Winter Adventure to Helsinki

I have two more travel excursions before the end of the year, and my next trip one is just around the corner, which means I am in full-on research mode. My destination is Helsinki, Finland- a place that I have never visited before – and I am going in winter … because I’m smart that way.

Map from Dallas To Helsinki, Finland

I am really excited, and a little bummed out because this is a destination I have wanted to make for a few decades, which is great … except this is a short trip and the time I have available to really explore are extremely limited. Of course, my research is proving to be a bit agonizing because I am simply learning about all these additional amazing things that I can’t do with the limited time I have available to me … but let’s be honest, I am way more excited than bummed out.

Considering that I have the most amazing group of people who read this site, I thought I would turn to you all and ask for advice on any can’t miss activities. That’s right, I wrote “activities” because while I like looking at buildings as much as the next architect, it took a trip with my wife and daughter in 2009 to Paris for me to learn that I get more out of these trips if I mix in some of the local flavors to go along with my architecture. I wrote a post titled “Through the Eyes of a Child” that explains it in detail but this is the highlight:

Take some time to slow down and look at what you are looking at. It can be a bunch of paintbrush strokes you’re looking at or people standing in line to get their coffee. Looking at the things around the thing you are looking at can add to the experience in ways you won’t know until you try. Sometimes all it takes is a 5-year-old kid to point that out to you. 

To that end, I am also searching for restaurants, spas, museums, and other cultural highlights.

But first … the architecture!

Finlandia Hall - Alvar Aalto
Finlandia Hall

Designed by Alvar Aalto and completed in 1971, Finlandia Hall is a congress and event venue in the center of Helsinki on the Töölönlahti Bay.


Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto - photo from Lesfew
Villa Mairea by Alvar Aalto – photo from the Instagram account of @Lesfew

As much as I would like to visit Villa Mairea, also by Alvar Aalto, it is a 4-hour train ride away from where I will be and I ‘m not sure that if I should basically eat up one of my days to go see this one building … as much as I secretly want to do exactly that.


Aalto Studio
Studio Aalto

The Studio Aalto is located in the Munkkiniemi area of Helsinki and should be an easy destination for me to visit. I also learned that there is a gift shop located here so it looks like I can continue the streak of getting magnets for everyone back at the office.


Alvar Aalto House - photo by Pieter Lozie
Alvar Aalto House – photo by Pieter Lozie

The home of Alvar and Aino Aalto is only about a 6-minute walk from Studio Aalto so unless something goes terribly wrong … I’ll definitely be seeing you Aalto house!


Säynätsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto photo by Nico Saieh
Säynätsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto [photo by Nico Saieh]

Probably my most favorite Aalto project is the Säynätsalo Town Hall – I project that was the inspiration for the most important project I designed in college (what was called our “Sound Building” semester). This was a competition project that Aalto won in 1949 with the building being completed in 1952 … and it is unlikely that I will get to see it. Located in the town of Jyväskylä, this is another 4+ hour train ride (each way).

It would appear that there are quite a few Aalto projects in Jyväskylä, including the Aalto Museum, so maybe I can convince my wife that this would be a good way to spend one of our days.


Löyly by Avanto Architects
Löyly by Avanto Architects

One of the cultural activities we will be partaking will be a traditional Finnish sauna … followed by a plunge into the Baltic sea. Did you know that that the population of Finland is around 5.4 million and there are over 3.3 million saunas? There used to be a considerable number of public saunas in the larger cities but most apartments now have their own which is making public saunas like Löyly far more uncommon. I’m not sure how long we will be staying on site, but there is a restaurant as part of this facility so I am hoping that it will be at least half a day and will include the evening meal or at the very least, cocktails.


There are a number of other notable buildings in and around Helsinki by architects not named “Aalto”, but I am still trying to determine just how much time I actually have to dedicate to architectural pursuits. I basically have 4 full days of exploring and I am open to suggestions from those of you how have either been or know of something worthwhile that you think I might enjoy.

I will definitely be feeding stories to my Instagram stories while I’m there (similar to what I did most recently during my Bauhaus trip to Germany) so please follow along!

Bob signature FAIA


Source: Life of an Architect