Architects Soini & Horto were the main designers in transforming the old administration offices of Helsinki Central Railway Station, originally designed by Eliel Saarinen, completed in 1909 and expanded in 1936, into an international hotel. The building, which is the oldest part of the central railway station complex, is significant for the cityscape and the cultural history of Helsinki. The architectural design and planning process began in 2016 and the hotel was completed in January 2021.
A design kick-off meeting was held on 11th October 2017 with the structural, HVAC and electrical designer and NCC. The plan consisted of the renovation of the old administration building designed by Eliel Saarinen and a new building part. In the autumn of 2017, an invitational competition was organised for the new part, which was won by Futudesign Oy. The original plan of a closed block by Saarinen was finally completed with the implemented plan, when the new building on the Kaisaniemi Park side connected the northern ends of the buildings.
At the permitting stage, the authorities defined the repair difficulty level as exceptionally demanding. The main designer of the repair and new part was architect Matti Linko from AS&H, and the building designer of the repair part was architect Minerva Ahokanto, also from AS&H. Architect Aleksi Niemeläinen from Futudesign was responsible for the design of the new part. AS&H carried out the architectural design in a close working team. The design team consisted of Sami Horto and Teemu Asikainen during the planning phase of the project, and Matti Linko, Minerva Ahokanto, Mikko Tuomisto, Mikko Nieminen and Hanna Jalassola during the implementation phase.
The Helsinki Central Railway Station is protected by sr-1 in the city plan and also by a protection decision confirmed on 28th August 2018. The projection of the old administration office buildings applies to the exterior architecture and building frame, and hallways, lobbies and stairwells of the interior. Also the old railway boardroom and senior management rooms are part of the projection. As the main designer of the project, AS&H was responsible for cooperating with the Finnish Heritage Agency. The protection requirements of the site were instructed for the construction site team on 9th October 2018. Regular review inspections were held with the site approximately every two weeks. These added up to as many as 42 memos collected during the reviews of the project. The biggest challenge in the architectural design of the project was balancing the needs of the different parties involved in the project. The aim was to consider and fulfil all wishes, while retaining the original value of the building.
The protected hallways and stairwells of the administration building placed requirements for the whole plan. The systematic window division of the building is well suited for hotel rooms, but the doors of the protected hallways do not follow the division of the windows, nor are the different floors similar. The technology required by the hotel rooms was individually adapted on each floor on both sides of the hallway. In some cases, the door in the hallway leads to several different rooms.
The original atmosphere of the main entrance to the old administration office building was restored by removing the massive reception desk of the round lobby. The first floor of the building didn´t follow the original space division, which allowed more freedom for the interior design. Fire safety, sound, and HVAC technology of the reception rooms, bars, restaurants, and meeting rooms challenged all designers and implementers of the project.
During the demolition of the surface structures on the first floor, some original floor was discovered. It has been preserved under new floor surfaces, and it is also partially visible. Different pillar capitals can be seen on the first floor. Some of the pillars and arches were revealed during the demolition of the newer wall structures. Colour inspections showed indications of old sign texts painted on the walls, which were displayed in front of the meeting rooms on the second floor. Additionally, some other original colours were highlighted on the wall surfaces. The largest area having original colours on display is on the wall of the party area. The stairwells retained the interpretation of the original decoration created by experts previously.
After the dismantling of the facade scaffolding, it was easy to see that the protection values had been met- although the entire outer shell had been repaired, no major change could be protected outside or inside. However, all the facades and windows of the building had been thoroughly refurbished. The colour tone of the facade followed the tone of the recently renovated western wing of the railway station and colour studies were used as a basis for the facade colouring. The new building technology was placed into the old attic space between the load-bearing structures. The water cover was renewed according to the original bar roof. The installation was challenging as the arched windows have sheet metal joints. New technology installations of the water roof needed to be placed on the side of the courtyard.
The biggest changes of the exterior are visible in the courtyard. The old heating center and garage were demolished from the yard. The former service yard is now a park yard built according to the plan of Nomaji Maisema-arkkitehdit Oy. New entrances were planned on both sides of the main staircase to the locations of the original windows of the courtyard facade. The level difference when entering from the side of Läntinen Teatterikuja was adapted for unobstructed movement. The entrance to the reception hall was highlighted with a new canopy and the restaurant area was expanded with a glass conservatory and outdoor terrace area. The canopies and railings of the yard were designed from black painted steel.
The protected value building that formerly served as an office building for only a small amount of people is now a hotel open to everyone. All of us have the opportunity to stay at the hotel, meet, dine, or have a drink at the bar, admiring the gorgeously renovated, historic building. Scandic Grand Central Helsinki celebrated its opening on the 15th April 2021.
Architects Minerva Ahokanto and Matti Linko
Architects Soini & Horto Ltd