At Helsinki Music Centre, our “walls speak softly” to lend focus to what really matters here; the music. The architects have created a venue that is designed to facilitate openness and exchange.
The international architectural design competition in 2000 was won by LPR Architects with their proposal titled A Mezza Voce. The title refers to a musical direction meaning “softly” or “quietly”. The LPR team was led by
Marko Kivistö, Mikko Pulkkinen and Ola Laiho, with around 30 other architects contributing to the design.
A mezza voce
In the architects’ vision, the new scheme was to foster a sense of place and visual cohesion for this central Helsinki site. The design engages in dialogue with the existing architecture around Töölönlahti Bay by dynamically aligning the main building mass with the nearby Finlandia Hall and Finnish parliament building.
The highest parts of the Helsinki Music Centre structure have been placed in close proximity to local green space, allowing the building to link into a broader visual continuum where the high-profile public buildings in this area appear as if enveloped by parkland. The rich green hues of the plain copper clad exterior facing Mannerheimintie and Töölönlahdenkatu resonate with both the surrounding green space and the historic building stock in nearby Etu-Töölö.
The glazed facades facing south and east connect the Music Centre with other more recent developments here. Although separated from the Music Centre by a thoroughfare, the parliament has been incorporated as part of the wider layout here, allowing sweeping views from the building’s iconic granite steps towards the parkland.
The green roof sloping southwards over the lower part of the building defers to the distinctive architecture of the Kiasma Museum of Modern Art building beyond.
The aim has been to create a building imbued with a sense of openness that will facilitate dialogue and interaction between the professional musicians, students and audiences that gather here. At the heart of the building is a vineyard-style concert hall, accessed through the circular foyer wrapping around it. The soundproof glass walls afford views of the crater-like interior from the foyer and lobby areas, which during daytime serve as a café and exhibition space.
In addition to the main concert hall, the Music Centre comprises a further five smaller auditoriums with seating for 140–400. The acoustics in each space have been designed with their particular use in mind.
The main concert hall stage, rehearsal rooms and loading area are found on the ground floor. The basement floors house green room facilities for both resident orchestras, with natural light provided by two lightwells. Administrative offices used by the orchestras and the team responsible for running the building are found in a separate section of the building, above the foyer.
Sibelius Academy classrooms and offices are spread over seven floors around the semi-enclosed courtyard overlooking Karamzin Park. The first two floors are home to the university’s recording studios and library, which is also open to members of the public.
As darkness falls and the quiet sets in, the building site takes on a mystical quality. The city that surrounds it might still be awake, buzzing with life and energy, but here the calm feels like a sign, a promise of what’s to come. This will become a sanctuary, an oasis. During the day, this building site is busy, hectic, overwhelming even. Come the evening, the tools go down, the problems fall away, the noise settles. Even the inescapable fact of the project’s incompleteness hangs in suspended animation for now, making no demands. The Music Centrehas a purpose. That purpose is to generate impulses, to create energy. In physics an impulse is defined as the integral of force with respect to time. Derived from the Latin pulsus, it can also mean thrust and drive, a sudden force or a strong wish to achieve something.
The impulse for any pursuit that seeks to effect change and make a difference must come from within. The same, I think, applies to our efforts to recognise beauty and create it, sustain it.