The onset and rapid increase of car traffic in the 20th century revolutionized Finland in many ways. In addition to new roads, it brought with it new building types, such as bus stations. The first bus stations were small and modest, but as the number of passengers increased they became key buildings in their communities.

The town of Rovaniemi was destroyed in autumn 1944 during the Lapland War. In the reconstruction town plan, designed under the direction of Alvar Aalto, the bus station was sensibly placed close to the railway station. The town authority organized an architectural competition for the railway and bus stations and related traffic arrangements in 1956. The Helsinki architects Niilo Pulkka, Kaarlo Leppänen and Pekka Rajala received the commission for their winning proposal “la strada”.

Rovaniemi bus station was opened in early 1959. It became the central public transport hub in the Province of Lapland, which connected train, bus and taxi traffic. The platforms for local- and long-distance traffic were on opposite sides of the building. In addition to the waiting hall, ticket sales, luggage storage and freight office, the passenger services also included a newsagent, travel agency and barber shop, and even the police had their own office there. The company Matkaravinto [Travel food] had a self-service restaurant in the station’s central hall and on the first floor was the small Hotel Aslak. Glass walls and a skylight brought natural light into the two-storey central hall, around the perimeter of which were the hotel lounge areas.

With its sculptural roof forms and free-form concrete entrance canopy, the Rovaniemi bus station stands out uniquely from the mainstream architecture of its time. In the roof silhouette one can perceive the forms of the northern landscape that give the architecture a strong genius loci, while also conveying an image of tourism. For visitors arriving from the south, the bus station has been the gateway to Lapland, a symbolic touch with the Arctic. The building’s organic roof forms, the skillfully executed details, which to a large extent have been preserved, and the unique light fixtures are clearly reminiscent also of Alvar Aalto’s architecture. According to Kaarlo Leppänen, inspiration for the design of the roof forms came from Vuoksenniska Church, a project he worked on simultaneously in Aalto’s office.

Due to the increase in car traffic, as well as other changes in transport, many Finnish bus stations are no longer in their original use, but the Rovaniemi bus station continues to operate. It is nowadays bordered by wide traffic lanes, especially the deeply embedded motorway built in the 1960s, which splits the town in two. When the hotel and cafe ceased operations, the first floor was converted into offices and the central station hall was lowered by building an intermediate floor. In spite of the ill-conceived alterations, the Rovaniemi bus station – now a tradition-filled point for arrival and departure – represents a high-point in 20th century architecture in the province of Lapland. And of all the bus stations in Finland, it is the most spectacular.

Rovaniemi Bus Station is listed on the DOCOMOMO Finland registered selection of important architectural and environmental modernist sites.

Text: Harri Hautajärvi / DOCOMOMO Finland


Lapinkävijäntie 2 , Rovaniemi
66.4989869, 25.7154107


Concrete canopy of the main entrance, Rovaniemi Bus Station
Concrete canopy of the main entrance, Rovaniemi Bus Station (© Heikki Havas)
Detail of the southern canopy, Rovaniemi Bus Station
Detail of the southern canopy, Rovaniemi Bus Station (© Heikki Havas)
Interiors, Rovaniemi Bus Station
Interiors, Rovaniemi Bus Station (© Tuomi / Finnish Architectural Review)
Site plan, Rovaniemi Bus Station
Site plan, Rovaniemi Bus Station (© Finnish Architectural Review 4/1962)
Southern façade, Rovaniemi Bus Station
Southern façade, Rovaniemi Bus Station (© Heikki Havas)

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