Majority of decision-makers approve Helsinki’s controversial waterfront hotel project
Mayor Pajunen: "Nice to get a prominent building financed by private money”
A majority of the Helsinki City Planning Committee is in favour of the construction of a controversial luxury hotel on a prominent site in Helsinki’s Katajanokka district.
The Social Democrats, two National Coalition Party members, and one Green League representative all support the design by the Swiss top architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.
The hotel project is objected to by the Left Alliance and the Centre Party representatives, accompanied by Jere Lahti of the National Coalition. Mari Puoskari of the Green League would prefer more time for the refining of the plans.
The project, which has already met with heavy criticism - not least from the Finnish educators of architecture and urban planning - will be handled again today, Thursday, by the committee.
The plans may still remain on the table for another week, but eventually they are likely to be approved before Christmas.
The unyielding objections to the hotel started immediately, when the Helsinki’s Deputy Mayor Pekka Korpinen (SDP), who has since retired, made an announcement about the construction of the so-called Alvar Aalto Hotel in London in February 2007.
To produce the design of the hotel, Norwegian hotel investor Arthur Buchardt had chosen the Swiss team of Herzog and de Meuron. Architects in Finland, on the other hand, would have wanted a competition to be arranged to determine the design.
When the plans of Herzog and de Meuron were revealed in the spring of 2008, the resistance of the architects stepped up a gear. At that time the committee unanimously agreed on the instructions, according to which the hotel was to be downsized. The building was lowered and moved to the location of the harbour terminal.
After the altered plans were made public, a group of nearly 50 professors of modern architecture, urban planning, and history of architecture insisted on the suspension of the plans. The argument was that the planned building did not fit in the location.
To Helsinki Mayor Jussi Pajunen (Nat. Coalition) the stir caused by the hotel undertaking did not come as a surprise.
“The opponents of a new idea always react strongly and with zeal, whereas the supporters often do not bring out their views with such gusto. In urban development interaction is important”, Pajunen points out.
In Pajunen’s view it is good that there is dialogue with regard to developing the city centre. “The harbour terminal area needs to be vitalised. The hotel will liven up the area perfectly.”
According to Pajunen, in Helsinki prominent edifices are usually public buildings financed by taxpayers. “This undertaking is privately financed.”
Buchardt wants to buy the site from the city. In the present property climate the price may be up to EUR 12 million.
Pajunen holds in great esteem the fact that Alvar Aalto’s legacy is respected by naming a hotel after him. “The plan is architectonically sound and it complements Aalto’s Enso headquarters next door. The two buildings will form a harmonious whole.”
There is a definite precedent for this kind of objection to new buildings: when American architect Steven Holl's plans for the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art were presented, the venture was immediately the subject of fierce attack.
In that instance it was not merely the wow-architecture design and the location that ruffled feathers, but also the proximity to the equestrian statue of Finland's wartime military leader Marshal C.G.E. Mannerheim.
Initial plans to move the statue only added fuel to the flames.
Previously in HS International Edition:
"Wow" architecture does not fit comfortably into the Helsinki skyline (8.8.2006)
Norwegian investor determined to pursue controversial hotel project in Helsinki (5.12.2008)