Glass Palace

Renovation of the atmosphere

© Voitto Niemelä

Project description:

In 1999 after the renovation of Lasipalatsi, we wrote the following about the project: 

“Architecture students Niilo Kokko, Viljo Revell and Heimo Riihimäki were given practically a free hand in 1935 to create a temporary bazaar building, which extravagantly applied the International Style. Through its large display windows, the stylish, white “Glass Palace” revealed its open, colorful interiors. The ground floor housed commercial facilities with access from both sides of the building, and the main spaces were on the first floor: a huge restaurant spanning the entire façade and a cinema, the Bio Rex. The lighting, fittings, colourful façade details and neon lights were all designed with the coherence of the overall appearance in mind. From the 1950s onwards the glamour and style of the building gradually diminished after the restaurant moved across the street to the recently completed Sokos building. 

In 1995, the city of Helsinki launched a project to develop the Glass Palace into a centre of cinema, media art, and information technology applications and popularization. The interaction of programming and the aesthetics of the building was tested by assigning our office to prepare an ideas plan. The original spatial idea proved to be well suited to the needs of contemporary urban culture. 

The renovation restored openness and transparency. The former large restaurant and the main staircase were reconstructed on the basis of original working drawings and existing photographs. 

The space was divided by partition walls between the restaurant and the library. The lobby between these two was turned into a periodicals reading room, and the access to the Bio Rex was restored. A cafeteria was placed in the lobby of the Bio Rex, with an adjacent corner terrace. The building is open until late at night, thus making it a true citizen’s living room. 

The screen of the Bio Rex was enlarged by constructing a partition wall six rows in front of the former screen. The sidewalls received additional acoustic cladding, which also covers the new sound systems. The surface covering is aluminium and steel mesh, reminiscent in its ruggedness of the original silver coloured Heraklit board of the sidewalls. 

The building’s 1930s spirit was restored through copying original details in the new glazed walls, door handles and handrails. Several details were reconstructed on the basis of black-and-white photographs: the neon lights on the façade and patterns in the rubber floor, the wall paintings in the main lobby and the Bio Rex, the clock and the steel tube furniture in the palm room and the lobbies. The only existing original light fixtures were in the Bio Rex, otherwise the light fixtures were designed on the basis of photographs. Renovating original structures was the main objective. The interior’s classic colours and wall paintings, all designed by artists Eino Kauria, were also restored. 

The spatial problems caused by the mechanical air conditioning were resolved by adding false ceilings in the ground floor and by utilising original routes: the silver and gold rows of columns in the main spaces also hide exhaust and supply air ducts. The air conditioning system integrated into the toplights and terracing of the Bio Rex was retained. 

Another aim was to restore transparency to the commercial premises. The basement was extended to make room for staff facilities. In order to avoid the messy appearance characteristic of the building before the renovation, new tenants were to observe certain conditions: the taping and blocking of windows was forbidden, illuminated ads were to comply with the regulations set by the Building Regulation Department; the awnings and light fixtures must remain unchanged; and so on. 

We also planned the temporary organisation of the adjacent square. The overall appearance was enlivened by new signs and lighting enhancing the bagged brick façade of the building. With the final departure of the coach station, the idea that we presented in our 1995 plan of a skating rink encircling the pipe in the middle of the square is also likely to be realised.” 

Project info:

Client:The City of Helsinki
Location:Mannerheimintie 22-24 / Simonkatu 1, Helsinki
Size:5 800 m2
Protection status: The building and the pipe located on the square are protected by the planning notation sr-1. The Glass Palace block is a nationally significant built cultural environment (RKY 2009).
Original construction date:1935
Principal and architectural designers:Minna Lukander, Pia Ilonen 
Interior designers:Martti Lukander, Pasi Hämäläinen
Project architects:Mari Mannevaara, Nina Sevón (A-Konsultit Architects)
Other team members:Mailis Madelin, Gian-Luigi Rossi, Aulis Korhonen, Riitta Tuomisto 
Building history survey:Riikka Pylvänen, Pia Ilonen, Minna Lukander ja Martti Lukander 
Photos:Voitto Niemelä, Jussi Tiainen, Åke E:son Lindman

More information:

Arkkitehti – Finnish Architectural Review. 2/1999. Lasipalatsin peruskorjaus / Renovation of the Glass Palace in Helsinki. Pia Ilonen ja Minna Lukander.

Arkkitehti – Finnish Architectural Review. 2/1999. Lasipalatsin elämä jatkuu / The Show Goes On. Marianna Heikinheimo.

© Voitto Niemelä
© Åke E:son Lindman
© Åke E:son Lindman
© Jussi Tiainen

© Voitto Niemelä
© Voitto Niemelä
© Voitto Niemelä