The Helsinki City Hall, built in 1833, originally functioned as a hotel, which was Helsinki’s cultural and entertainment centre of the time. Hotel Seurahuone was designed by Tsar Alexander I of Russia’s favourite architect, Carl Ludvig Engel. The hotel’s lease ended in 1913 and it moved to its present premises near the Helsinki Railway Station.
The outbreak of WWI in 1914 disrupted the plans for building a new City Hall, which resulted in repairing and transforming the old hotel building for use of the city council. The new City Hall was officially inaugurated in 1932. In the 1940s various minor refurbishments were carried out, but in the 1950s the authorities wanted to modernise the facilities.
In 1960 an architectural competition was held for designing the refurbishment, and it was won by Aarno Ruusuvuori’s proposal “Stone Menagerie”. Only the façade, the entrance colonnade and the banquet hall were classified as cultural-historically and architecturally valuable. Everything else in the block was demolished. Ruusuvuori designed the interiors down to the smallest detail in accordance with the ideals of modernistic architecture. The reconstruction project was one of the cases to start the debate of built heritage protection in Finland. The debate was followed by the initiative for the legislation for the protection of built heritage.
The renovations continued in the 1980s and were completed in 1988. A building for the Council Chamber, also designed by Ruusuvuori, was constructed in the block’s inner courtyard, with a restaurant for civil servants on its first floor. The most recent renovation was in 1998–99.