Architects want polar bears on Korkeasaari
Winning entry in competition calls for imposing new entrance building to Helsinki Zoo
By Markku Karumo
The winning entry in a competition arranged among landscape architects contains some major reforms for the way Helsinki Zoo - located on the island of Korkeasaari - should look in future.
The changes would be most obvious at the main entrance on the north side of the island. Here the plans are for a large structure that follows the contours of the landscape and is covered in huge glass panels, somewhat reminiscent of a flattened version of the Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes.
The Paris-based architectural office of French Beckmann-N’Thepe’s proposal, under the name “Beluga”, would also bring polar bears back to the zoo, after a 30-year break. Polar bears were last on Korkeasaari in the 1970s.
In the French plan, the polar bears would be housed in an enclosure on the east side of the island, between Korkeasaari and the neighbouring islet of Palosaari.
Beluga draws a clear distinction between the man-made structures and the natural enclosures for the animals.
It contains well-defined and divided entities, based on geographical landforms such as mountain, steppe, northern coniferous forest, a tropical area, and the marine environment.
The walking path around the island taking in the various loactions would for the most part be raised on bridges.
The prize committee considered that the closed competition brought a high standard of entries.
They felt Beluga offered a radical solution to the future of the Zoo, which has been looking at changes in the residential structure of Helsinki - for instance the closure and comprehensive redevelopment of the nearby Sörnäinen Harbour - that may bring increased numbers of visitors to the island.
“The stark contrast between the very artificial nature of the main entrance building and the natural state of the remainder of the island is a surprising but also an intriguing and inspired solution”, the committee wrote of Beluga.
The next step is that Korkeasaari intends to draft a new general plan based on the winning entry. Implementation of the plan on the ground could start a couple of years from now.
Other entries, too, offered good ideas, in the view of the Zoo’s Director Seppo Turunen.
The Finnish office of Maisemasuunnitelu Hemgård and the Danish firm SLA were also invited to present their proposals for the island.
“We have embarked on this in the spirit that there will be changes made”, said Turunen, though the time-frame for completing the work could be of the order of ten years and more.
Another reason for the development is that for instance the Zoo’s large tropical-climate buildings become dilapidated quickly in the harsh northern climate.
The price-tag is not small. Turunen estimated that all the construction envisaged in the Beluga entry would cost more than EUR 100 million.
The plan is to do the makeover piece by piece, and in the Beluga proposal most of the building work would be concentrated on the northern end of the island.
“The new entrance would definitely be a pretty special sight in Helsinki”, enthused Turunen.
All three proposals are on show at Laituri, the City Planning Department’s exhibition space in Kamppi, until February 7th. Details from the link below.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 24.1.2009
Beckmann-N´Thepe (site in French)
Helsinki Zoo "Korkeasaari"
MARKKU KARUMO / Helsingin Sanomat