Workers’ Housing for Kone ja Silta Ltd
Pohjola Insurance Company was established in 1891 as the first Finnish-language fire insurance company, and its name was borrowed from the national epic the Kalevala. When Pohjola organised an architectural design competition in spring 1899, one condition stipulated that the street façade must be made of Finnish stone. The entry by young architects Gesellius, Lindgren, and Saarinen was considered particularly attractive, and they thus received the commission. Floor plans were designed by architects Ines and E. A. Törnvall.
Completed in 1901, the building was quite modern: much of the structure was made of iron and the house was equipped with its own electric centre, steam heating and a lift of Swedish manufacture. The accident insurance company Kullervo, its name likewise borrowed from the Kalevala, was also located in the building. In addition to offices and businesses, the building also contained apartments.
The rich façade decoration employing natural and national-romantic motifs was unprecedented in Finland. Revisiting the concept they had used in the Finnish Pavilion for the 1900 Paris Exposition, the architects created a façade studded with bears, squirrels, pine tree crowns and cones, as well as goblins, trolls and other creatures from Nordic mythology. The material, Finnish soapstone, and granite, was carved by Norwegian stonemasons. Most of the decorative details on the rough-hewn walls are placed around windows and doors. The door towards Aleksanterinkatu is adorned with handsome wrought-iron birds. Artist Hilda Flodin realised the façade’s stone sculptures the wooden sculptors which are part of the interiors. Artist Eric O. W. Ehrström realised the iron details of the doors. The lamps were realised by blacksmith Gabriel Wilhelm Sohlberg.
With the elegant roughness of stone and the fantastical figures of animals and mythical characters, the Pohjola building is unique. It is a fine example of the ideological atmosphere of the 19th century and the courage to reach for a new kind of architectural expression. This is symbolised by the imposing, beautifully formed and uniquely ornamented copper-clad tower rising up into the sky at the corner of the building.
Source: Art Nouveau in Helsinki – Architectural guide (Helsinki City Museum)