought were very reasonably priced. It had quite an informal, relaxing atmosphere and was a good place to stop for a light midday meal.  The main attraction, though, was the decor.

There was a mural of a forest scene along the back wall

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Floral and animal motifs  and carvings decorated the side walls under the alcoves

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and under the arches

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Even the upper parts of the walls and ceiling were highly decorated

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There’s some more information on the café and pictures when it’s empty, here, and a nice blog post with some more pictures and background information here.

Art Nouveau in Helsinki – Part 2

There are a particularly large concentration of Jugendstil buildings  in the district of Katajanokka, in the streets behind the Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

Katajanokka is effectively an island, a peninsula cut off from the mainland by a short stretch of canal. Until the end of the 19th Century had been an undeveloped area just outside the main city but in the 1890’s as the city and port expanded, plans were drafted to develop the area. Warehouses and residential streets were included in the plan. The majority  were built during the first two decades of the 20th Century, when the fashion for Jugendstil  buildings was at its height. Fortunately most of the buildings were preserved during the redevelopment and renovation of the area in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The whole of one street, Louotsikatu, is lined with fine examples of residential buildings constructed in the style. Many of them are painted in bright earthy colours and feature distinctive windows, doors, motifs and other features where the architects have stretched their imaginations. No two buildings are the same.








There were many other examples in nearby streets.





Industrial and commercial buildings were also built in the Jugendstil style. There was one particularly good example of a a warehouse and office complex, which has been magnificently restored, that I particularly liked.







In many ways it reminded me of some of the buildings designed by the Scottish architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Some of the motifs stencilled on the building were very reminiscent- of Mackintosh’s characteristic squares that he often included on the buildings and furniture that he and his wife, Margaret MacDonald, designed.


An example of the Mackintosh like square motifs stencilled on the building

For further Information on Katajanokka and it’s architecture see