Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What to see: The Parliament Building, Helsinki

The Parliament of Finland was established in 1906, eleven years before the country achieved independence from Russia, and replaced the four estates which had made up the country’s Diet. This necessitated a new building, as neither the House of the Estates or the House of Nobility, where the Diet had met, was big enough to accommodate a unicameral parliament.
Eliel Saarinen, one of Finland’s most famous architects, won the initial competition for the design of a parliament building, but his project was never carried out. A second competition in 1924 resulted in the current Parliament Building, designed by the architect Johan Sigfrid Sirén (1889-1961). The building process started in 1926 and the house was inaugurated on 7 March 1931.
Sirén’s Parliament Building is one of the most prominent examples of the “retroclassicism” which was popular in the Nordic countries in the 1920s and 1930s. The main façade, built of reddish granite, is entirely dominated by fourteen slim Corinthian columns, while the mostly classicist interiors also have touches of art deco and functionalism.
The Session Hall, where Parliament meets, lies at the centre of the building. The circular room has seats for the 200 MPs and is topped by a yellow dome with an oculus, supported by tall Corinthian columns. The Session Hall runs through three floors and has public galleries on two levels. Behind the Speaker’s seat is Wäinö Aaltonen’s five sculptures “The Pioneer”, “The Toil of Thought”, “The Future”, “Faith” and “The Harvester”.
Besides the Session Hall the most imposing room in the Parliament Building is the Hall of State, with floors and window recesses made of Swedish and Italian marble. In the hall there are busts of five Speakers of Parliament who went on to become Presidents of Finland.
Like most national assemblies the Finnish Parliament has needed more space with the years and has been extended in 1978 and 2004. Today there are six buildings which all in all cover some 56 000 square metres.
The pictures show the Parliament Building’s main façade to Mannerheim Street; the façades’ colonnade; the MPs’ seats and the public galleries in the Session Hall; the Hall of State; a detail of the columns and ceiling in the cafeteria; and the marble staircase.

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