Helsinki Worker’s Institute
The design of the Kaarti barracks began in 1818. The barracks were built for the Finnish military units, the so-called Finnish Guard’s Rifle Battalion. The complex was designed to be an integral part of the city structure and extended over a complete block. The three-storey officers’ building facing the Kasarmitori Square was completed in 1822. On its both sides, more modest rank and file barracks were executed in the forthcoming decades.
In all of Engel’s oeuvre, the facade decoration of the officers’ building is special. It has no columns nor pilasters but instead the decoration is based on trophy motifs and laurel wreaths which specifically refer to symbols of honour and victory inherited from classical antiquity.
During the February 1944 bombings, the officers’ wing suffered a direct hit causing a devastating fire, which spread to the eastern edge of the block. These two buildings were completely destroyed, save the vertical brick walls. After the wars, discussion on the principles of the forthcoming repair went on for years during which time the brick frame stood at the mercy of the elements.
The reconstruction of the officers’ barracks for the use of the Ministry of Defense was eventually done by architect Aulis Blomstedt, an uncompromising modernist, deeply interested in modular solutions. The old brick frame was saved but the interiors were built of concrete, like any contemporary office building. The building was raised by an attic storey that gives onto the courtyard. The eastern barracks building was eventually torn down and replaced with a straight-lined office building designed by architects Viljo Revell and Heikki Castrén at the end of the 1950s.
text: Kati Winterhalter