podium on podium

Competition design for Architecture, Construction, and Design Center, Helsinki

 Eymen Homsi and Sari Airola, 2003

The competition is located at Helsinki’s highly significant harbor location.  The site overlooks the harbor, adjoins the main outdoor market, terminates the Esplanade axis, connects the Katajanokka peninsula to the rest of Helsinki, and borders Aalto’s  very important Helsinki urban structure, the Enzo Gutzeit building.  The competition brief asks for an architecture and construction design center.

Knot: The new building is formed by the overlap of two strands derived from the urban alignments of Katajanokka peninsula and the Esplanade axis.  The two strands rise towards each other to form a spatial knot.  Pedestrians from the Katajanokka strand, starting on tree-lined Lauturi Avenue, cut through the building on the second floor to meet up with pedestrians ascending from the opposite strand.

Vessel and Monument: The location is rich with potential meaning.  It sits between the docked cruise ships of Viking Line and Aalto’s iconic Enzo Gutzeit building– between ship and building, mobility and fixity, periphery and center.  We conceived of the new building as a third element inserted between these dualities, an object midway between vessel and monument.  It is vessel-like in its sleek, long, thin form, but is a land object in its continuity with the ground.  A related set of buildings can be found 15 minutes away, on the Suomenlinna island fortress.  The buildings there are camouflaged as topography, but they are oriented towards the sea, occupied as they are with observing the appearance of ships on the horizon.

Podium on Podium:  You will rarely find Aalto’s Enzo Gutzeit on a Helsinki postcard.  It is nearly always clipped out of view, a difficult thing to accomplish since it dominates the harbor view.  Helsinki people dislike it, its modernity.  They think it doesn’t blend in sufficiently, that it blocks a full view of the Uspenski Cathedral.  In fact Aalto’s design here, as always, is highly urbanistic.  Movement along the harbor rim, with the two buildings in view, confirms his deep interest in urban visual relationships: they are meant to be seen together.  One only has to observe how well coordinated is the visual relationship of the cathedral and building when seen from a boat entering the harbor, or a vehicle moving along the other side of the harbor.  They approach each other and gradually lock together in a relationship of object and podium.  Aalto, normally highly sculptural in his forms, here defers to the cathedral to visually complete his form.  Our own competition design is made carefully low and placed in such a way so as to seen from across the harbor as itself a visual podium for the two main buildings, a podium for a podium.