Helsinki Olympic Stadium renovation respects its original modernist architecture

The crown jewel of Finnish functionalism, Helsinki Olympic Stadium is re-inaugurated after an extensive renovation. Photo © Wellu Hämäläinen
The crown jewel of Finnish functionalism, Helsinki Olympic Stadium is re-inaugurated after an extensive renovation.
Photo © Wellu Hämäläinen

First inaugurated in 1938, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, Finland, has reopened after an extensive modernization and rebuild. While the four-year renovation project was carried out with respect toward the stadium’s original modernist architecture, new functionalities have been added and comfort and safety have been increased to match the demands of the future.

In the early noughties, the future looked uncertain for the Helsinki Olympic Stadium. The arena was in poor condition and no longer met the standards for an events venue. Although the cost estimate showed a figure that would buy you a new arena, the “Nordic capital of cool” decided to appreciate the old and invest in rebuilding and refurbishing the stadium. Now, the stadium is a place where the past and the future meet, and old and new elements blend seamlessly.

The stadium has been renovated to be more comfortable, accessible, and functional while remaining instantly recognizable. The entire stadium premises as well as the stands, pitch, and tracks have been modernized. Moreover, another stadium has been built underground: 20,000 m2 (215,278 sf) of new underground space doubles the amount of indoor space. Smart and versatile sports facilities, a tunnel following the tracks above, a logistics area, and a multi-purpose hall constitute a completely new part of the stadium.

The stadium’s external architecture of 2020 combines the restored 1930s concrete architecture and the renovated parts of the 1950s with a new north stadium square, where food and beverage kiosks in concrete serve audiences. The materials in old and new parts of the whole are timeless and durable: white concrete, brick, wood, and glass.

The renewed wood cover of the façades, made of Finnish spruce and pine timber, conceals new rain shelter structures above the stands. The use of wood harks back to the 1950s, when it was used to extend the concrete-structured stadium to reach its current appearance. Wood provides the audience stands with a tactile material and texture with minute scale. To ensure audience safety, the cover of the rain shelter is in fireproofed wood. The composition of the 36,300 new wood composite seats is also fire-resistant. The new seats are more comfortable even for taller eventgoers. In concerts, the stadium can host up to 50,000 guests.

The plastered façades, their visible concrete structures, and the brickwork in the curves have been restored to their original look. The new entrances to the stands, with the concrete stairs poured in place, have been adapted to meet the rhythm of the concrete structure curves and brickwork façades. Thanks to new emergency exits, the stadium can now be emptied in just eight minutes.

The details in the façade steel parts have been restored and the steel metal flashing has been made according to the original drawings. The original frames and sashes of the steel and wooden windows have been restored while the glass sheets are new and more energy efficient.

The architectural design is by the consortium K2S and NRT in cooperation with Swedish architecture collective White Arkitekten and Wessel de Jonge from the Netherlands.

The facilities in the 1930s part of the stadium now serve as multi-purpose space for various events, and the functional clarity of interior spaces has been restored.

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