The Lasipalatsikortteli neighbourhood includes an area and buildings that are well known to, if not all Finns, then at least all Helsinki residents.
The block consists of two historical buildings; Lasipalatsi (”the Glass Palace”) and the newly named Kulttuurikasarmi (”Culture Barracks”), which previously served as the Helsinki bus station and before that as the Turku barracks’ economy building, and the square between the two buildings with the now nearly world-famous hills of the Amos Rex art museum.
Lasipalatsi has an interesting and colourful history dating back almost a hundred years. Architecture students Viljo Revell, Heimo Riihimäki and Niilo Kokko founded Oy Lasipalatsi Ab in 1933 with the intention of renting the current building site and building a ‘bazaar building’ there. They presented their plans to the city, which approved the proposal, after which the city’s urban planning department developed the plans. Viljo Revell found some flaws in the city’s proposal and developed them further. In 1935, HOK and Valio bought the Lasipalatsi company from the architecture students, commissioned them to finalise the drawings for the future building and finally had it built. Throughout this process, the building was intended to be temporary and was completed in 1936, partly in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic Games in Helsinki, which were to be organised in 1940.
Although it was intended to be temporary, the architects were given free hands and the planning was carried out consistently and with high quality standards. The result was an almost unique, purely functional building with many well-thought-out details where glass, transparency and neon advertising lights took centre stage in a way that had never been seen before in Helsinki. The building’s main attractions were HOK’s 700-seat restaurant and the city’s largest cinema hall (Bio Rex).
Lasipalatsi’s first period of glory was short-lived. Minor changes were made as early as the end of the 1940s, and over the next few decades the building underwent countless alterations that were less and less reminiscent of the original. In the 1970s the building was seriously threatened with demolition, but in the 1980s consideration was given to how the building could be better utilised and restored to its original appearance.
In 1995-98, an extensive renovation was carried out with the aim of restoring the original character. Among other things, almost all the alterations that did not correspond to the original plans were demolished, the distribution of rooms was largely restored to the original, and the fixtures and fittings were renovated or new ones were made in the original material and form. As for the use of the building, the aim was to create a centre for audiovisual arts and culture.
For example, both Yle and MTV3 had a tv-studio in Lasipalatsi for a number of years.
However, the objectives regarding the use of the building were not fully realised and eventually some of the key tenants, such as the above-mentioned media companies, moved away from the building. This ultimately led to the city once again having to consider how the building should be used. At the same time, the foundation Föreningen Konstsamfundet had thoughts about how to develop the Amos Anderson Art Museum, which had become overcrowded on Yrjönkatu, just over a block from Lasipalatsi. Combined, these two needs eventually led to the Lasipalatsi that we see today. The city and Konstsamfundet together formed Fastighets Ab Glaspalatset in Helsinki, the city transferred the Lasipalatsi building to the company, which renovated the entire original building and built completely new spaces of more than 6,000 m2 underground for the needs of the future art museum, Amos Rex. The renovation was carried out in 2015-17 and the new building was completed a year later and Amos Rex opened at the end of August 2018.
The Kamppi area was known as an early military training centre. In the early 1830s, a barracks complex was built there, which was quickly named Turku Barracks because it was located on the road to Turku. During the Civil War when German troops attacked the Reds in Helsinki, the main buildings were badly damaged and demolished a few years after the Civil War. However, the original farm building remained. In the early 1930s, the state handed this building over to the City of Helsinki, which soon after decided to house its bus station in this relatively modest building. It was supposed to be temporary, but in the end, lasted for about 70 years and only when the Kamppi shopping centre was completed was the bus station moved there (underground). After that, the building languished for over a decade and was used for various purposes. In connection with the opening of Amos Rex, a group of film enthusiasts began to plan for a cinema centre in the building that would be supplemented by a number of restaurants. The city responded favourably to these plans and planning work began at a rapid pace. The financing issue was resolved so that Föreningen Konstsamfundet, through its subsidiary Glaspalatskvarteret Ab, stepped in to finance the renovation and remodelling of the barracks building, which was already named Kulttuurikasarmi during the planning phase. The renovation started in September 2021 and was completed in November 2023. After the renovation, the property includes three cinema halls, all underground, as well as several restaurants including an outdoor terrace and an event space.
The Lasipalatsikortteli quarter
With the completion of Kulttuurikasarmi, the area is, so to speak, complete. The entity, consisting of Lasipalatsi, Kulttuurikasarmi and the Lasipalatsi Square between the buildings, has been given the name Lasipalatsikortteli (=Glass Palace Quarter) under which it will be marketed in the future. The aim is to make the block a vibrant centre of urban culture and a place where there is always something interesting going on. Especially for Helsinki residents, but for tourists visiting Helsinki as well. The square is already well known for its hills, which are also the roof of Amos Rex. Here, people have been gathering since 2018 to take photos, have a picnic or just enjoy the view. In the future, the square will also become a venue for various events, for which the new stage built next to the eastern facade of the Kulttuurikasarmi building offers excellent opportunities.
Images: Helsinki City Museum image archive / Helsinkikuvia.fi