Metsätalo building (“Forest House”) sits as an extension of the monumental neoclassical centre of Helsinki designed by C. L. Engel, between the streets Unioninkatu and Fabianinkatu and bordered to the north by Varsapuistikko Park. The three six-storey wings of the building form a totality surrounding an atrium-style courtyard. The southern wing originally housed the Finnish Forest Research Institute, the main entrance of which was from Unioninkatu. The rest of the building housed the teaching and research facilities of the University of Helsinki’s Department of Forest Sciences.
The exterior architecture of the Metsätalo Building is modern, with pure white walls and simple detailing. The building is nevertheless characterised by classicistic features: the facade layout is symmetrical, and the tall windows with protruding frames emphasise the “piano nobile”. On the Fabianinkatu side the modern and classical converge as the stairwell tower breaks the symmetry in a continuation of the main facade. The building’s load-bearing structural frame comprises the brick exterior walls and long corridor walls as well as the concrete pillars in the halls of the central wing. The intermediate floor structure is a double-slab system.
A prominent theme of the building is the forest, which is particularly evident in the interior design. A wide range of native tree species can be found in the furniture, stair railings, wall panelling, fittings and doors. The designers Arttu Brummer and Maija Heikinheimo played an important role in the interior design. A significant part of the original furniture was specifically designed for the building. In addition to the natural materials, also carefully designed details, rubber flooring imitating natural stone and the colour schemes for the walls soften the otherwise institutional look. The current colour scheme is largely based on the colour range devised by Brummer where, in addition to a dulled blue and green, there are soft yellow and brown tones. Following the completion of the building, a large number of different tree species and other plants were planted in the sheltered courtyard, some of which still exist today.
In the early 2000s the facilities of the Department of Forest Sciences were renovated for use by the university’s Faculty of Humanities, after which the Finnish Forest Research Institute was converted into office and teaching facilities. Although the forestry researchers have been replaced by philologists, the use of the building has not significantly changed. The original architecture is still evident both in the exterior and interior: functionality flavoured with classical features and a surprising sensitivity in the materials and details. Metsätalo Building as well as the mature trees in the courtyard are protected in the detailed plan for the area.
Metsätalo Building is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental Modernist sites.
Text: Miia Perkkiö / DOCOMOMO Finland